I ran the Ottawa Marathon this past weekend. Unfortunately, the race didn’t go as well as I hoped. I missed my time target and didn’t walk away with a PB. However, it was still an amazing weekend, and I learned so much. I had the amazing opportunity to meet athletes from all over the world. Despite the tough race, I left feeling extremely motivated and inspired.
With the Ottawa Marathon over, I’ll be taking some time off from running to allow my body to fully recover. With this rest period, I’ll also enjoy some of my favourite treats! In case you’re wondering, after the Ottawa marathon, I had a beavertail and then stopped at McDonalds for chicken nuggets and fries (and may have consumed a large quantity of chocolate covered pretzels and Brookside chocolates on the long trip home). I’ll most likely gain some weight during this “off” period. This weight gain is something that I don’t worry about or stress over. In fact, it is something that is important for my overall performance and health.
Like training, body composition often changes over the training schedule or cycle. What this means is just as the training schedule changes throughout the year, so will body weight. More specifically, your body fat percent and muscle mass will change. Athletes should only aspire to their “optimal” performance weight and body composition for short periods. Trying to stay at this strict weight all year round can lead to injury, sickness and health issues.
Most top-level athletes increase their body weight by 4-8% in the off-season and training season compared to competition season. Your optimal performance weight should only be for a few months of the year, when the focus is on eating strictly healthy, skipping out on treats and watching portion sizes. The rest of the training year, it’s okay to be above your performance weight. During this time, the focus shouldn’t be on weight loss, but rather on eating to fully handle the training volume with the periodic treat. This approach will help you recover better and reduce the likelihood of getting sick.
However, I strongly believe that it is most important to not get caught up with the number of the scale. First, the scale doesn’t reflect muscle mass versus body fat. Secondly, everyone has a different ideal body weight, so never base your target on others. For instance, some top-level female athletes can go as low as 8-10% body fat and still have normal menstrual cycles while others will stop having menstrual cycles when their body fat goes below 15%. What is healthy for one athlete is not necessarily healthy for another.
If you’re currently in your off-season, enjoy your favourite foods without guilt. When it’s time to rev up your training again and reel in your nutrition, eat mindfully. Learn to listen to your body’s hunger and satiety signals. Food is fuel and your body will let you know what it needs.