Today, I’ve got another episode in my Back to Basics series. This time it’s all about why runners get fat. I’ve talked about this topic a lot here on the podcast, but I want to go over it again …
My name is Patrick McGilvray, and I’m an experienced marathoner, ultra runner, Sports Nutritionist, Master Life Coach, and weight loss coach for runners. I’ve dedicated my life to helping runners just like you properly fuel your body and your mind. So you can get leaner, get stronger, run faster, and run longer than you ever thought possible. This is Running Lean.
Hey there, and welcome to Episode 127, of Running Lean. My name is Patrick McGilvray, the weight loss coach for runners. And today, I’ve got another In My Back to Basics series, why runners get fat. So I’ve talked a lot about this topic here on the podcast in the past, but I kind of want to go over it again today in a little bit of a different way. Because understanding why you get fat, even if you’re a runner, is going to help you to make the changes that you need to make to reverse that runners are not immune to gaining weight and getting fat.
In fact, getting a lot of weight as a runner is a big part of my story. And it’s kind of why I do what I do today. And it’s also something that I hear from other runners every single day, every day I talk to people who tell me the same thing, I’m running all the time, and I’m gaining weight, and I don’t understand it. So it’s not just me, it’s not just you, it’s a problem.
It’s a problem for a lot of runners out there, okay? And I need you to understand this, I want you to know that it’s okay. It’s okay. If you’ve gained weight as a runner, it doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, you’ve just been given a lot of bad advice. And you’ve been doing things a certain way that just clearly don’t doesn’t really work for you, right?
So today this Back to Basics episode is all going to be about why runners get fat, and then what you can do about it. Cool. So first, I just wanted to mention that in June, for the whole month of June, we’re going to be talking about mastering your mindset over in the Running Lean Coaching Project. So how to take control of your mind, because changing your mindset is the way that you get everything good that you want in your life.
Everything that you want requires the right mindset. It’s the foundation for creating change of any kind in your life. Okay, it’s also required for maintaining change in your life. If you can’t lose weight, you’ve got to fix your mindset. If you can’t maintain your weight loss, which I know is a problem for a lot of us. You’ve got to fix your mindset.
But armed with the right mindset, there’s virtually nothing that you can’t accomplish. So some of the things we’re going to talk about, this whole month is going to be how to fix your mindset, so we can stop self sabotaging. So you can build the mental toughness that you need. So you can create a more disciplined life. So you can create permanent habit change, so you can become an emotional badass, all of these things require a shift in your mindset.
So if you’re ready to become more, if you’re ready to take your health and fitness to the next level, and ready to make these changes in your mindset, then you’re ready for the Running Lean Coaching Project. This is the container that I’ve created to give you all the knowledge, the support and the accountability that you need to be able to hit your health and fitness goals. If you want to lose weight, if you want to get stronger, if you want to run faster or longer, this is the place for you to do it. We support you, you get coaching, you get all the information that you need. You’re going to learn exactly what to do, how to do it, we’ll put together a plan that is personalized for you that will help you to reach your specific goals because we’re all different.
The same thing doesn’t work for everyone. If you’re interested, if you want this for yourself, just go to runningleancoaching.com/apply. You’ve got to fill out a short application and schedule a call with me. We’ll talk about your goals and we’ll just see if this is a good fit for you. Okay, runningleancoaching.com/apply. I would love to have you join us in the Running Lean Coaching Project.
Okay, so, back to basics. Today I’m talking about why runners get fat. And the first thing I want to mention is that there is no fat shaming here at all. This is not what this is about. Getting fat is one of those things that happens to a lot of us and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. And I’m using the word fat because that’s what it is. I was fat, I lost a bunch of weight, I started running like crazy. I ended up getting fat again, because what I was doing was not working for me.
So I’m not using the word fat here. We’re so scared to use this word, it’s like, it’s like it’s a four letter word, right? I know, it’s only three letters. But it’s like it’s a four letter word. And it really isn’t. It’s just fat, it’s body fat. And even as runners, a lot of times we’re just storing more body fat than we’re burning.
