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Gain Weight From Running? It’s Possible

Posted by Filed Under: Health & Fitness

In 2006, I fractured my right hip and left ankle and spent four months off my feet, using crutches to get around only when I had to. I’d just run a marathon and thought for sure the abrupt drop in exercise would result in instant weight gain. But a funny thing happened; I lost about 10 pounds—and without ever feeling hungry.

Within a month of resuming running, the weight had piled back on.

There are numerous physiological reasons why I lost weight once I stopped exercising, and some of them are explained in a recent New York magazine article (“The Scientist and the Stairmaster,” Sept. 24, 2007) that questions the role exercise plays in many weight maintenance and weight loss programs. As author Gary Taubes puts it: “The one thing that might be said about exercise with certainty is that it tends to make us hungry. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. Burn more calories and the odds are very good that we’ll consume more as well.”

Sure, if you reduce the calories you take in and increase those you expend, you will lose weight, at least initially. But the article explains that our bodies will attempt to do an end-run around that initiative and override willpower through the hormonal regulation of fat cells. As Taubes explains:

Ultimately, the relationship between physical activity and fatness comes down to the question of cause and effect. Is Lance Armstrong excessively lean because he burns off a few thousand calories a day cycling, or is he driven to expend that energy because his body is constitutionally set against storing calories as fat? If his fat tissue is resistant to accumulating calories, his body has little choice but to burn them as quickly as possible: what Rony and his contemporaries called the “activity impulse” physiological drive, not a conscious one. His body is telling him to get on his bike and ride, not his mind. Those of us who run to fat would have the opposite problem. Our fat tissue wants to store calories, leaving our muscles with a relative dearth of energy to burn. Itís not willpower we lack, but fuel.

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Taubes also contends those who do lose weight after adopting a strenuous exercise regime probably also made a concerted effort to eliminate the kinds of foods that stimulate insulin production. “Rare is the person who decides the time has come to lose weight and doesn’t also decide perhaps it’s time to eat fewer sweets, drink less beer, switch to diet soda, and maybe curtail the kind of carb-rich snacks—the potato chips and the candy bars—that might be singularly responsible for driving up their insulin and so their fat,” he wrote.

So if you find you’re gaining, or at least no longer losing, weight while upping your mileage, it may be what you’re consuming after a workout or later in the day or week.

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.



76 Comments
  1. Nancy in MI on January 17th at 8:46 pm

    Yes. Well. What can I add. When I run I bulk up and feel horrible. I’m muscled up with a butt J’Lo would envy. I’m not FAT, but I get BIG and BULKY… when I stop running I lose all that muscle, but I get FLAB —- so what do I do? BIG and BULKY like a lazyboy chair ??? or choose small and soft and flabby like a bean bag chair? Mostly I run for my head… but at 5’4″ (think gymnast build) … boy, I really feel like a klunkin’ loser when one of those 6′ tall male marathoners WHIZZZ by me – (no breasts, no butt, nothing to weigh them down)…. I hate the feeling. Running is for my HEAD now… other people tell me I look great (not thin) but great. I don’t want great. I want thin. I eat healty just like all of you do… and I have the BOOTAY that is rock solid hard at OUT THERE – the kind people PAY to have – but on my height it looks absurd. I’ve gone through long periods of walking, only to need that “high’ of the run again. I eat carbs – with no carbs = no energy and no regular bathrooming habit / not for me… talk about bad mood!!!!!!!!!! Okay… so I run. And I hate the physical results. I eat what I want NO JUNK and I gain and gain – I don’t eat to excess. Honest. I’ll probably always hate my body – I think I just have to accept it. I feel bad and SO I go for a run and I feel better – at least in my head. NO one talks about this. Nike almost hit the nail on the head with it’s latest ad campaign (this is my butt ads)… when is bigger (hard muscle bigger body ) going to be okay in the USA? I feel so sad that something I love so much betrays me (even mocks) my own efforts with getting bigger. I can see why people quit. I really can.

  2. Sue on February 15th at 4:12 pm

    HI again,
    I can completely relate to you Asha, l used to run every single day, and l used to eat more carbs, then one day l said to myself, that’s it l am only going to run 3 times per week instead, and my weight just fell off me, and looked less bulky and really ate according to my hunger which went down, and l have stayed this way for 8 years. I would never go back to running each day, but l one thing l have changed is my eating. I eat so much less, but l eat what ever l want during the weekends and am pretty strict with myself during the week. Try it for a few weeks and see how you go. I am at a stage where running is just so hard for me now, and l often wonder why l push myself so hard, l find that even 3 times per week of running is far too much for my body. I would love to just give it all up and just walk, but l am scared l would gain weight.
    Now when l do run, l actually mix it up with sprints, so it is harder, but l do hate it.
    I know quiet a few women who were complete exercise freaks, and when they gave it up, they actually looked and felt better, they were pushing there bodies way too far.
    So maybe we need to listen to our bodies more, and do what it sais.
    Cheers Sue

  3. D on March 9th at 8:44 am

    <a href="http://lifeandpath.com/&quot; Life and Path
    This is such a great post. Dietary changes help (think BETTER calories, not just lower calories), but some weight gain from water will happen. Your body knows it needs to be able to use glycogen stores and needs water to do that. Omega 3’s will help reduce inflammation related gains.

