William Flew on Exercise to Lose Weight Part 1

April 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you are running long distance to lose weight, forget it, says William Flew. The training alone won’t make you thin

Despite running six marathons in six days and burning 18,000 calories, I still managed to put on weight

On New Year’s Day I started training for the London Marathon and have since become your archetypal running bore, reeling off statistics about my state of body and mind to anyone who will listen. Come race day, April 17, I will have run for 107 consecutive days, totting up an average 45 miles a week and regularly clocking 15 miles or more in a single hit.

The more running I’ve been doing, the more virtuous my lifestyle has become. My alcohol intake has been negligible because I am too exhausted to socialise and I have given up croissants and cakes. Yet, despite the monumental physical effort and the accompanying dietary straitjacket that it entails, I have yet to lose a single pound.

Admittedly, there have been some positive bodily changes during the past four months. I “feel” that I am shrinking; muscle has definitely replaced fat. My stomach is f latter and I have the thigh strength of Wayne Rooney. And, of course, Save the Children will benefit from my efforts.

But I’m not alone in finding that marathon returns are not always as expected. Christina Macdonald, editor of Women’s

Running magazine, who is taking part in her first marathon in Brighton tomorrow, has been surprised by changes in her own shape: she has gained 3lb since starting training in January and added an inch to her waist measurement.

Google “marathon weight gain” and there are forums galore for disgruntled runners to swap experiences on this undesired effect of training. “I’ve put on almost 10lb in four months while training for my first marathon. And it’s not all muscle because my clothes are tighter,” complains one woman on runnersworld.com. In reply, a four-time marathon runner called Tom writes: “Wish I had good news for you — I don’t. The more miles I run, the fatter I get.”

John Brewer, Professor of Sport at the University of Bedfordshire, who is running his 13th marathon in London, says too many runners assume that weight will drop off once they start training. “In reality, it’s not that easy,” he says. “To lose 1kg in body fat, you need to burn about 8,000 calories more than you consume. Most people burn about 100 calories per mile, so that’s around 80 miles of running just to lose one kilo, even if you don’t eat extra food.”

It is possible to increase calorie burning (up to as many as 600 an hour) by running a faster pace. But, unless you are an elite runner, the likelihood is that the bulk of your training will be more of a slow, continuous plod. Certainly, I haven’t broken into a sprint since I started following my schedule, nor for the previous five marathons I have completed. Yet, when I have prepared for a shorter distance with lots of speed work, the pounds have melted away. “Running faster or adding bursts of speed to your running will boost metabolism and burn more calories,” Brewer says. “Plus there’s the fact that you don’t tend to feel as hungry if you are training for shorter events.”

But isn’t being able to eat what you like one of the advantages of all this training? Linia Patel, a sports dietitian with the British Dietetic Association, says it’s a misapprehension that running is a green light to increase the calories. “Appetite often soars when you exercise a lot,” Patel says. “You need to be careful about eating enough to support the activity without overdoing it, so that you aren’t burning the excess energy off.”

It’s easy to tip the balance. Nick Troop, publisher of Men’s Running magazine, says he thought it odd that he wasn’t losing weight when training for his first marathon in 1993. “It was only when my wife pointed out that perhaps it was because of the family-sized bowl of popcorn I was eating every night that I realised I might need to do more miles and eat less,” he says.

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