Along the way to training for my first marathon, I was one of those runners that gained weight. I was meticulously logging my calories with the MyFitnessPal App (Android, iTunes). Every day I kept my daily caloric recommendations adjusted for running within my calorie budget. I was logging 30-50 running miles a week during my marathon training schedule. Somehow extra pounds were sneaking past the defenses and tacking on an extra pound a week. I was hoping that I would be reversing that logic and losing about 1 pound or more a week.
When I got through some of my daily runs of 14-20 miles, my Garmin would tell me that I burned anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 extra calories, so I had some extra adjusted calories that I could splurge on. Still, the weight kept packing on.
During my next half marathon training, I narrowed down three key reasons why I wasn’t losing weight. If you’re having trouble with weight loss, try watching or fixing guesstimating, hidden calories, and tracking devices.
Problem #1: Guesstimating
I define guesstimating as taking a rough quantifiable guess at something. However, when you’re guesstimating calories, you should define it as not knowing how many calories you are eating. If we eat at a restaurant and we order a dinner plate off the menu, we are having to guess how many calories are in a dish. Most of us humans are underestimating the calories in food by close to double.
Let’s say you order a dish of chicken marsala. You guess the calories to be about 800 calories. Chances are it’s probably around 1,100 to 1,300 calories, or maybe more. If you continuously, do this for one meal a day for a week. You could easily sneak in another 1,400 to 3,500 calories each week.
- Try not to eat out at restaurants. If you do eat at restaurants, choose the locations that show the calorie content on the menu.
- Don’t eat appetizers.
Problem #2: Hidden calories
Of the three problems listed in this article, this one is the least problematic for your weight issues. However, it’s worth taking a look at. The hidden calories I’m referring to are the ones that are found in small packets of condiments of ketchup or mayonnaise. These are also the calories in your gummy vitamins, candy, gum, or cream/sugar you put in your coffee/tea. Here is a list of approximate calories in each of the above mentioned (source: Calorie King):
- ketchup: 10-20 calories (packet)
- mayonnaise: 70-100 calories (packet)
- ranch dressing: 200 calories (packet)
- gum: 5-10 calories (each)
- gummy vitamins: 15 calories (each)
- sugar: 16 calories (1 packet)
- creamer: 20 calories (1 packet)
Although these are tiny amounts of calories when looking at the bigger picture, it’s still worth considering in your total daily consumption
- I don’t count the individual calories. I log a chunk of calories somewhere between 100 to 200 calories.
Problem #3: Devices
I love my Garmin 235 watch. After running a 12-mile long run and my watch told me that I burned 1,850 calories. I would get so excited that I had an extra 1,850 calories to eat up. I did this throughout my entire marathon training cycle. The short: don’t do this.
While it is a fact that training for a marathon does require a substantial amount of extra calories to replenish your glycogen stores, it doesn’t mean that you should be using up the extra 1,850 calories. According to a recent study by Standford Medicine, calorie counting devices could be off by 27% to 93%. Let’s look at my example of 1,850 calories burned for a 12 mile long run with the results from this study:
Device vs. Study
- 1,850 calories x 27% offset = 500 calories off (possible, that means that I only burned 1,350 calories)
- 1,850 calories x 93% offset = 1,720 calories off ( without a doubt my Garmin isn’t off by 93%! This mean that I only burned 130 calories)
Now, if you use the average calories burned for a 1-mile run, which is roughly 100 calories (larger people might burn more, i.e., 120-140 calories), the calories I burnt should be right at about 1,200 Calories. I’m a larger male so I’ll throw in an extra 200 calories due to my size. So we are still looking at between 1,200 calories and 1,400 calories. If you take the calculation my Garmin reported, 1,850, and the offset of 27%, we are now at 1,350 calories which is a lot closer to the average calories per 1 mile burned calculation.
Don’t freak out! I’m not telling you to trash your device. Like I said before, I genuinely love my Garmin watch. It gives me lots of great information about my running including splits, cadence, miles ran, etc. Instead, I had to disconnect the sync feature with the MyFitnessPal calorie counting app, so it no longer subtracts running calories from my total calorie daily limit. Instead, I manually add in my exercises for the day such as 1 mile = 100 calories. So, in this case, I logged a 12 mile run at 1,200 calories.
Bonus: Ignorance is bliss calories
Alcohol is one of the easiest calorie oversights to let slip through the cracks. Each light beer you consume is easily 100 calories per 12 oz. If you drink stronger IPAs, you could be consuming up to 300 calories per 12 oz.
Don’t worry I’m not going to tell you to stop drinking. One of my favorite things to do after a race is to drink a beer or two. If you’re drinking a couple of drinks every day, and that’s perfectly ok, be mindful that you’re injecting an extra 1,000 or more calories per week. One more thing, from a runner’s perspective, don’t drink the night before a long run. Doing that can seriously dampen your performance.
The biggest fix for me was to remove my Garmin devices from the MyFitnessPal app. I also cut back my drinking to only two nights a week. These two tweaks in my eating schedule allowed me to lose about 7 pounds throughout 12 weeks. I hope that you can find value in one of the techniques mentioned above. Keep running!
Calorie Counters/LookupsBeginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury free race finishers. He recently completed his 10 half marathon race. He is also an RRCA certified coach.
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Beginner to Finisher Series:Why New Runners Fail: 26 Ultimate Tips You Should Know Before You Start Running! (Book 1) 5K Fury: 10 Proven Steps to Get You to the Finish Line in 9 weeks or less! (Book 2) 10K Titan: Push Beyond the 5K in 6 Weeks or Less! (Book 3) Beginner’s Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Book 4) Long Run Hacks: 20 Ultimate Tips To Help You Push Through Hard Runs (Book 5) How to Avoid a Half Marathon Meltdown: 10 Things You Need to Know to Make Sure Your First Half Marathon Isn't Your Last! (Book 6)
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