    Happy Running Everyone!

  4. D on March 9th at 8:45 am

    Life and Path
    This is such a great post. Dietary changes help (think BETTER calories, not just lower calories), but some weight gain from water will happen. Your body knows it needs to be able to use glycogen stores and needs water to do that. Omega 3’s will help reduce inflammation related gains.

    Happy Running Everyone!

  5. Annie on March 12th at 1:18 pm

    I have gained 10lbs since I started running again (about one week ago)!!! I am 5’2 and very petite (was 100lbs, but now am 110lbs). And I am definitely eating less. My legs have turned into stocky tree-trunks, bulky and almost completely muscle. I want to look more feminine! I am going to continue to jog every day and massively cut my calorie intake and see if this works!

  6. meg on March 26th at 3:55 am

    i run 6 miles every day and will be going on vacation this weekend nad not have the opportunity to run. i am so scared i will put on weight from 2 days of not running! will I?

  7. Anne on March 26th at 4:24 am

    Meg,

    If your body is now accustomed to burning 600 calories per day from running 6 miles, and you’re scared of gaining weight from missing a couple of days, just adjust your diet and hold off on eating a lot on those days. (Hard to do on a vacation, I know, but if you’re fanatical about running every day, I’m sure you can do it.)
    .-= Anne´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday =-.

  8. david d on March 30th at 1:18 am

    im tryna to put on 10kg cuz im training for ufc so i googled running and weight gain and found this site. hoping the weight gain applies to males aswell as someone suggested it may only be a female thing. ps add ma facebook.com/dd90210 :)

  9. Sue on April 14th at 8:25 pm

    I would love to do a study on women who run regurlarly and have stopped for a certain period of time to see how there weight fluctuates and how they feel about themselves.
    I wonder if a study have ever been done.
    If so let me know.
    I know for me anyway, each day l run l feel extra hungry.

    Starving in fact and therefore eat more.
    I am really starting to think running is a complete wast of time as far as weight is concerned, not that l am overweight. I hate running, but l am just so scared l will gain weight.

    Sue

  10. Asha on April 17th at 6:30 pm

    Sue,
    If you’d like, I’ll be in your study. I’m going from being a daily runner to forcing myself to stop doing it all the time. I was really glad to hear that you were able to cut back! I’m going on a big backpacking trip soon and will have to stop (unless I want my friends to sit and watch me run tiny laps around foreign cities-no thanks). I haven’t quite gotten the courage to cut back on my running in terms of days per week, but I have had several breaks that I would never have considered before. I’ve noticed that on these breaks (one per month usually, from 3 days to one week) I feel terrific and don’t gain weight. I would love to see how cutting back more could help (right now I’m just tired all the time but afraid to stop).

  11. Erica on April 26th at 9:29 am

    I am so glad I found this blog! I have experienced what everyone else has- 8-10pound weight gain and it is so frustrating! At least I know it is common because I was beginning to actually think I am being sabotaged LOL.

    Good luck with your goals everyone!

  12. Sue on May 3rd at 4:50 pm

    I think we should start a club online and try an experiment together and blog our daily progress and feelings about not running. Would anyone be interested in this experiment?

    Cheers Sue

  13. MJ on May 8th at 5:11 am

    Sue, I would love that idea! I have been running on and off for ,many years. This past year I went 10 months (the most I have gone in while without exercising.) But, I am back on it now. I am trying to run about 3-4 miles each run at about 4-5 days/ week. I feel great, though, I will say I do wake up with my legs feeling heavier (muscley). But, I dont mind it, because I know it is muscle gain. I did get on the scale this morning and it is saying I am 136, though just a couple of days ago I was 134. I have been eating less and healthy foods.. Again, I think this is muscle gain, because of the way my legs feel heavier and muscely in the morning.