And this is the same principle that applies to anybody who has gained weight, right? You’re just, you’re storing more energy than you’re burning, you’re storing more body fat than then you’re using his fuel. And we have to fix that, there’s a way to fix it. I’m gonna talk about that today.
But I want you to understand that this isn’t about, you know, calling people out or shaming anyone, I’ve been there, I’ve looked in the mirror and said, dude, you are fat, you’ve got to fix this problem. This is not okay. It was not okay with me to look the way that I looked, and to feel the way that I felt and to be out of shape, and overweight. And even when I was in shape, I was overweight.
So there’s this, there’s this concept, they call it tofi, you can be kind of thin on the outside, but fat on the inside, you can actually have a pretty good body shape. Like it kind of looks pretty good on the outside, a lot of runners like maybe they look pretty good on the inside. But inside, you could have a lot of visceral body fat, that you’re not even that doesn’t really show the way it does in other people that are not as fit.
So I just want to make sure that we understand that this isn’t about shaming anyone. This isn’t about saying that, you know, you’re a bad person or anything like that. Fat is just part of our vernacular, but it’s become something that is like taboo. And I want to break that taboo, we need to talk about this. We’ve got to eat fat, right? So we’ve got to eat that. And fat has been so vilified, that people don’t even want to talk about it. They don’t even want to say the word out loud.
So I’m trying to, you know, just step into this. And just say like, listen, we’re going to talk about getting fat, we’re going to talk about body fat, we’re going to talk about eating fat. None of it is bad. Okay, so let’s just lay the foundation. Let’s start there. Okay.
So the first thing I wanted to kind of talk about is the energy balance theory and why it’s really just, it’s too simple. It’s too simplified. So the energy balance theory is this idea that you have to burn more calories than you eat. And if you are burning more, you know, if you’re expending more calories than you’re taking in, you should be able to lose weight. And while there is some truth to this, it is not that simple. I really wish it was that simple.
If it was, I don’t think we’d have an obesity epidemic, the way that we do here in this country today. If it was that simple. I think a lot of us as runners would not gain weight. But it’s just not that simple. For a long time, I was a runner for a long time when I started gaining weight again. And over the course of several years, I put on something like 40 pounds. So I had gotten down to like 161-165.
And I could maintain that pretty easily through running or so I thought but then the weight started to creep back up again. And I ended up getting close to 200 pounds again. And I was training for ultra marathons and running two marathons a year like I was always running a ton of miles. So what is going on here? I was even tracking my food in an app.
And you know, I was counting the calories that I was taking in and I was counting the calories that I was supposedly expending during exercise. And the numbers should have added up the numbers should have created weight loss in me and they just didn’t. And it was confounding. It was very confounding. I did not know what the answer was.
And so I started digging into this and got really down a lot of rabbit holes honestly with this. And then I came across The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung. And a light bulb went off in my head when I read this book, and if you haven’t read it, definitely read it. It’s amazing. But the gist of it is that there’s more going on than just calories in calories out.
You know, that works perfect if you’re a, you know, steam engine, but it does not work perfectly for the human body. Because we’re much more complicated, different foods trigger different hormonal responses within us. Those hormonal responses determine if we store some of that energy as fat or not. And so it becomes a little more complicated than just calories in calories out.
Go back and listen to the Eating Real Food episode that I did a few weeks back, that was another Back to Basics episode that I did. And I talk a lot about this and share some studies and science with that I’m not going to get into all those details today. But go back and listen to that one if you haven’t listened to it, because it’ll kind of lay the foundation for some of the stuff I’m talking about today.
But the whole idea of calories in calories out is just too simplified. I mean, it does work to a certain degree, like think about the show The Biggest Loser, they take these people who are big, you know, they’re super overweight, and they exercise them like crazy, they cut their calories down dramatically. And they get these people to lose weight, like it does work.
