Weight Fluctuations for Elite Athletes

I think you know by now that I eat healthy meals. I think you also know that I like my sweets. I often struggle to keep my sweet tooth under control, and there is a reason my blog started off being called Insatiable Sweet tooth. That being said, this post is not about my sweets, nor is it about my healthy meals.

Today, I wanted to talk to you about weight fluctuations. This was another request for a blog post from one of my readers, and I thought it was a great topic, one that needs to be discussed more.

Changes in weight are normal, actually, in my opinion they are healthy. It does not matter who you are, and what level you run at, your weight is going to go up and down depending on what segment/season/year it is. Even if you tried to keep your weight the exact same day in day out, it is not going to happen. Your body naturally changes throughout the day, and if you do find you NEED to keep your weight at one number on an unreliable piece of equipment, then you are entering very dangerous territory, and then you need to step back and ask yourself what is more important, running well, or that number? Because it cannot be both. Most people begin a downward spiral that will mean it is eventually physically impossible for you to continue running well.

If I asked you what words come to mind when you think of elite runners, you would most likely come out with these; thin, toned, strong, perfect, muscle, defined. And a lot of the time, you would be right in saying those words. When you look at the magazines with professional runners on the cover, that is what you see. But what you do not see is the airbrushing that the major magazines do to make that athlete look that way, nor do you see the rest of the year for that athlete. You are seeing a picture of that runner when they are at their absolute peak, in the best possible shape they could be in. They have fine tuned their diet, planned out their training, put in all the work to give themselves the absolute best chance of being successful, and you look at that, and see it as unattainable.

Honestly, it probably is unattainable. That image is unattainable to most people, and a lot of that is because of genetics, BUT during the off season (like this time of year) we do not look like those pictures you see. We have a little more squish. The pounds creep on as we take our time off after the season (read why I think it is so important to take time off), and we too, have those same guilty thoughts after eating a few too many cookies. I like to think of myself as a very strong person when it comes to fighting off our the pressure to look a certain way, but that is not to say that it does not cross my mind on a regular basis.

Of course during the off season, the doubts creep in a little more. That little voice tells you that you are never going to run fast with that extra weight. That the other girls you compete against are not allowing themselves to slack off their diet as much as you are, and you will pay for it.

But then another voice comes through, well it does for me, that says “HEY! Tina! Stop it! You work SO HARD all season,  your body needs that time to relax, and gain weight”. Yes, I did just say gain weight. I am going to repeat that, it is healthy for your body to gain weight after a season. Your body cannot maintain that peak shape year round, it is not healthy, and you are then dancing over that thin line that borders obsession with a number on a scale, and we all know what territory you are dangerously close to.

Totally honesty. My racweight fluctuationse weight is around 114lbs. That is what I tend to sit at for the last few weeks of my marathon training, and what I go into my peak race weighing (well, maybe with a few extra pounds of carbs in my stomach, but you know what I mean). During the majority of the year, my weight tends to sit between 116-120lbs. That may only be a difference of 6lbs, but it is a visible difference, and one that will change almost daily, and guess what, that is OKAY!

Just to prove that I am not just saying what you want to hear, here is a picture of my belly just a few days ago….okay, it was after thanksgiving dinner, but clearly not the same stomach that you see on the right, which was a few weeks before the Marathon.

When it comes to the most important 6 weeks before a major race, I do not try to hit that magic race weight, but the intensity of the workouts, the number of miles I am running, and the fine tuning of my diet means that it ends up there. If you try to force your body into a certain weight by restricting or obsessing over it, your body will fight back, thinking it is in a crisis, and will make it harder to get there. Just trust that if you are doing the right things, your body will be in the best physical shape it can be for you to race well.

You do not just have to hear it from me. I think you know by now that I am “real”. I also wOutdoor Nationals 2012 (79)anted you to hear it from a friend of mine. Another elite runner who tells it how it is. Lauren Kleppin is a 2:28 marathoner who I has the pleasure of getting to know many years ago as we both ran for division II schools in college. Lauren may be a little more free spirited than I am, and you will know that if you have read her blog (check it out HERE), but we are both all about being who we are, and not pretending things are all wonderful in the world of an elite.

I asked Lauren what she thought about weight fluctuations, and here is what she had to say

“As an elite runner, my job depends on fine-tuning my body for maximum efficient performance. As much as I despise it (especially during the holiday season), I am more in tune to my body than I want to be at times. I can feel the fluctuation in my weight even before the extra burden of guilt sets in- an unwelcome addition to the towering and already stinking pile of buttery sugar cookie, apple pie poo I feel like.

However, in my opinion, a minor fluctuation in weight is nothing to fret about. Just as our mind and spirit sort of adjusts to the loose freedom of an off season, so does our body. (Just buy a looser pair of jeans to match.)
I feel very thankful to have run the TCS NYC Marathon this year, which perfectly set up my “off season” to collide with my birthday, a trip home to Wisconsin, and Thanksgiving. 
Yeah. Perhaps I may have treated myself a couple of times too many this go-around… but it is cold here in Wisconsin, and icy on the roads too!  If anything, I am just adding an extra layer of padding in case I fall down.”
Photo from La Times where Lauren was 1st American at the LA Marathon this year

Photo from La Times where Lauren was 1st American at the LA Marathon this year

Isn’t she awesome!? Let me just tell you, not many professional runners will be that honest with you. When I mentioned earlier about professional runners in magazines looking like perfection, well, Lauren was one of those runners this year. You can read about her story in Runners World.
However, like most elite runners, Lauren is taking this off-season time to enjoy herself, make the most of the holidays, and have fun with friends and family. There is way too much emphasis right now in the healthy living world on looking perfect all the time. You read my post about the Changing Body Image of Female Runners, and I hope that is the direction we are headed in, but we are still only halfway up this mountain, and in my opinion there is still too much pressure on eating clean all the time. There is a time and place for controlling every morsel that goes into your body, but if this is your off season, it is okay to live a little! There is such a thing as being too healthy 🙂
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So what is my point? My point is that your padding may fluctuate throughout the year, as it should, just as your weight fluctuates throughout the day. If you just finished your racing season, then it is okay to enjoy a few extra cookies! Life is for living, and if elite runners can take some down time to enjoy the naughty foods (and drink), then you shouldn’t feel bad about it either.
Do you think our community has become too obsessed with clean eating? Do you allow yourself to let go a little during your off season?