  14. TT on June 6th at 10:36 am

    im so confused! I just finished my first year of college, and although I did not gain the Freshman 15…thank god, I did gain around 6-8 pounds. It’s summer right now and I was hoping to take up running 5 times a week for the next 3 months, but i just weighed myself for the first time since summer started, and I gained a few pounds -_- I guess after reading all this I’m glad its normal, but what am i suppose to do?! I realized that I really like running (Runner’s high!), but i use to be so much skinnier without all this and its frustrating to me. I eat about the same at home as I did in HS, and definitely less than I did in college because a lot of midnight snacking and drinking was involved. I’m not really into the idea of just power walking :/ Does anyone have any suggestions? Will the weight eventually decrease or will it just continue to increase if I keep running?

  15. CJ on June 11th at 12:20 pm

    Muscle doesn’t weigh that much more than fat! I’m so frustrated.. .I’m not small. My BMI high at 28% so I need to loose 15-20lbs. Help! I run 4 x a week 2-4 miles each time, weight train 3x a week. I’m solid, but there seems to be this thick layer of fat all over my body that is IMPOSSIBLE to burn. I consume 1200 calories on a typical day, and I couldn’t tell you the last time I consumed over 1400. Scientifically isn’t this impossible? I had my thyroid tested and had a metabolic rate test that said my metabolism is high and that to maintain I should consume 1835 calories a day. I should be perfect by now. Any suggestions?

  16. Jon on June 12th at 7:27 am

    Hi CJ,

    You said your BMI was 28% so you needed to lose 15-20 pounds. I think you are equating body fat with BMI, and these two don’t always correlate. You may not actually have 15-20 pounds to lose, depending on your build. You didn’t give your height and weight or dimensions, so its hard to know for certain. I would have your body fat determined before you go trying to lose that weight. Use the body fat measurement to determine where you actually are in terms of healthy weight.

    Also, cutting your calories below your metabolic rate can backfire. Putting you body into “starvation mode” only teaches it to store energy for lean times. I would always make sure you are taking in enough calories for your basal metabolism.

    Good luck!
    .-= Jon´s last blog ..more thoughts =-.

  17. Toni on June 13th at 11:58 am

    I, too, gained 10 lbs after I started running with the intent of getting physically stronger, healthier, etc. I was 95 lbs, and after running a few wks, noticed that my weight started to increase. In a panic, I increased the distance of my runs and workouts only to find that the weight gain accelerated (as did my appetite). I was a 00P, and after five months of this, I had to go up to a size (I know – boo-hoo…however, this was devastating to me, as I was used to having my clothes look & fit a certain way). I continued to run b/c I wanted to run a half marathon or at least a 10 mile race. Well I ran a 10 miles race in May, and since then, I’ve cut back significantly on my running. I’ve already dropped 5 lbs. and noticed that my appetite is back to normal i.e. I’m not hungry all the time nor do I have an insatiable hunger. I try to limit my runs to no more than 1x/wk and no more than 3 miles. To supplement my exercise routine, I walk 3 miles at a normal pace (w/ my Yorkie) at least 2-3 times per wek, and take yoga or dance classes. Ashtanga yoga (2hrs) DEFINITELY seemed to kickstart something in my body (I’ve heard that it helps with your digestive system). For me, moderate exercise is the way to go to keep a slim and fit body. Anything more, will make me bulk up, which is not the result I’m looking for.

  18. Vee on June 21st at 11:21 pm

    all i know is that i gained about 20 lbs from no exercise and once I started running, I am looking leaner. No exercise makes me fat and running reverses this. I don’t know why it’s different for all of you.

  19. Jassimo on June 25th at 9:21 am

    From my own experience, here are a few things I believe are important for eliminating bulky muscles:

    1. get a good pair of jogging sneakers (some aren’t really designed for running or jogging)

    2. Before you run, give yourself 5-10 mins for warm ups and stretching. when you jog/ run, make sure to inhale and exhale deeply, and coordinate the breathing with your steps, find your own rhythm. keeping it as an aerobic exercise, after the run, you are exhausted but your muscles aren’t sore or tight. (soreness and tightness can cause bulky muscles). Lots of stretching after your run, if there’s any tightness and soreness, they would go away more efficiently after stretching. Then a cool shower.

    3. I do not know if this one affects directly… when i eat protein, i don’t eat carb/sugar, vice versa… and I have been eating protein mostly, with veggies. Protein consumes more calories to digest and to burn, it helps to get rid of water retention and fat… carbs makes you to store fat…

    I’d like to see more suggestions from experienced runners on this issue.

  20. Asha on June 26th at 2:55 pm

    Well, I’ve just returned from 6 weeks of backpacking. I was always well-fed, and I didn’t do any exercise. Granted, we were often on our feet to sightsee and such, but I just wanted to tell anyone out there who is afraid to stop running and gain weight-I didn’t gain! Now I’m so excited to start running less and actually enjoy myself. Running should always be about fitness and personal fufillment, not about a scale number. I’ve been through a battle with the mental aspects of running for only weight, and I can tell you that it’s not fun. Sue-I’d like to join that online club if you make one. I’d love to know what workouts (and amount of them) can leave people feeling trim and happy!

