How to run and gain weight: reduce carbs?

Yesterday was my off day, so I went for a 2 mile walk (part way with HM before he had to go to work) and then TJ and I drove a new 8 mile course he mapped out in our neighborhood.  I really can’t imagine that it was only a year ago I was pushing it to run 2 miles every other day and now I am working toward 7-8 a day.  How things have changed in such a short time!

Now to the subject of this post: I have written in the past on this blog about my struggles with running and losing weight.  I have been really perplexed as to the reason I can run 35 miles a week and eat well and still not lose (or even gain) weight.  I found an article the other day that really seemed to nail my issue.  It is from and deals with people who workout  and have an issue with weight (in this case body building, but I know it could apply to running also).

Here is a quote: “Our bodybuilder suffered metabolic damage: a drastic slowing of the metabolism that is caused by excessive caloric restriction, cardio, and stress on the body.”

Essentially, working out hard, eating low carbs and pushing your body can kill your metabolism.  What is confusing is that I can run 10 miles and my app says I burned 1,400 calories.  Wow, then I should be able to eat a bit more than normal.  NOT.  I gain weight.

Metabolism Massacre: 7 ways to avoid undermining your fat loss

Here are some highlights of the article:

It’s All about Survival 

Let’s clear one thing up right now. It is normal for the metabolism to slow down on any diet or calorie restriction. This is all due to metabolic adaptation.

As soon as our hypothetical competitor cut calories from 3,000 to 1,600, his metabolism began to downshift. Many people do not realize that the body uses calories simply through digesting and processing food. This is described as the thermic effect of food. The simple act of eating less causes lower energy output.

Once the body senses a loss of body fat, it will begin to lower thyroid levels and diminish nervous system output in an effort to stop the weight loss. Once further calorie cuts are made and cardio is increased, fat loss will resume again, and the body further lowers thyroid levels and nervous system output. It also lowers testosterone levels and raises cortisol levels, both of which eventually lead to muscle loss. Since muscle is a metabolically active tissue—it consumes calories simply to exist—the metabolism will drop even further.

So why does the body sabotage effort like this? It’s simple: survival. If our bodybuilder ate 3,000 calories per day, cut his calories to 2,500, and his body did not have these adaptive abilities, he would lose weight continually without stopping until he eventually died. Luckily, nobody starves to death on 2,500 calories per day—even though it may feel like it sometimes. These normal adaptations are necessary for survival.

The human body is an amazing adaptive machine that always strives for homeostasis. Whatever condition the body is put in, it will strive to survive within that new norm. For a successful prep, you need to understand how to work with your body as much as possible, and understand that your body will automatically take measures in response to calorie intake or expenditure.

5 Tips to Prevent a Slowdown

Luckily, there are several ways to prevent serious metabolic issues from occurring. The metabolism will slow a bit on any diet, but this does not and should not lead to extreme calorie deprivation and hours of cardio.

This isn’t healthy, and in the end it won’t get you lean enough. Here are the rules to follow for a better prep.

1 / Practice Patience

Fat loss should not be rushed. It takes time, and plenty of it. Aim to lose no more than two pounds of fat per week, and preferably closer to a rate of 1-1.5 pounds. This ensures that muscle loss is minimized. Muscle tissue consumes calories all the time. You don’t want to cannibalize this metabolically critical tissue.

2 / Keep The Carbohydrates

If you want to get lean, you sometimes have to drop carbs to low levels. This does not mean that you should eliminate them.

Carbs increase cellular hydration, and therefore cell volume. When muscle cells are hydrated and have greater volume, this signals the body that it is in a satiate state. The body, sensing it is fed, keeps the metabolic rate raised. Obviously if carbs are too high, fat loss cannot occur, but for continued fat loss, carbs should remain in the diet.

This next tip was very interesting to me:

3 / Utilize High-Carb Days

I believe carbohydrates are essential to keeping an elevated metabolism. Leptin is a primary reason for this. Leptin is a fat-burning hormone; its release is directly related to carbohydrate intake and body fat levels. Leptin serves many functions, including the control of energy expenditure.

As carbs get low and body fat levels dwindle, the body inevitably lowers leptin levels. You can combat this to an extent by adding in high-carb days. A high-carb day once every 4-8 days can boost leptin levels; leptin is highly responsive to glucose metabolism.

Add high-carb days to boost leptin, and it will lead to a more positive hormonal profile in general. High-carb days can lead to higher levels of the thyroid hormone t3, as well as help to keep testosterone levels elevated, both of which can further your fat-loss efforts.

4 / Don’t Cut Fat Too Low

Fatty acids must be available in the body to create cholesterol, which is eventually converted to testosterone. If fat intake is too low, there won’t be enough fatty acids available for optimal testosterone production.

This leads to lower testosterone levels, which lead to greater muscle loss during prep. The two combine to lower your metabolic rate.

5 / Reverse Diet

A reverse diet is where you add calories back into your diet slowly, much the same as when you cut them slowly in order to get lean. This will prevent copious amounts of adipose tissue from collecting within the first month or two after a show. Reverse dieting is essential to prevent the cycle of metabolic slowdown, or stop it if you are already in the situation.

I’m going to stop here.  The article mentions two more tips (even though it says there are only 5) but these were the most interesting to me.  I cut a lot out of the article to get across the main point, so go there and read if for yourself.

This article rang true to me and my experience, which is what this blog is about.  I began to run to lose weight.  I now run because I have an ultimate goal of the Boston Marathon.  Either way, I know I need to keep my weight and diet in balance and anything that explains this complex body to me is helpful.

5 thoughts on “How to run and gain weight: reduce carbs?

  1. Thanks for addressing this. I’ve been dealing with this myself. I thought I was doing the right thing by going low carb and restricting what I eat. But, with my activity level I was actually stressing my body out. I went to a nutritionist to work in my diet. Now I’m trying to undo the damage I did to my metabolism. It is a slow, frustrating, and confusing process.

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