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. Just take a listen to Nancy Clark’s episode.

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. To which you could have healthy eating starting to ruin your life, take a listen here to Renee McGregor.

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, which should actually be celebrating ALL body diversity according to Dr. Jennifer Gaudiani.

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 runners 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 race 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.weight fluctuations

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, 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.)
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…..like when I gained 9lbs in a few weeks on my honeymoon.


There is such a thing as being too healthy 🙂

I don’t know about you, but I would rather be an athlete than a skinny girl who runs.


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?

Think we could be friends?

I am always this honest, real, raw. If this article speaks to you, I really believe we could be friends and I could help you with what you are working through. Drop your email below, and I will reach out to you

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  • I agree 100% with all of this and I’m not an ‘elite’ runner. My solution to not worrying about my weight in the off-season is that I don’t weigh myself. I know I’m going to put on 3-5 extra pounds and that’s perfectly ok. I love your honesty here and also love Lauren’s. Knowing that you both are TRULY healthy is even more inspiring then your racing times!

  • Michele Rosen
    December 5, 2014 5:40 am

    Totally agree, for most runners who train and race and not just elites! It just makes sense, a little extra weight in the form of fat will not hurt people and in the “down” parts of the year this is likely to happen naturally in response to activity levels.

  • Another agree here! Weight isn’t something I often worry about. As I’m trying to teach my daughter (without her realizing she’s being taught) it’s all about being healthy and feeling good. Great read Tina!

  • I don’t use a scale and recommend that most people don’t since that number will fluctuate by the hour and does not show a full picture. Certain numbers are unrealistic anyway and really, the more you run, the more muscle you build so while you may appear smaller and in shape, the number on the scale will go up because the muscle weighs more than fat! Most important is to stay healthy with it all —achieving a lower number on the scale and worrying too much about what you eat in order to not gain weight will only hurt your running performance and lead to health problems. That’s what people need to realize, understand and focus on.

  • You know how I feel on this subject–we have both written on it in the past. I think people far and wide are too obsessed with “perfect” “clean” eating. I know that I was and am a better athlete with some meat on my bones! Not a glut of lbs, obviously, but my body functions better, I recover better, sleep better, and I have more energy. RESPECT GIRLFRIEND!

  • Heather @fitncookies
    December 5, 2014 7:26 am

    YES YES YES!! I love that you touched on this. Weight does fluctuate and it’s totally ok for it, and healthy! Love your honest thoughts.

  • it’s GOOD for the body to reset and gain the weight. It soo needs it! yes! and it needs to hold on that to recharge the battery, hormones, etc. Well said friend

  • I hate the term “clean” eating. I love giving yourself permission to get “squishy” knowing that it is a not a slide, but part of a cycle.

  • Erin @ The Almond Eater
    December 5, 2014 7:54 am

    I was going to say ‘thank you for being so real’ but you already know that 🙂 It’s so true though! I’m not an elite athlete (lol) but I think it’s normal for exercise enthusiasts to have their weight fluctuate, and I definitely don’t think it’s something to stress over.

  • faith vandermolen
    December 5, 2014 7:54 am

    Great post! I don’t weigh myself often, but one way my body fluctuates when I’m running more is that I gain more muscle. Sometimes this makes my pants not fit as well. But it’s a good thing…i’ve become stronger and gained muscle!

  • I love this post. I appreciate your reminding us that photos in magazines are airbrushed. I just wish people would believe you. Yes our society has become too obsessed.After a lifetime of being obsessed by the scale myself, I stopped weighing myself about a year ago and have never been happier.

  • I always love your honesty, Tina! I agree that is can be dangerous to get too fixated on a specific number and it’s important to realize weight is going to fluctuate. I love that you share your story and the story of other elites to show you go through the same fluctuation as the rest of us, it really normalizes it.

  • I don’t have an off season since I don’t compete and I’m nowhere near elite, but i agree with the message. 🙂 I just tend to splurge much more than I should!

  • Great read Tina! Thank you for your honesty. I will be sharing this one in my newsletter because it is an important message to get out there.

  • Karla Bruning
    December 5, 2014 8:52 am

    Preach. Its all about being healthy, not the number on the scale! So many things contribute to those fluctuations—your training cycle, hormone cycle, time of year, vacations, etc. Staying healthy should be the main goal!

  • What a great post! It is so cool to read this from your perspective. I run just for fun, but see the same fluctuations during a year depending where you are in the training cycle. I sometimes have to remind myself that it is normal and it’s not healthy to always be at the weight you were right before a big race!
    I really appreciate your honesty!

  • And this is why I love you: your honesty and your healthy approach to running. You set such a great example for people to follow. I’m sure you’ve noticed that the healthy living blogosphere is full of disorder and when an elite shows that restriction isn’t the way to go, you help people. You are Lauren rock!

