My question is whether it is possible to lose weight while training for a marathon and if so, how. I am currently training for my first marathon this fall, and I am also hoping to lose 10lbs while doing so (the last of my "baby weight"). I have small babies, so time is an issue, I am on a program with a local running group that requires 3-5 runs every week with an option to cross train on one of the 5 days. I do not do any resistance work currently, although love yoga and do that whenever I can and occasionally a video of something like the beach body videos (the shorter ones 30 min or less). I feel really overwhelmed with all of things people say you "should" do. (Pushups, squats, full weight workout, cycling, yoga, etc. etc. etc.) so don't really know where to begin, but really want to push past this plateau. I lost the rest of my baby weight by eating healthier (cutting dairy and wheat, working on cutting sugar) and ramping up the running. I would love some suggestions on what to do next, to be able to complete my race, but also lose the last of the fat, especially around my middle. I thought the marathon training would be enough, but my coach recently said people rarely lose weight while training, is that true?

Thank you so much, your column is such a great resource!


It is absolutely possible to lose weight while training for a marathon but it amazes me how many people gain weight while working towards such a physical goal.

It all comes down to nutrition. One would think that running 5 days a week, as well as cross training, means that you can eat whatever you like, whenever you like, but unfortunately that is not the case. You are going to be burning 5000-10000 calories a week, depending on your training volume, which means you are going to be tired and hungry. And having a calorie deficit in your diet while training for an endurance event is not ideal as you need to be giving your body nutrients in order to be strong enough for each workout, as well as recover for the next.

We all know that it is not as simple as calories in versus calories out anymore but rather the types of foods that you are feeding your body. Where do most runners go wrong? The post long-run coffee and muffin social gathering. One muffin can have as many calories in it that you just burned on your long run AND it will do zero to help you fuel for your next workout, leaving you hungry and craving more. This leads to eating more in a day than we should and, unfortunately, weight gain.

What do you need to do? Make sure that you are not adopting the “I can eat whatever I want” or “I deserve this” mentality and rather look at your food as fuel for its next challenge. Stay away from processed sugars and starchy foods and fill it with energy rich, iron full foods that will keep your body satisfied. Olive oils, avocado, brussel sprouts, eggs, steak, spinach, fish, chicken, quinoa and almonds are all examples of foods that should be a part of your diet and have those ready to grab as soon as you are finished your workout. If you are on the go like myself I resort to MuscleMLK light and if I have a bit more time and find myself in my own kitchen post run, it is a healthy vegetable omelette. Make sure this is not an added meal to your day, but rather you have rearranged your meals and snacks to accommodate your workout.

Also, stay away from sugary energy supplements such as sport drinks and energy gels, at least for the first part of your training program. Your body is fine with just water during any workout less than 2 hours so keep the sport drink powders on the shelf. As you start to progress past 2 hours grab an electrolyte only drink such as NuuN.  I have used this product for 8 years and it never fails. It is full of potassium and sodium as well as magnesium, a mineral that plays a very important role in muscle relaxation, and it is extremely low in calories. Lemon lime is my go-to and it has fueled me through every single one of my events, including 2 Ironman races. 

When you start to up the mileage, you will need to top up your body’s glycogen stores on the go as well as train your body for being able to digest these supplements come race day. During your long runs have one gel just before you start and one at half way, but that is all. In your race you may have one every 45 minutes but that is not necessary on training runs. You can buy pre-made ones at the grocery store (cliff shots are my favourite) or make your own out of dates, which is too much of a hassle for me!

You can only train as hard as you recover, as bodies that are under stress can cause increases in cortisol production which can promote weight gain. If you push too hard and do not allow sufficient rest, you can risk adrenal fatigue which is a very serious condition. Sleep is number one and a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night is a must. Cutting out alcohol, sugar, caffeine and other stressors in your life will also be beneficial in keeping you energized, which in turn prevents you from grabbing the sugary, midday snack that is all too common in our diets.

Strength training is a must, at least in the beginnings of your program, but two 30 minute workouts a week will suffice. Yoga can be used for one and a strength training video can be used for your second.  Be aware, however, that as your weekly mileage starts to ramp up you will need to cut back on your strength workouts as you are going to need as much energy as you can for those long, hard weekend runs.

So, yes, you can lose weight while training for a marathon but it is tough. If my clients are wanting to do as you are, I always suggest that they try and lose the weight before they start training or in the early stages of their program before things ramp up and they are walking around starving all the time. But as long as you give your body the fuel and hydration it needs you should be fine.

Attached - Mel B heads to the gym in NYC.