But here’s the problem with that approach, when you drop your calories, so low like that for an extended period of time. And when you’re exercising, they were doing like, up to like three hours of like cardio type of exercise every day. When you put that much demand on your body, that much stress on your body, and you limit your calories, that low, your body goes into what’s called starvation mode, so your body will start to slow down your metabolism to match what’s coming in.
And if you’re eating 800 calories a day, your metabolism, let’s say your metabolism is normally about 1800 calories a day which is what your resting metabolic rate is, that’ll start to slow down and slow down, slow down until it matches the energy that’s coming in. And when you add on top of that all the exercising that’s going on, that’s putting your body into this state of panic, it’s putting your body into the state of survival mode.
They call it starvation mode. But it’s more like survival mode where your body’s like I gotta shut down some of this stuff, we gotta slow this metabolism down. Because we’re not getting enough food, we’re not getting enough fuel, we’re not getting enough nutrition here to sustain us. And all this exercising is just compounding the effect of the starvation mode, it actually makes it worse.
And so when you combine those two things, and your body starts to kind of slow down, you start to see the weight, the weight coming back on again. And almost everybody on that show, The Biggest Loser, ends up gaining the weight back and then some. There’s a lot of people who gain more back, even though they’re kind of sticking with the same plan. So it’s interesting, right? Because if it was all about energy in energy out, that should not happen. But it does.
So yeah, you can lose weight by exercising like crazy and cutting your calories way back. So the energy balance theory, in theory works. That’s why they call it a theory because it’s just a theory about the energy balance factor, you know.
So it does kind of work, but it’s not sustainable. And it’s not how we were designed as human beings to survive. Because the whole idea of cutting calories and increasing exercise puts your body into this state of panic, this state of survival mode. And that is not our normal state of being.
So our normal state of being we call that homeostasis, that’s when we are at our neutral best, you know, that’s when we’re like everything’s working the way it’s supposed to. And your body is always fighting to get back to homeostasis. So you know, expending that many calories is going to slow down your metabolism to match the calories that are coming in.
And you can only do that for so long until the weight just starts coming back on again. And you have to understand that the types of foods that we eat make a big difference here. And going back to Dr. Fung’s book, The Obesity Code, you know, he lays out this whole idea: this concept that eating sugar raises blood sugar, like crazy it spikes our blood sugar and carbohydrates do the same thing, especially refined carbohydrate traits like flour.
And when we eat that kind of food on a regular basis, our blood sugar is constantly elevated super high, it’s spiked in a way that it normally shouldn’t be our blood, blood sugar goes up when we eat food. You know, if you eat a piece of chicken and some broccoli, your blood sugar is gonna go up a little bit, and then it’ll come back down to baseline.
But when we eat these highly palatable foods full of sugar and refined grains and carbohydrates, it spikes our blood sugar like crazy. That’s why it feels good to eat that stuff, we get a rush when we eat that stuff, right? It’s like massive amounts of energy. And as you know, ancient humans, we would find some honey or some berries, and we would eat that stuff. And it would be like, ooh, we get this massive rush.
And we were like, it’s training our brain to go back to that, like, oh, we need to find that again, at some point, because that’s massive calories. It’s, um, it spikes our blood sugar. And, you know, this is like a good thing to our ancient humans. But it was very rare. It wasn’t like something we were eating every single day, because there weren’t Krispy Kremes back then, right?
But now with the Krispy Kremes and, you know, craft beers everywhere, like we’re just constantly, that’s our constant diet. So every time we eat that kind of food, it raises our blood sugar like crazy. And then what happens in response to that is insulin gets produced. Insulin is a hormone that’s created to manage blood sugar to bring blood sugar back down.
So again, eating the chicken in the broccoli, blood sugar is going to go up a little bit, and then insulin is going to get produced a little bit, and then your blood sugar is going to get back down to normal, and all is good. But with this spike in eating, you know, Krispy Kremes, then the blood sugar goes super high. So insulin response goes super high, it gets produced in extra high amounts, which causes a crash in your blood sugar.
