October 23, 2008

Fueling for multiple marathons

We all know that the basic equation for weight loss is that calories in
But what if you run marathons for fun on weekends? (Okay, so maybe I am one of the only ones with that problem, but let’s pretend it’s widespread). How much do you eat to fuel yourself in between without gaining weight? And how safe is it to drop your calories in when you’re increasing your calories out so drastically? These are the questions I’ve really been struggling with as of late.

There isn’t a multi-marathon nutrition plan; the closest thing I’ve found is reading Dean Karnazes’ 50/50 and noting that he basically just tried to eat as much as possible in between races in order to fuel him up for the next one. When asking other Maniacs for tips on how to run a double (meaning two marathons in one weekend), their biggest piece of advice was to “eat as many calories as possible in between.” I took that advice when I did the Hartford full marathon and then the Staten Island Half… and ended up gaining weight as a result. A few weeks ago, I was at my lowest weight since junior year of college; now, I’m back up to my normal, could-lose-the-margarita-gut weight. But how much can I really cut back on food if I’m running a marathon on Sunday?

I’ve been using Jenn’s 21 day habit challenge as a vehicle to force myself to stop eating “processed carbs” (pasta, bread, baked goods, etc). However, pasta and breads are what most runners (myself included) usually eat to fuel up for a marathon. My plan is to have two meals with “processed carbs” – one on Friday, and one on Saturday. This is less than my usual “get processed carbs in at every meal the day before a marathon” approach – I’m hoping it works. During a race, I’ve pretty much switched over to Larabars and the like anyway, so that’s healthy but caloric.

What kind of calorie deficit should I be targeting on the days I run marathons? Usually I aim for about 1400 calories a day, and that gets me about 1/2 pound of weight loss a week. But if I’m burning ~2400 calories, should I be eating 3800 that day? Split the difference? I’ve tried several different approaches (eating all 3800, just trying to eat 2400 to get to 0), but haven’t come up with a definitive answer.

The one thing I have figured out is how much better I feel when I eat tons of fruits and veggies as the main part of my diet. As many of you know, I experimented with going raw vegan for a little while, but found it unsustainable in the long run. I felt great on it, but I missed cooked foods, and eating out was pretty tough. Now, I’m simply incorporating bits of raw veganism into my lifestyle. I usually do a raw vegan breakfast with various fruits or veggies (my favorite breakfast is frozen mango, a frozen banana, and light coconut milk, all blended together into pina colada-like deliciousness). I try to only eat meat/fish for one meal every day, and go vegetarian for the other. That’s been a bit more sustainable, and it seemed to be working for weight loss (at least, until I gorged myself after Hartford and then also stopped caring about what I ate for a few days). I tried to tell myself that if my body was craving something, I should let it have that because I should listen to my body’s needs. However, my body kind of sucks and will often tell me that it “needs” cookies and ice cream. Should I indulge?

So many questions, not enough answers. But that’s what TIART is all about – putting our heads together to answer the tough stuff! Leave comments or post your own response on your blog.

This post was written as a part of Runners’ Lounge’s Take It And Run Thursday, in which runners from all across the running blogging community come together to post about a single topic. This week’s theme was Running and Weight.


21 thoughts on “Fueling for multiple marathons”

  1. I have not run even one marathon – much less multiples in short periods of time. BUT, I have done a lot of experimentation with how much to eat to maintain energy levels for long-distance running without gaining weight. I haven’t come up with anything definitive yet – but find that the most effective for me is to eat a LOT before long runs/weekends & be moderate the rest of the week. I really try hard to eat when hungry (whenever that is, even if I think I shouldn’t be hungry) and stop when full (even if there’s still food on my plate). When I do that, I tend not to gain – although I don’t lose much when doing tons of running (which is lame, if you ask me). I know that likely wasn’t helpful, and I’m interested in seeing everyone else’s comments.

  2. Laura thanks for stopping by my blog! I hope it’s ok I added you to my bloglist. I def think it’s a major challenge fueling appropriately and what to fuel with. If you can run marathons every weekend, maybe you don’t need to worry about weight? Do you lift? I find that helps me focus and adds a dimension to the straight up cardio/running, feel more balanced. I would worry about eating enough all the time, 1400 sounds low, but I know it is different for everyone– and if I were you I wouldn’t worry about what you eat on marathon days!!! 🙂 But if you feel best with fresh– fruit/vegs– make those the bulk of what you eat:) THANKS SO MUCH for your constant committment/blogging, you are a great role model.

