I Haven’t Gained Weight From Running Less

 

I have been putting this post off for a while. First, I didn’t want to jump the gun on this topic. And second, it’s a pretty tricky conversation. Understanding the logistics as to why I think I haven’t gained weight from running less can be complicated, much less trying to articulate what I want to say and share for others to read.

I did speak about at length about this post with Laura (and even had her read it a few times) just to make sure that I was making sense and covering my experience appropriately. Sometimes you can get so lost in your writing and trying to convey your message that you aren’t quite sure if you are saying things coherently and effectively!

The bottom line is, this is just my experience and practical opinion as to why I haven’t gained weight from running less.

While I’m definitely not a doctor, personal trainer or anyone with a fancy health and fitness industry title, I’m hopeful that sharing my experience with running less by choice will help other runners out there who want to make the change to run less but live in fear that this change will cause weight gain.

I want to help those runners who are forcing themselves to run more than they really feel like running. Runners who are stressing their bodies, possibly causing (repeat) injury, or even running through injuries in fear of gaining weight.

Contrary to popular belief, running MORE does not always mean weighing LESS. It does not always mean that adding more miles will help you to slim down, burn off last night’s big meal, or even drop a size in clothing.

There are so many factors at play here but our bodies are super good at becoming efficient. The 3 easy miles you were running 5 years ago are not burning the same calories today. Our bodies are stubborn yet smart. The body will try very hard to maintain a set point. Even though you can manipulate that set point just a bit, your body will try to adjust things enough to attempt to be back where it’s most comfortable. Sometimes it does this by increasing your appetite so that you eat more to fuel the calorie burn AND sometimes it does this by slowing things down (and sometimes entering starvation mode), holding on to what you eat because it fears not having enough energy.

Okay so. It’s now over three months since I drastically cut back on my mileage and I can say with confidence that so far, I have definitely not gained weight from running less.

Not that I use a scale though. This entire post is based on how my clothes fit and how I feel in my clothing. I do not own a scale and never will.

I actually think I am leaner now, with my clothing fitting and feeling so much better than it did when my mileage was averaging 40 miles a week.

It’s almost counter intuitive to think that you can in fact workout LESS and see better results in both fitness and appearance.

But it’s real. There is much truth to HIIT workouts and workout efficiency in comparison to spending a ton of time running and focusing on cardio. There is also much truth to the whole law of diminishing returns when it comes to fitness.

Listen, if your goal is to run high mileage, then hey, you do that. But there may come a time when you want to run less and you may worry what will happen to your body if you do so. 

If you are anything like me, maybe you gradually built up your weekly mileage because you wanted to run a whole lot and then  kept it up because you are a creature of habit.

As time passes and the seasons change, you may just feel burned out of the routine. Maybe you don’t have a lot of time to devote to running or simply don’t want to keep devoting so much time and energy to your workouts.

If you are finding yourself running more than you feel like running because you are afraid you will go up a size in your pants, it’s time to stop.

Even before I dropped the shampoo bottle on my foot which clearly stood as a turning point in my workout routine, I was starting to question my running and workout routine.

No longer did I want to run the amount of miles I was running every week.

It was becoming tiring for me mentally and honestly, I would have these fleeting moments of wonder as to why I was keeping up this mileage when my pace stopped improving and I was still wearing the same size after all of these years of running like this.

Why was I working so hard to continue to run 40 miles a week (plus Pure Barre) to wear the same size jeans that I wore when I ran for 30-40 minutes total, only a few mornings a week?

I’ve been the same size pants for basically 20 years. Of course my shape is more defined and toned now from running and Pure Barre, but still, all of this hard work and dedication to wear the exact same size?

Listen, I am not trying to change my size (NOT AT ALLl!), I’m just trying to make the point of being in basically the same place  regardless of the amount of exercise and consistent, balanced diet.

The truth is, my pants had been looser a few years ago when I was running 20 miles a week. And the two times I dealt with amenorrhea, it was NEVER caused by my mileage. It was directly linked to NOT EATING ENOUGH for my energy needs. 

Knowing this, I was still afraid to cut back too much. Afraid to break my routine and certainly nervous that somehow doing so would cause me to gain weight. As if running so much altered something internally that wouldn’t allow me to adjust back to working out for shorter amounts of time. 

Dropping that shampoo bottle on my foot really did the trick for me. It was my excuse to not run for two weeks as a precaution for causing an actual injury. I’ve been so lucky to never experience a running injury yet still, why wait for one to be the reason to run less?!

During that time of not running and only doing Pure Barre and light elliptical, I IMMEDIATELY I felt the positive effects and over three months later, I still feel great from running less. I never went back to running higher mileage and right now, I have no plans on doing so.

My mood is happier, I look forward to my workouts, and I enjoy NOT running 5-6 days a week. Not to mention, my pace responded instantly and I’m faster on average than I have been in years.

I’m accomplishing quality workouts in less time without feeling bogged down or burned out.

I am more comfortable in my clothes, much less bloated in my muscles and happier in my pants which is a big deal for me. My jeans were always annoying me and now I find myself wearing them five days a week. When I was running more, there was a constant annoyance in my pants, a bloat to my upper thighs is the best way to describe it. My high boots would even struggle to get over my calves. It was annoying and not the side effect I was looking for from my workouts.