So your blood sugar actually goes down below baseline. That’s where you feel that crash and burn after eating a bunch of donuts or whatever, like, you just want to take a nap. That’s because your blood sugar has gone below baseline and you have crashed. Alright, so I talked about this a lot, the spike and crash, like we want to stop doing that we want to, we want to normalize blood sugars. Okay, we don’t want to be dealing with these spikes and crashes.
But the other interesting thing about this is when insulin is high in your body, when insulin is present in your body, your body goes into storing fat, your body goes into fat storing mode. So your body is actually storing a lot of that energy as body fat to be used as fuel later. So think about that ancient humans, we find a bunch of honey, we find a bunch of berries or something like that.
And the berries weren’t as sweet as they are today. But let’s just say they were pretty sweet. You know, they find some really sugary foods out there in the wild. And they eat that stuff. And some of that energy that they’re eating gets turned into stored body fat, so that they can use that as fuel later, which they did. We were always burning fat, we were always fat adapted.
Back in the day, we had adapted ourselves to using our stored body fat as a fuel source very efficiently. This is our natural state of being to be in as human beings. We’ve always been good at this. And when I talk about being fat adapted today, people think I’m like, talking about some weird fringe diet thing. You know what I mean? And it’s like, no, no, no, no, it’s not some weird fringe diet. This is like the way we’re supposed to do things.
Why do we store body fat? Why do we store body fat? It’s a good question, right? We store body fat because our bodies need to use fuel when we don’t have food coming in. Our bodies are designed to not eat all the time. Our bodies are designed to store some of the energy that we consume as fat to be used as fuel later, later never comes though in this modern society today. All we do is store more and more and more and more. And so we have to understand that this is not normal.
This, this goes against, you know, getting our bodies into homeostasis. This goes against the natural state that we should be in as human beings, we should naturally be really freaking amazing, fat burning machines. That is our natural state. And I want to get back to that. I want you to get back to that. Because when you do, you don’t store more and more and more fat. You burn the fat. You lose the weight. You start to have all this energy. You feel much better. Running becomes easier.
This is our natural state as humans. And I want to get back to that. I feel like I’m there. Like, I feel like, you know, I would say 98.5% there, I always think I’ve got a little work to do. And I don’t do this perfectly. I like chips and salsa. I like sushi. There’s some carbohydrates that I’m just not going to say no to.
But I think that where I am today, versus where I was 10-15 years ago, is pretty damn amazing. And I’ve never felt better, never been in as good a shape today at 55 than I have the previous 54 years. If you can gain weight, as a runner, you can lose it too. And this is something that I thought was going to be impossible for me. And I tried all the things.
I tried all the diets, I tried all the apps, I tried cutting calories, I tried being a vegan, you know, and not eating fat, I tried all the stuff. And it just just didn’t work. Nothing was working for me. It wasn’t until I got off the sugar train, you know, until I just stopped eating, you know, processed foods and, and refined grains and sugar. And once I did that, everything started to shift for me, I was able to start tapping back in two that stored body fat as a fuel source.
The key to losing weight is to burn fat. And the key to getting your body into fat burning mode is to just keep the carbs low, keep the sugar low. The easiest way to do this, by the way, is just eliminate sugar and grains from your diet. These two things are problematic if you keep eating sugar, and grains. And of course a little bit is fine. But if you keep eating these things in the quantities that are recommended that we eat these things in, you are going to keep your body in that chronic state of fat storing and I don’t care how much running you do, you will not be able to move the needle. I’ve seen it myself. I’ve seen it in hundreds of people that I’ve worked with.
And they tell me the same thing, I’m running like crazy. I think I’m eating a pretty good diet. But I can’t lose weight. It’s just the weights not budging. It’s not budging. Maybe it worked when you were in your 20s or in your 30s. But as you get into your 40s and 50s, maybe it just stops working.