  21. Asha on June 26th at 2:57 pm

    Also, Vee, I don’t think that it’s “different” for all of us. I believe that we’ve taken our amount of exercise to a point that our bodies don’t need. It’s all about balance.

  22. Bee on August 19th at 7:32 pm

    I am so glad I found this conversation! i have the same problem with running that many of the women on here have. I’m in my mid-twenties and I’ve always had an “hourglass figure”. Over the years, I’ve varied from being atheltic and not and back again. My stomach has always been naturally flat, even without doing much exercise. But I notice that when I start running again, I start collecting fat around my abdomen. I love the way I feel when I run and I like being healthy, but I hate that my boobs get smaller and my tummy gets rounder!! I feel much more feminine, and attractive, when I’m not running. I don’t know how to explain it–I always eat healthy regardless of how I’m exercising. I feel less inclined to run because of how it makes my body look–I get way more compliments when I’m NOT working out!

    It’s so unfair. Boys work out and they look great–women work out and we look less feminine. I’m intrigued by the “stress/defense” mode some people mentioned here–maybe that explains the extra fat stores when exercising!

  23. dre on October 13th at 4:33 pm

    I struggle with initial weight gain when I first start running, but then definitely lose as I gain endurance and particularly once I hit 20 mi/week.

    After 1 year of not running, my weight went up 4# after one session of running (weighed before and after on the same scale). Some sort of fluid shifts for sure, but if I can hang with running through the initial ‘puff’ I start to lose.

    I always want to quit when I first start, but hang in there. I also lose weight after 2 week non-exercise vacations, but am skinny/flabby. =(

  24. Laura on October 24th at 6:08 pm

    My take on this after being a daily runner for seven years and someone who related exercise entirely to weight: stop. Do NOT relate running, or any exercise, to weight. Relate NUTRITION to weight, and don’t overlap the two. Do not think that because you exercise, you can eat ice cream. Eat ice cream when you WANT to eat ice cream REGARDLESS. Exercise for the benefits to your heart and body-excluding weight loss. I believe that once we get too involved in the exercise-weight connection, we overdo it, and forget that our bodies more or less are set in a particular shape. We get hooked on too much running, and this is not a good thing because we begin to feel stressed and guilty when we cannot run.

  25. Anonymous on October 27th at 8:48 am

    When starting back running or exercise you will gain weight due to your body not being use to the exercise. You will gain anywhere from 3-5< lbs. Then as you continually exercise you body will conform to your plan and say "oh this time he/she is serious."

    The body does tend to store fat around the mid section when doing an exercise; however it is only storing fat to push out the muscles. Then, with in a couple of months the fatty area will be a leaner area. When you exercise yes, you will gain weight. Not because you are fat but due to muscle weighing more than fat. Therefore, you clothes maybe fitting tighter(at first) due to muscle gain in the thighs, arms, and waist, etc.– It will more than likely take your body at least 10-12 weeks to get used to the routine and finally loose weight.
    Accompanied by running you may want to do weight training or at least abdominal training. As someone mentioned previously it is quite important to stretch before and after you run. Also, a secret to loosing weight more quickly when you run is to not the steady distance you run it is more so the intensity. You need to run in intervals. 30 second fast pace(as hard as you can) 45 second half pace/ normal jogging running pace. Then as reach your Plateau you will increase your intervals 45 second fast pace 1 minute rest and etc. until you are at your goal weight. Always cool down after intervals. [try hip hop abs]

    It is also important to have a proper running and breathing technique for jogging/ running long distances. You need to lengthen your strides as you run and your foot should be hitting on the balls of your foot not flat footed . Also when you run for endurance it is important to breath in through you nose and out through you mouth and really force out the nitrogen from your mouth. When running a faster pace it is important to have shorter breaths still breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.

    As for eating, pending on your type of training it is a good idea to not eat too many carbs like bready foods. However, when running you can eat some pastas. Have a balanced diet with a lot of colorful veggies, fruits, and lean protein like (cod/ salmon) fish and lean chicken breast. If you are a vegetarian eat a lot of veggies, fruits, and beans like black beans, navy beans, field peas, etc. A fruit that helps w/ the digestive system is a pear. Now if you don't like eating your veggies you can always make veggies fruit shakes with all of your servings of fruit and veggies that you need through out the day. [try naked juices] Try seeking a dietitian if you are still concerned.

  26. Anonymous on October 27th at 9:05 am

    Also try writing down what you eat to help keep track. You can go to: fitday.com
    This website will help what area of foods you are missing.

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