  3. Maybe just fueling up before marathons is a good idea but not so much afterward. I would say after you run a marathon see how you feel. Often times after running I am not hungry right away so I will just wait till I am hungry then eat a small portion of that. When I begin to get hungry again I will eat a little so that way i dont binge on food.

    Good luck with finding something that works for you.

  4. I think you need to experiment. Be careful about creating any deficit on the days before, after and on your marathon day. You need fuel to run the thing, as well as to facilitate recovery.

    Also, I’ve found that creating too large of a caloric deficit has the undesirable effect of slowing my metabolism way down. I lose weight, but not fat. So I’m losing muscle. If I create a deficit of more than about 400 calories a day, this always happens.

    Finally, note that there are whole grain and spinach pastas you might try, although I realize they still fall into the “refined” category. Also check out shiritaki noodles (found in most stores that carry Japanese foods). They are tofu noodles that are suprisingly like pasta. Not good for carbo-loading at all, but they make a decent pasta substitute when you’re watching calories.

  5. As far as overall calories, I would try to plan it out by the week.

    Example, say your body burns 1800 calories per day with just your normal activities. So that is 12600 per week.

    If you are running 40 miles per week (marathon or not), that is approximately 4000 calories.

    So you are burning 16600 calories per week, which averages out to 2371 calories per day.

    To break even on your weight, that is roughly the amount that you could consume. To lose a pound a week, eat 500 less calories per day.

    There are a bazillion online calculators that will help you figure out your try caloric needs based on your height and weight, these numbers are just an example.

    Hope that helps. Good luck at Niagara Falls!

  6. I think wendy’s above comment definitely makes a LOT of sense. But I’m going to add that honestly, I try to not worry too much about it. In fact, I never count calories or weigh myself anymore. Don’t forget that the mroe you run, the more you’re probably building muscle (which will make you weight more).

    I found that as long as I try to get healthy things in, it’s ok to spluge and eat a lot of pasta and bread before my long runs on the weekends (and especially before races).

    Anytime I started eating a lot more or running a lot less, I feel my pants fitting differently. That’s my indicator. Other than that, I’ve weighed the same withing 5 pounds for the past 5-6 years or so… I really thik it’s just about learning your body and what happens when you exercise and eat and find a balance. I know that’s not really concrete advice, but I find I’m a lot happier than some ppl I know who worry too much about calories. I just go by how I feel… if I feel my tummy getting poochy, I just try to cut back on bad foods and workout a little more.

  7. A little random and rambly:

    Fueling for Multiple Marathons:

    I think the key here is the 4:1 carbs:protein within 30 minutes thing is important. As I read recently that ration (which we all use for normal recovery) was developed for elites running two a days where they really needed to cram glycogen back into their system.

    I think that you want to just eat normal daily calories + marathon calories – MAYBE 500 deficit. A higher percentage of those calories (maybe 65%) should be carbs. Fruit is carbs, so you’re OK there, certainly.

    I wouldn’t worry about reducing the ‘in’ when you’ve dramatically increased ‘out’

    Not sure how often you weigh. I’ve found I gain 2-4 pounds starting 2 days after a long run (20-22 isn’t a marathon, but close enough for discussion I think) and it stays on for 3-4 days. Your weight may be varying because of that more than the calories between marathons.

    Also, did you really eat ‘maintenance’X2+marathon_halfmarathon in calories and have excess that was 3500 cal (1 lb.) or more… if so I think you got carried away… 🙂

    Calorie Deficit on Marathon Days

    I personally wouldn’t try for a deficit on marathon days. Or at least no more than your normal daily value (say 500 cal a day). You’re body needs to refuel itself, as well as repair itself from the damage. If you aren’t doing back to backs something else I read said you should have your muscles refueled by eating normally (any food, macronutrient combo) 24-48 hours later.

    There’s no point in eating more than your maintenance for the day + calories lost, but hey,, I’m not a nutritionist.

    Fruit is a carb, too, so is rice (possibly unprocessed), so is milk (if you’re still drinking it). the body’s going to store it all up, just like bread and pasta.


    If you completely deny yourself something you are likely to binge on that food later (Personal opinion) Allowing yourself a reward is one thing, eating all of your recovery calories in ice-cream is probably bad. Cookie Ice Cream cravings are probably both psychological (mmm… comfort food) as well as a call for carbs. (Something I’m fighting myself right now) Eat fruit instead and see if it helps. Remember nuts have protein and fat that can help you stay satiated longer, so maybe a combination.