So what was that water weight I was always feeling? Well, it’s possible it was caused by cortisol. All of the articles you read about overtraining will mention weight gain around the middle caused by higher levels of cortisol (inflammation) in the body from the added stress of higher mileage. Even though I didn’t feel it around my middle, my body may have felt it in my legs.

Also, as Laura once told us, “When you run for an hour or more, your body uses stored carbohydrates (glycogen) for energy. In order to adapt, your body responds to the use of glycogen during exercise by trying to store more glycogen. The cells in muscles rely on water to aid in glycogen storage. When you stop running for a while, you will see a pause in this process – your glycogen stores are not in need of replenishing. If you eat less while not running, that combined with the halt in adaptation/storage will result in minor loss of water weight.”

It’s also possible that my body has just relaxed. It realized I wasn’t running as much so it didn’t need to store as many calories for energy which translated into losing a small amount of weight due to less exercise.

I also didn’t need to consciously change my diet.

I’m sure that’s the big part here that you are wondering about. What happens to your appetite and what you normally eat as a high mileage runner if you suddenly stop running so much?

Overall I would say I’m a healthy eater, balancing a focus on ton of nutrient dense fruits, vegetables, and plant-based proteins with a good amount of desserts, pizza, sushi, and meals out to eat. As my body was in a good place food-wise and never felt deprived, my metabolism was regular enough (I assume?) to adjust my appetite accordingly.

grandma pizza

Grandma pizza from the other day!

While I cannot answer for anyone but myself, I do think that eating can become intuitive when you run less, even if you aren’t an intuitive eater by nature. Your appetite just adjusts. For example, if I was running an extra 3 miles a day, I think I was eating those extra 3 miles without even realizing. Once I stopped running so much, I definitely noticed myself not feel as hungry. Not needing an extra bowl of oatmeal, an extra spoon of peanut butter. I just stopped reaching for it.

Of course I still get HUNGRY. There are just less instances where I’m searching the pantry or grabbing the jar of peanut butter for a quick snack. My appetite isn’t one driven by runger, if that makes sense.

I also think we have that point in which we thrive. While that point may change over time, right now my appetite is falling in a nice routine with my workouts. A few miles over what I am currently running and I think I end up much hungrier, thus making up for the extra calories burned, and more.

At the end of the day, running is GREAT. It’s a wonderful cardiovascular activity and amazing for the mood – in the right doses.  I don’t have to run so much to achieve the endorphin high and I don’t have to run so much to keep up my endurance, running ability, strength, or my figure.

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Are you looking to run less?

Do you want to make a change to your running routine but are afraid to do so?

Have you recently made a change and want to share what you have noticed since doing so?

 

 

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Comments

  1. says

    I enjoyed hearing your experience with running less and weight! I think regardless of what your exercise level is, you need to listen to your body’s hunger cues. One days I don’t run a ton, I notice that my body isn’t as hungry so I don’t need as much food. With that you also need to make sure you’re eating the right foods. 300 calories of junk versus 300 calories of fruits/veggies/protein is very different.

    Strength training has been a wonderful addition to my running routine! I’ve noticed a slightly more toned body and that it helps with my paces.

  2. says

    I love this post so much, and I really appreciate your honesty with the fears you had before starting this journey. Definitely can relate. I used to do 3 HIIT workouts a week, weights twice a week, and then pretty hard endurance cardio and bodyweight the other days, and it was WAY TOO MUCH. I remember feeling like I am not enjoying this anymore but being scared to dial back because I didn’t know what would happen. Once I replaced some of those hiit workouts with yoga and replaced most of the weight-based strength workouts with Pilates, I not only felt less bloat in my muscles (YES TO THAT POINT), but I actually was looking forward to my workouts again!
    Nicole @ Laughing My Abs Off recently posted…Nostalgia {Thinking Out Loud}My Profile

  3. Marissa says

    I tend to naturally run less during the winter/spring. It’s just not my favorite time to run. And I’m usually coming off of a high mileage fall. And I completely agree that when I’m running less, I tend to weigh less. I’m not quite as hungry, maybe muscle loss, etc. I can definitely tell a difference in my hunger level if I run over 6 miles. I think everything comes in seasons, and I enjoy doing other stuff in those months 🙂

  4. says

    This is such an important discussion to have! This is why I’m such a fan of intuitive eating – the body is smart and will adjust the appetite for how much activity it does. I usually run a bit less for some periods of the year and my weight never seriously fluctuates – maybe 5 pounds up or down, but on my frame 5 pounds isn’t noticeable.
    Laura recently posted…Racing in the Rain: Tips to Run a Good Race in Bad WeatherMy Profile

  5. says

    Over the past two years I have been running so much less than I used to but I don’t think I gained any weight. I do think during marathon training I dropped a few pounds but that was always just temporary. I feel lucky that I never think about how much Im running or working out in relation to my weight because when I was much younger i did that a lot. It’s very freeing to just run the amount that feels right to you.
    Lisa @ Mile by Mile recently posted…Recent Running FavoritesMy Profile

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