Working Out Hard, Gaining Weight? How to Avoid the Endurance 15
By Dr. Rick Kattouf II
Here is a very common question that I have received many times over the years…
Question: “Rick, I recently trained for an Ironman/Half Ironman/marathon/ultra distance cycling event, etc. I have worked out and trained more than I ever in my life. And in addition, I’ve been eating healthy. I am so frustrated because after all of this training, I actually gained 15 pounds during this time. How can I actually gain weight when I was training more than ever?”
What is the “Endurance 15?” I am sure you heard of the “freshman 15”; a young man/woman goes off to college, adopts the college lifestyle and all too often, he/she gains 15 pounds during their freshman year of college. The endurance 15, also an all too common scenario, is the endurance athlete training many hours a week, and actually increasing body weight and body fat; gaining 5, 10, 15+ pounds during their endurance training. You would think that anyone training for any of the aforementioned endurance events would be incredibly light and lean. But that is so far from the reality as a large majority of endurance athletes today are overweight and obese (despite the endless hours of working out). How can this be? What is going on here?
Answer: Well, there are a multitude of factors that contribute to the Endurance 15. Let's discuss why this may be happening.
Many athletes engage in long-distance training and racing in the hopes that they will decrease their body weight and body fat. As a result, their mindset may still be caught in the “diet mentality”; therefore, they believe that less food and more training is the way to lose weight. In the hopes of losing weight, athletes may avoid eating enough before and during training; their thinking is “why would I consume all of these calories during training when I'm trying to lose weight?” When the body is not being fueled right, athletes may find themselves having uncontrollable food cravings. This can then result in significant overeating and binge eating and many times this will occur later in the day and late at night. This will lead to weight gain.
In addition, many athletes have the following mindset, “I worked out a lot today, therefore I deserve to eat a lot of the not-so-good foods/beverages.” Now, there is nothing wrong with this mindset as long as the individual is accepting of the consequences (not losing any weight and body fat and even gaining weight and body fat). But, if this individual is interested in body transformation, this mindset will need to change.
Take home message: Be sure to fuel the body properly starting immediately upon awakening and every 2.5-3.5 hours throughout the day. This will help to keep the body fueled and you'll keep the fire stoked. Also, be sure to fuel the body during training and avoid the “diet on the bike” mentality. As your training volume increases, be sure that your fueling frequency and timing adequately support your training. It’s fine to work out a lot…if and only if the fueling is adequate to support the workout volume.
Training by Heart Rate:
During endurance training, it is critical to train in the proper heart rate zones (if body transformation, improved performance and improved recovery is the goal). As endurance athletes, we want to teach the body to spare glycogen (fuel stored in your muscles and some stored in your liver). All too often, athletes have not done the necessary work to improve their efficiency, and they train at too high of a heart rate, frequently. When we train at too high a heart rate too often, we are not maximizing the body's ability to spare glycogen (now, here’s the catch; we can only spare glycogen if our glycogen stores are loaded. And this can only be accomplished by fueling the body right, see above). I realize that for many athletes, training in the lower heart rate zones can warrant extremely slow paces and slow speeds (because they have not built the necessary efficiency; this will improve in time). Here is the reality… When an athlete is moving at a very slow pace/speed in their lower heart rate zones, this simply means that the athlete needs to significantly improve their fitness and efficiency. This is where, we as athletes, have to check our athletic ego at the door.
Take home message: Do not worry about your pace/speed; simply focus on training in the proper heart rate zones. Be sure to check your athletic ego at the door, because in time, you will find your efficiency improving. You will start to notice that your body will go harder, longer, faster at the same or lower heart rates. Not only will you start to notice improvements in efficiency, but you will also start to notice the body composition changes you desire such as decreased body fat and body weight. In addition, your recovery and performance will be greatly improved. Anyone that says, ‘heart rate training does not work’, is simply having a knee-jerk reaction. Reactions like this stem from a lack of knowledge and expertise in human physiology and the ability to implement this knowledge and expertise. Folks, this is our heart. How can monitoring our heart rate be a bad thing? Saying that training by heart rate does not work is like saying running will not help you run better.
There still seems to be quite a disconnect when it comes to weight training/resistance training and long-distance endurance training. Many individuals still believe that weight training is not necessary as an endurance athlete and it will cause them to become “bulky” and increase their body weight. This could not be further from the truth. If you desire a lean physique, weight training is a must. If you want to be on the fast track to gaining weight and body fat, despite a high volume of endurance workouts, just stop weight training.
Now, I encourage you to make the weight training intense and vigorous. It does not have to be for a long duration; you can knock out great weight training workouts easily in 30 min (http://www.leandownfitness.com). Attack the weight training with the same ferocity and intensity that you do with your swim/bike/run work outs. Why is weight training so important in order for you to achieve your body composition goals (and performance goals)? It is the weight training that is going to build lean muscle, help to significantly increase your metabolism and help you reduce body fat and body weight giving you the lean physique you desire. Too often, even when weight training appears on an endurance athlete’s schedule, it seems to get a very low priority. Many times, these are the workouts that an endurance athlete will skip.
Take home message: Perform weight training, upper and lower body, at least 3 days per week. Be sure to give your weight training workouts on your schedule the same priority you would your swim, bike and run. Scheduling weight training does not mean “more training.” The key is to adjust your endurance training so that the weight training fits in seamlessly.
In order to avoid the Endurance 15, many times it requires us to make a few behavioral changes. Our mind can be our biggest asset or our biggest limiter. For example, if we have the negative believe that consuming calories during workouts will increase our body weight, then we are right. If we have the negative belief that in order to lose weight we have to work out a lot more and eat a lot less, then we are right. If we have the negative belief that weight training will actually make us “bulky”, then we are right. Changing these negative beliefs is a behavior change and it takes time. As we start to change some of our negative and limiting beliefs and embrace the changes above, not only will we avoid the Endurance 15, but we will be able to find levels of success even higher than we ever thought possible. Remember, we must change the belief in order to change the result.
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Rick Kattouf II, O.D. is a 2x Best-Selling Author and Fitness & Nutrition expert and has been named one of America’s PremierExperts® and one of the World Fitness Elite® Trainers of the Year. He has been seen on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox affiliates around the country as well as in the USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Ironman.com, Livestrong.com, FIGHT! Magazine, Florida Cycling Magazine and The Independent in the UK. Rick is the CEO/Founder of TeamKattouf® Inc, CEO/Founder of TeamKattouf® Nutrition LLC, CEO/Founder of Virtual Gym LLC, Creator of TeamKattouf® Nutrition Supplements, Host of Rx Nutrition, author of Forever Fit, Creator of 5-Round Fury® Nutrition Supplement, 5-Round Fury Fitness® workout app, Creator of Coach2CEO, Creator of Fuel Keeper®, Entrepreneur and Inspirational Speaker. Dr. Rick has personally coached individuals in 30+ states and 10+ countries.