  • You are awesome, Tina… love this post!! We need more reminders that weight fluctuations are normal and that even those we admire (like elites!) don’t have the perfectly toned body all the time!

  • Love this post! Sometimes it’s easy to forget that those airbrushed athletes are at their peak on magazine covers and also probably were eating pretty clean prior to the photo! This reminds me of that article Lauren Fleshman released on a similar topic.

  • Sprint2theTable
    December 5, 2014 10:58 am

    I love this. I do the same thing with my competitions. You have to gain some in the off season to recover and improve. Food is (delicious) fuel. I don’t allow my clients to weight daily – little fluctuations happen and there’s not reason to stress over them!

  • Completely agree with the fact that it’s unrealistic to maintain an extremely lean physique year round. And that trying to do so only sets you up for failure in the long run because your body starts to freak out and cling to calories like they’re going out of style. I gain weight, I lose weight… I try not to worry about it. The thing I’m MOST concerned about is being healthy — both physically AND mentally — and I find that when I focus on that, the rest just falls into place.

  • This is such an awesome post!!! Perfect for me right now – even though I’m not anything close to being an elite athlete (I’m just a mom who loves to run and sweat), I feel like this is something we all go through at different times.
    Thank you for sharing that even top level athletes like you deal with weight fluctuations!!!

  • Our society has 100% become obsessed with clean eating and with the idea of achieving the perfect “toned” body, which in reality like you said is truly not real and VERY hard to attain. Social media definitely does not help this, but you have to take a step back and focus on you, your goals, how you feel, etc. Now I just need to take my own advice. I love hearing when other bloggers are being REAL and love how full your belly was! Get it girl…xoxo

  • Hi Tina! Great post. I don’t even own a scale, but know that my body goes through changes during the year as I’m more on top of my diet and not. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Liv @ Healthy Liv
    December 5, 2014 6:49 pm

    I totally agree that weight fluctuations are normal! I think focusing on real foods and eating mostly just when we’re actually hungry is the most important, plus occasionally enjoying some treats 🙂

  • Sarah @RunFarGirl
    December 5, 2014 7:23 pm

    Really love your honesty in this post. I noticed a huge fluctuation in weight this year (granted I’m pregnant haha) but I was in crazy good shape this spring, the best I’ve ever been and the lightest I’ve ever been (not including my years struggling with anorexia). I had some injuries over the summer, packed on 3-4 lbs. not much but it feels different. Now I’m packing on more weight and I know that when I start training again that if I focus on the miles and the intensity like you said the weight will diminish, but if I obsess about a number on a scale I’ll be miserable.

  • This is a great post and I totally agree. I struggled with stepping on the scale constantly. When I stopped doing that it was such a relief. We are all so focused on our body image that we forget what healthy is supposed to be. I”m just as guilty. I usually put ON weight during marathon training and then take it off afterwards, but it’s always a struggle.

  • Megan Michael
    December 7, 2014 8:43 am

    I love this post. I am in no way an elite athlete, so my body is really NEVER as ripped as it could be because… well, it doesn’t need to be, haha! When I read this, I was thinking about my training, and just as you say your body doesn’t need to be at it’s peak level all year long, I don’t have to be PERFORMING at my peak all year long. There is a time to relax and ease up on the training so the body can repair and come back ready for round two! I think if we hold ourselves up to a certain standard ALL year long it is unhealthy and unattainable. Oh, and no fun too. I like sweets as well 😉

  • Great post, Tina!! Love seeing your perspective and honesty!

  • Tina — I have a dear male friend who I’m afraid has been spiraling down the dangerous path you talk about. He’s not an elite runner, but a very fast one. I was wondering if you could direct me to any articles that deal with the same issue with male runners?

  • thank you for this!

  • NutButterRunner
    December 10, 2014 4:59 pm

    I am a little behind in my reading, but you are so right! I absolutely love this post! It is so true and I am not even an elite! Health is so much more than numbers and looks. It’s all on the inside 🙂

  • Amazing, as always. I have put on some weight but just… I don’t know, my clothes still fit so I care but I can only be hungry and miserable to some point, you know? What good is life if you can’t enjoy a sugar cookie or a glass of wine or some chocolate?

  • Fantastic post Tina!! A little fat on us is needed for most of the year in order to prevent amenorrhoea. I’ve always wondered how hard it is to strike that fine balance in preventing the female athlete triad as an elite athlete. I know for me, the harder I workout, the less I want to eat – I lose my appetite. Finding that balance is hard for me, but I imagine it’s even harder for an elite athlete where performance is a much more important part of your life. I love your honesty and transparency, thanks for sharing!

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