Counting Calories, Loosing Weight, and Marathons

A quick search around the web reveals hundreds of different diet plans: diets that let you eat almost anything, diets that eliminate entire food groups, diets that are loosely based on the science of how the body processes calories, and more. Unless you’re one of those people naturally gifted with the extremely high metabolism at some point in your life you’re going to need to watch your intake.

I’m not going to go into full details but about eight years I concluded I needed to loose 50lbs. Over the course of the next two years I lost about 55lbs and felt good. Then I started to vascillate up to around 200lbs. When I started running in May 2008 I wanted to know how many calories I burned, so I started tracking my weight. This got me to wondering, how does my own weight affect my running ability.

Let’s start out with something very basic, as a 32 year old, 6’2″ male, if I were to loose 30lbs and go from 195 to 165, my caloric expenditures in a marathon would drop by 631 calories. In more realistic terms, if I were to bonk at 22 miles weighing 195lbs, I could make it through the whole marathon without bonking at 165lbs. Plus, there’s the ancillary benefit of less wear and tear on your joints. Wondering about how many calories your next marathon will take? Here’s a little table I made with the help of Wolfram Alpha. It assumes a flat course and is set up for a 32 year old 6’2″ male. Someone remarkably similar to yours truly.

The key to loosing weight so you can further on the same amount of energy is simply understanding that you need to burn more calories than you take in. In other words, count calories. I’m a scientist (yes, a real scientist with the Dr. title and all) and spend most of my day recording and analyzing data. I’m also busy, so I can’t waste time creating two exact duplicate meals and burning one in a calorimeter to determine the exact number of calories in a meal. Instead, I cheat and estimate my meals using an online food tracker.

My tool of choice is FatSecret. Using FatSecret I can easily track both my weight and food intake. It’s not perfect — I can’t track other measurements such as body fat, running pace, my sleep — but it gets the job done. FatSecret also can give me a report of my food for the week including the nutrients and caloric breakdown (fats vs protein vs carbs). Although I’m not a finely tuned machine where these matter a ton, it does help me understand what is going into my body.

People find it strange when I tell them that even now I’m counting calories and trying to lose weight. I have a healthy BMI and look much skinnier than my BMI indicates. However, for me, I consider this to be an essential part of training, at if it means not bonking during a marathon, or even delaying the bonk a few miles, I’m willing to put up with indignity and hassle of counting calories. After all, many runners swap shoes because of mere ounces of weight difference — I’m talking about 30lbs. That’s not only swapping shoes, but also cutting off most of a leg. It seems a little crazy, but when I cross that finish line it will be entirely worth it.

Do you count calories while training? Any hints for people starting on the journey?

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Marathon Times

2011 NYC Marathon3:57:45
2011 Hartford Marathon3:58:17
2011 Chicago Marathon4:20:16
2011 Grandma's Marathon4:07:43
2010 Big Sur International Marathon4:22:49
2009 NYC Marathon4:37:05
2009 Twin Cities Marathon4:43:28
2009 Pittsburgh Marathon4:14:38
2008 Erie Marathon5:11:40

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  • Nov 6 - New York City Marathon, New York, NY
For previous races, check out my Race Log

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