  8. Hmmm…is it possible you are eating too little? I sometimes find the bizarre effect of eating more makes me lose weight. Sometimes after an extended period of disciplined eating I too will notice one little splurge and I gain weight. I actually think it is that my body feels deprived and whenever it has the opportunity it will grab onto calories….then I have weeks where I eat much more and lose, almost like my body trusts there is another meal coming and isn’t in survival/slow down metabolism mode. Good luck in Niagara Falls! And I laughed at the ANTM reference on Lacey’s page…sooo true! They totally go for story/ personality clash drama now.

  9. I do well on “diets” where I restrict one thing at a time. (i.e. currently processed sugars).

    I’ve never done multiple marathons in a weekend but I will say that I tend to gain weight in marathon training mode. This time, I hopefully won’t. I’m working a lot more on hydration. I too, feel best when I’ve eaten lots of fruits and veggies.

  10. The bread and carbs are what your body NEEDS to replace your glycogen stores (which are depleted during a cardio workout), so you definitely shouldn’t exclude them with your current workout regimen. In an extreme deficit, it will definitely start affecting your performance, and you could end up passing out from low Blood Glucose levels. Not good!
    Don’t forget that starchy vegetables count too. Potatoes are supposedly just as good for you pre-OR-post race as pasta. So a big baked potato with some lean meat (protein!!) works for a pre-race meal too.
    Try going to http://www.mypyramid.gov, they have a calculator that gives you energy estimates for “High” activity levels. It’s usually pretty helpful. But always remember, everybody is different 🙂

    sooo this was a long answer. My degree is in Nutrition, I can’t help it. 🙂 always open for questions too!

  11. I don’t run marathons for fun. At least, not yet. I read Dean’s book too and it was awesome. I couldn’t believe that he was about to run from NY to CA!!! Wish I could just do that!

    For me, I eat whatever I want in moderation. Some days I eat more and other days, I don’t eat as much depending on how I feel. From my experience, when I paid attention to what I ate, I tend to eat more so now I just make sure that I eat something before my run and fuel up afterwards. Throughout the day, I just listen to my body and make sure that I’m not feeding it too little or too much.

  12. I generally try to eat normal except the night before long runs where I eat more, but not a total pig out. I like your idea of eating more fruits and veg. That is key!

  13. Um, I saw your comment on Alisa page that you thought was TMI – and I have to say DO IT!! I put it off for years out of the same fear, and I’m so sorry I did. A good “technician” could do it with close to zero discomfort. Seriously. You run marathons on the weekend!

  14. I run 1/2 marathons for fun too! I signed up for one recently, just to do it and I was like this is fun, this is something I can do all the time! 🙂 While everyone else thinks I’m just plain crazy! Glad I’m not alone.

  15. Just look to negate the intake, don’t out your self in marathon deficit, you”ll crash, 200-300 calories per hour will keep you going.

  16. I do not know what to tell you. I have not of yet ran a mrathon, but now am averaging 35 to 40 miles a week, my long runs for the week usually average 10 to 13 miles. I am trying to figure out what I need to consume that does not put on fat, but also does not make my body eat itself, eg muscle. Sometimes I go through a day and only consume 1200 calories, other days I am ravanous and could consume as much as 4500 calories. I do not know what the reason is for this, but when I am hungry I try to eat wholsesome foods like grains, fruits, veggies, and lean protien and stop when I am not hungry anymore, be it 1200 or 4500 calores. I know this probably did not help.

  17. I tend to allow myself many “treats” after a race that I normally wouldn’t eat. During my current training for a marathon, I have extended my treat-feast a little too long and I am getting close to race time again. My question is, if I get back to eating right (mainly plant-based diet), how long will it take to “flush out” all the junk I have consumed? My race is in two weeks…

  18. Runchick, how fast you will flush the toxins out depends on a) what you ate and b) what you’re eating now. Certain foods are digested more quickly than others (though even bubble gum, contrary to folklore, passes through your system in a few days). Also, the more fibrous foods you eat, the faster your system will get “flushed out.” With a race in two weeks, I think you’re fine – even if you ate a ton of junk food, as long as you’re eating cleanly now and going to the bathroom regularly, you should be fine within a few days.

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