Maybe it wasn’t working all along and you just kept storing a little bit of fat, a little bit fat a little bit that it just kind of added up. And then all of a sudden you’re like, hey, how did this happen? That was definitely my story. I went from like 161-165 to like 200 pounds in the matter of a few years. I don’t know exactly when the weight gain started happening. But I would say it wasn’t longer than like three or four years, you know what I mean?
And I found myself at this place of like, I’ve got to fix this. So the energy balance theory is a little too simple, there’s a lot more going on, you have to understand that the kind of foods you eat will cause your body to either be in fat storing mode, or fat burning mode, we want to be in fat burning mode. But then think about the typical runners’ diet.
The typical runners’ diet is carbohydrates on top of carbohydrates on top of carbohydrates. It’s just all sugar. And sugar is just a very concentrated form of carbohydrate, carbs are sugar, carbs, or sugar. That’s it. And remember eating that stuff is going to, depending on what it is, you know, of course, a potato isn’t going to raise your blood sugar as much as you know, a spoonful of honey would but there’s a spectrum there.
And there are some carbs that are better than others. And I did a podcast about this a while back called Good Carbs, Bad Carbs, you can go back and listen to that one. But when we change the diet and we get our hormones balanced out and we normalize our blood sugars and our and we put our body in that state of homeostasis where it’s supposed to be.
This is when the good stuff starts happening. This is when you start burning fat. This is when you start using fat as a fuel source which we’ve limited because the more sugar you’re eating, the less you’re burning fat. The more sugar that’s available, the less your body’s going to go to that stored fat as fuel. And so, to be fat adapted as a runner is such an amazing thing because you’re taking advantage of the fact that you’ve trained your body to be really efficient at burning fat. Okay.
And again, this is just going back to what we’ve always done as humans. Okay, and you, you cannot get fat adapted, eating tons of sugar and refined carbs, you just can’t, your body’s going to use that stuff as fuel, and then store some of that as fat, it’s going to use some of that as fuel and store some of it as fat, the storing is just going to keep happening, the burning is not going to happen the way that we want it to.
Yeah, you’re always burning a little bit of fat and a little bit of you know, sugar, a little bit of glucose, glycogen, whatever you want to call it, when you eat carbs, you know, your body is going to produce is going to turn a lot of that stuff into glucose, and then glycogen gets stored in your muscles.
But just a cool little fact is that your body actually produces all the glucose that you need, our bodies need glucose to survive, our brains need a certain amount of glucose to survive, I think it’s something like the equivalent of about a teaspoon full of sugar a day. And your liver actually produces that, it creates it, it creates it in a process called gluconeogenesis.
That literally means creating new sugar. So your liver is actually like, dude, I got you covered. You don’t need to eat all that sugar I got you, I got it. I got it. And I’ve gone through periods where I’ve eaten zero carbs. And I’m not suggesting you do this. I’m just saying that, you know, I’ve done it just as an experiment to see like, how could I function? How can I possibly function if I’m not eating any carbs.
And guess what? I functioned just fine. My weightlifting sessions were awesome. My runs were awesome. I did this training for two different marathons and had an incredible performance. At the first one, the second one, I just was taking it easy. I was like whatever it is, tried a different approach or whatever. But that first one was amazing. And I was eating zero carbs during that training and during that race, and my body was producing all the glycogen that my muscles needed to perform and was getting produced by my body like I was just creating it. It’s kind of cool.
And listen, carbs are not the enemy. And I’m not like anti-carbohydrate. I’m not about saying like you should eat zero carbs. This is not my agenda at all. This is not what I’m about here. Right. But the recommendations that they put out there for us that the government suggests we eat, they’re, they’re just too high. They’re too high. For most of us. Maybe for some of us, they work okay.
But for the majority of majority of us, we’re carbohydrate intolerant, we just can’t tolerate 65% of our calories coming from carbohydrates. That’s crazy. That’s crazy high. And that’s not something we’re used to doing as human beings. We don’t need that much. So you can, you can survive just fine. You can thrive just fine on a lower carbohydrate diet. And if you’ve never done this before, or you think it’s some weird fringe thing, I want to suggest that you just try it.
