Dealing with the physical toll of marathon training


So right now I’m in the heart of my marathon training program. I won’t lie, it’s getting pretty tough. But then again, if it was easy everyone would be doing it, right?

Well, maybe not. But you get the point.

I’ve learned a few things during this latest training cycle, and all of them have required some adjustments for me.

First off: Endurance training is catabolic. No duh, right? This is a problem I knew of early on and hoped to avoid. It’s a simple math problem.

Let’s say you’re running 30 miles a week. That means you’re burning somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 calories a week just running, depending on how hard you’re training, what sort of routes you run and whether or not you’re doing stuff like hill repeats and intervals.

If you’re consuming 2,500 calories a day, the sort of calorie burn you’re adding with your training means you’ll be running on a weekly calorie deficit. Part of your weight loss will be fat. But mixed in with that will be muscle. When you hit 40 miles or more a week, the process just gets worse.

Many runners will make up that calorie deficit with more food, but is it the right food? Specifically, are you getting enough protein?

Chances are, you’re not.

I’ve noticed this catabolic effect on me. I’ve been putting down about 100 grams of protein a day. During marathon training, that’s not enough for someone my size. I’ve been told to consume 175 grams a day.

My solution is to continue my regular regimen of strength training and to up my caloric intake somewhat and my protein intake much more. If I can do that, I think I can retain muscle mass and strength.

This is important because those muscles are the things that will help protect my joints (a future post on that is forthcoming). No, I don’t want to get bulky, even with pure lean mass. That won’t help my endurance training goals at all. But I also don’t want to get too small and weaken my body. It’s simply way too hard to get that back, and losing too much muscle mass will hurt athletic performance.

Here’s another bummer, especially for male endurance athletes: Endurance training over time lowers your testosterone, sometimes by as much as 40 percent. This type of condition saps energy, strength, performance and muscle-building/rebuilding capabilities, among other things.

Again, training and diet will have a lot to do with staving this off, or at least mitigating it.

But I may also have to concede something. If I don’t want this to happen to me, I may have to do some serious re-evaluation once my marathon is over. I love pushing my limits and trying new things. But I love sustainable fitness more. We’ll see how that goes.

What do you do to maintain strength and energy during endurance training? Share your tips and thoughts!

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

2 thoughts on “Dealing with the physical toll of marathon training

  1. Bob, for this round of marathon training I’ve added those protein drinks to my post long run routine. I use Muscle Milk, Gatorade and sometimes good old Nesquick as a recovery drink. This allows me to get protein into my system right after a workout and not after I’ve driven home. I always eat more when I’m training. Last night after just a 3 mile run I had to have a PBJ sandwich.
    The hi tech beverages are my new thing for this cycle and they seem to be working. We’ll know in 11 days!

    • Nice! When I’m through with a long run, I make a smoothie with skim, OJ, protein powder and different fruits, plus chia seeds. Sometimes a little peanut butter.

      Hope it works well for you. Let me know how it goes!

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