Running and Weight Gain? The diet and exercise connection

By Alexandra Caspero on June 1, 2011

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Running to lose weight? Depending on your diet intake and exercise regimen, you may find that you have actually gained weight instead of losing it. I see this all the time, especially in my female clients. Ironically, I see it more in women who are training for an endurance event like a triathlon or marathon. There are lots of theories behind this weight gain: increased appetite, muscle imbalance, and improved muscle efficiency. When you  exercise you can also increase blood volume and muscle mass contributing to weight gain.

Weight gain around the belly is affectionately referred to as ‘runners pooch’ and can be corrected. This is more than likely related to muscle imbalance: strong hip flexors, hamstrings and weak abdominal muscles. Essentially this leads to bad posture where runners tend to stick their stomachs out. Interestingly enough, this imbalance of muscles also causes low back pain. When your pelvis is tilted forward, you place extra stress on your lumbar spine resulting in low-back pain. The corrective answer? Posture work! Strengthening your abdominal muscles and stretching your hip flexors and hamstrings. A lot of “ab” exercises use the hip flexors- double leg lifts, scissor kicks, bicycles. Keep your hips out of it!

Diet tips for runners looking to maintain and/or lose weight:

1. Eat your recovery meal as a regular meal. Instead of having a recovery meal and a regular meal, combine them as one. Cutting out the recovery meal, especially if it’s in the form of gels, bars, or shakes, can save hundreds of calories.

2. Eat less. I know it sounds redundant, but sometimes we feel that we can ‘eat whatever we want’ because we worked out. At least I know I do this!  Sure, running scorches calories but a few extra granola bars throughout the day negates that. Listen to your body! If you’re truly hungry, reach for filling foods. Lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans/legumes are good choices because they are nutritious and will keep you full till the next meal or snack.

3. You don’t need to fuel your bedtime. Consume calories when you most need them- during the day! This is a great tip for anyone who is trying to lose weight. When we cut out calories during the day, we can feel hungry, cranky, and fatigued… not exactly feelings we want to have before heading to the gym! By reducing calories and snacking at night we reduce overall intake. Since you don’t need to have extra energy to head to bed, you won’t notice the calorie exchange as much as you might during the day.

Don’t get me wrong, exercise is bar none one of the best things you can do for your body. The benefits of exercise go way beyond weight maintenance but I am also aware that it’s a motivator for a lot of people. If your goal is to lose weight and you haven’t- check  your diet first.

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Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Plant-Based Chef and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

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    1. Shirlee Natera
      March 29, 2015 AT 5:54 am

      I was overweight and tried so many things. Different things work for different people and I was lucky enough to find one that worked for me. I lost 18 pounds in one month without exercise and it has been a life changer. I’m a little embarrased to post my before and after photos here but if anyone actually cares to hear what I’ve been doing then I’d be happy to help in any way. Just shoot me an email at and I’ll show you my before and after photos, and tell you about how things are going for me with the stuff I’ve tried. I wish someone would have helped me out when I was struggling to find a solution so if I can help you then it would make my day

    2. Marc
      July 31, 2012 AT 2:29 pm

      Excellent stuff. I really enjoyed the integration of exercise science and nutrition.

      1. DK
        July 31, 2012 AT 4:17 pm

        Thanks Marc!

    3. BL
      June 5, 2011 AT 1:36 am

      Good info Ill def pass on…