Trust me, try it. Go 30 days without sugar and grains and see how you feel. See what happens. It’d be fun little experiment. Carbs are not the enemy. You can eat carbs. I eat carbs. I eat fruit. I mean, here’s what my diet looks like today. My diet today looks like meat, fruit, eggs, and a little bit of dairy. That’s it. It is that simple. Meat, fruit, eggs, little bit of dairy. That’s it.
That is what we’ve eaten as human beings forever. I do eat some vegetables, too. I always forget about that. I’ve told this a couple of different people lately. And they were like, you don’t need vegetables. And I’m like, oh, no, I do. But I always forget about that. Because they’re not that important for humans, honestly, like we don’t need to eat a ton of vegetables to be super fit and healthy. We just don’t. But I do eat some vegetables too.
But carbs are not the enemy. This isn’t about zero carbs. The recommendations, I think are too high. And I would encourage you to give it a shot. Just try it. And then understand this. We’re not, this isn’t a diet. Right? I want to make this point very, very clear. This is about changing your lifestyle. This is about becoming more like the human beings that we’ve evolved over millions of years to become.
It’s like it’s saying no to the status quo, because the status quo out there is to be overweight, to be obese, to be unfit to be unhealthy to be sick, to be on medication. And that is normal. That’s what’s normal. I do not want to be normal. And I don’t want that for you either. So this is about changing your lifestyle, to become a total freaking fat burning badass. I want that for myself, I hope you want that for you too.
And I have to tell you, I have a bit of an agenda here. I have like a secret agenda. Maybe it’s not so secret. Well, I’m gonna tell you what it is right now anyway, but here’s my agenda. I want to open your eyes to a different way of doing things. I want you to consider that it’s possible that there’s a better way to do things. And that you don’t have to do what everybody else is doing. That I want to be an example of what is possible for you. And I want to inspire you to do the same thing.
I want to inspire you to be an example of what’s possible to the people in your world. And I want to create this ripple effect, this huge impact of health and fitness and positivity. Because the people that I have helped tell me all the time how this has changed their life in ways they did not even know, it could have an impact on their life.
And it’s not about, this is not about losing weight. That’s a side effect. When you get amazingly healthy and fit. And you shift your diet back to eating just real food, the way that I talk about it, you, you get super, your body just becomes super healthy. And that weight loss happens as a side effect. That’s not the main goal. It’s but it’s a cool side effect. Because it means that you’re on the right path again.
And like I said earlier, if you can gain weight as a runner, you can lose it too. It is possible. It is possible. But it starts with a shift in your mindset, you’ve got to change the way you’re thinking about this stuff. You can’t be thinking that that high carb, carb loading, all carb diet, whatever is going to work for you. Because if it doesn’t work for you, you’ve got to make some changes.
And listen, I know it’s not easy, it’s hard. It’s hard to make these changes. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I created this coaching program. Because I want to help you, I want to give you the support that you need. And if you want that kind of support, I’m here for you. If you want to try it on your own, you can do that. Try it on your own, see if it works. If you can get it to work. I think you can, there’s a lot of people to do. If you want coaching, great, I’m here for you. If you don’t, that’s totally fine, too.
But my mission in this world is to open people’s eyes to the fact that the way they’re telling us to do things is wrong. It’s just wrong. For most of us. You know, there’s not one diet that works perfectly for everyone. There’s not one way of eating or one lifestyle that works perfectly for everyone. And I totally acknowledge that.
But if you’re listening to this today, and you’re still if you’re still listening to this today, thank you for being here, by the way. Thanks for putting up with me. But if you’re still listening to this, then chances are you’re interested in making these kinds of changes because the status quo is not working for you either. So try it. See what happens. Cool. All right, love you all keep on Running Lean. It’ll talk to you soon.
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