An interesting thing happened to me over the past several weeks & I don’t quite know how to explain it. First let me tell you the numbers.
Jan 28 – Feb 2: I gained 0.5 lbs per day, for a net gain of 3.5 pounds
Feb 4 – Feb 8: I lost 0.5 lbs per day, for a net loss of 3.0 pounds
Feb 11 – Feb 15: I gained about 0.5 a day, for a net gain (again) of 3.5 pounds
My weight normally fluctuates several pounds up and down over the course of a month (and sometimes in a day, if I had sushi the night before) but never before has it been this methodical & this much in one day. In an effort to figure it out, I looked back at my daily log & discovered that the first week I was burning over 1000 cals/workout. The second week, due to normal life complications, I had to cut my workouts short and only burned 400-700 cals/workout. This week I’m back up to my 800-1200 cals/workout. That’s right folks, the longer and harder I worked out the more weight I gained. The less I worked out the more weight I lost.
What in the name of little green apples is going on here?
This goes against everything we’re told about exercise, particularly cardio a.k.a. The Almighty Fat Burner. The American Heart Association officially recommends 30-60 minutes of cardio for weight maintenance and 60+ minutes for weight loss. According to this, I should be losing weight by the bucket. The second week (the one I lost all the weight), my workouts were under an hour & for the first time in years I actually took 3 days off of working out when I went to visit my brother & sister (Hi guys! Hi! I miss you!!).
There is another factor, of course: nutrition. It makes sense to me that the more energy you expend in exercise, the more energy your body will take in in fuel. But theoretically that would just equal me out.
The Marathon Effect
My Case of the Creeping Poundage is not totally without precedent. When I was training for a marathon last year (that I never ran because of a stress fracture in my shin – but I did do 18 miles on my own so it wasn’t a total failure), I discovered that many runners experience weight gain when they up their mileage
– even into the elite levels. Mark Sisson, a former Ironman, says that he gained weight and bodyfat at the peak of his training. He attributes this fact to excess cardio. I wrote to him asking about what exactly is chronic cardio and he answered me (!) with this.
“Intense Cardio (long stretches of a sustained 80% of max heart rate) raises cortisol levels, increases oxidative damage, systemic inflammation, depresses the immune system and decreases fat metabolism.”
He recommends (and practices) a few days a week of low-to-moderate intensity cardio (like brisk walking) with 1-2 days a week of short, very high intensity interval sprints (he sprints for 20-40 seconds then rests & repeats 4-8 times). Finally he adds 3 days a week of weight lifting. This workout would be substantially less than what I am doing now.
The Sugar Effect
Long stretches of high intensity exercise also increase cravings for sugar. I couldn’t find actual research to back me up but anecdotally this seems to hold true both in endurance athletes
. It also seems to me why there is such a huge industry making gels, gus & carb drinks (all of which are straight sugar) for runners and cyclists.
When I get home from a really intense workout, sometimes I’ll be shaky and weak and nauseous – symptoms that only pass after I’ve thrown back a handful of gummy worms. It’s funny, the craving will be so intense that I’ll eat things that I normally don’t ever enjoy, like marshmallows, circus peanuts or sugar on a spoon. The days I workout less, it seems my cravings are easier to control. My appetite in general is also less because, like we all know, exercise makes you hungry
Little Green Apples
Have any of you experienced something like this? Please say I’m not the only one! So what to do about it? I can hear the sound of a thousand “duh’s” and heads being slapped as I type this but simply cutting my exercise down is very hard for me. I’ve tried the cardio diet
before with some success. I use exercise, especially cardio, to boost my mood & work out my stress and anxiety. I also have a competitive streak that is, well, more than a streak. The last thing is I love a challenge. If I’m not being challenged, I get bored.
And yet, the weight gain has got to stop! I don’t want to lose weight but I definitely don’t want to keep gaining it. I’m thinking this needs an experiment. Perhaps if I call it research then that will motivate me enough to do what I need to do:) Any advice for me? Sympathy?? Want to throw things at me? I want to hear it all!