when you have opposing goals: why you can’t lose weight, get strong, and train for a marathon all at the same time

opposing goals, getting stronger, losing weight, training for a marathon, health, body composition, athletic performance, calorie deficit, weight loss, muscle growth, nutrient availability, performance, training intensity, muscle loss, metabolism, risk of injury, recovery, hormonal imbalances, prioritize

Emily Field (00:00:03) – Welcome to Macros Made Easy, the podcast that takes the confusion out of tracking macros. I’m your host, Emily Field, a registered dietitian that specializes in a macros approach. In each episode, I help you learn how to eat in a way that supports your health, body composition, and athletic performance goals. We’ll cover the basics of macronutrients, how to track for various goals, the role of macros in your health, and how to make sustainable changes to your habits. I’ve helped hundreds of people experience more food freedom and flexibility while navigating their nutrition. So whether you’ve tried macros and it just didn’t stick or you just heard the word macros yesterday, I can’t wait to help you too. Hello and welcome to episode 14 of the Macros Made Easy podcast. In this episode, we’re going to discuss a common dilemma when it comes to health, body composition, and athletic performance goals, and that is trying to do too much at once, or rather, trying to accomplish all of these things or goals in all of these areas, all at the same time.


Emily Field (00:01:04) – As many of you know, I just recently wrapped up a big Black Friday sale for the custom macro calculation service. Over 100 people purchased the service, and they’ve since received their macro targets and health recommendations by email. And there is no prerequisite for this service. So we had people who were just starting out on their macro journey, others who were seasoned veterans, some who wanted to lose weight, others who wanted to get strong, and some of them who wanted to train for triathlons or marathons. Others just wanted to stay healthy as they aged or they approached a major surgery. There was everything in between all of that as well. But I want to talk about a very specific scenario that I saw a lot of, and that was the person who has multiple goals. So for the sake of clarity, I’m going to call this person Carrie. Carrie is motivated to get really strong this coming year. So she invested in a custom macro calculation to make sure she was fueling for those strength goals. She wanted to push herself to get pull ups and not use a band while doing so, and she wanted to master push ups from her toes instead of from her knees.


Emily Field (00:02:07) – She figured she needed to lose weight because, after all, if she just weighs less, she would have less weight to move when she’s doing those push ups and pull ups. So when we asked more about her workout routine, she mentioned that she loves running and she frequently runs with a group of women they really want to see Carrie sign up for a half marathon in their town, and they all want to train together starting in the new year. She shared that she felt her absolute best running prior to kids, when she was about 15 to 20 pounds lighter than she is right now. So again, she figures if she just focuses on losing weight right now, she would feel lighter, run faster and just overall be a more competitive runner if she simply lost some weight. So when it came down to her goals, she ultimately said she wanted to lose weight and that is what she wanted out of that custom macro calculation. She wanted her macro targets and her calories to reflect that main weight loss goal. Now, if Carrie had gone out and sought a free macro calculator, she would have likely submitted her height, her weight, her age, her sex and goals to lose weight and poof, she would have received some protein, fat and carbohydrate targets.


Emily Field (00:03:14) – Some calorie goals to achieve that one simple goal. But my guess is, even if she followed through on those targets and did lose some weight, she would eventually feel really rundown in her training. She would not be any stronger than when she started, and she might even be injured as she progressed through that marathon training. But why is that? It’s because her actions were not aligned with her goals. Or rather, she has opposing goals. She has goals to get stronger, faster, and leaner, and while she can accomplish all of those things, she might not be able to do all of those at the same time. So let’s talk about why and what she should do instead. If Carrie wants to lose weight and fat, she needs to eat in a calorie deficit. This means she’s aiming to eat less than what she needs to maintain her current weight. So in doing so, her body will use stored energy and her fat cells to make up for what she’s not eating, and the result would be fat loss over time.


Emily Field (00:04:11) – That’s how a calorie deficit works. Now that’s all fine and dandy, except she will absolutely hinder her goals to get stronger and build muscle while she’s eating in a deficit. I’m going to share with you eight reasons why eating in a calorie deficit for fat loss or weight loss is not the best choice for somebody who wants to get strong and gain muscle. The number one reason would be insufficient energy for muscle growth. Eating in a calorie deficit means you’re consuming fewer calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight, and this lack of energy can hinder the body’s ability to build and repair muscle tissue, because there’s not enough resources to support that growth process. Okay. The second is limited nutrient availability in a calorie deficit. Not only is the energy reduced so those calories are reduced, but the availability of essential nutrients is also compromised. Muscle growth requires an adequate intake of protein, carbs, and fats, along with a lot of other vitamins and minerals. And we see this a lot with women who are chronically dieting.


Emily Field (00:05:16) – Being in a calorie deficit or attempting a diet is going to lead to a very insufficient nutrient supply, and that can have very lasting and wide ranging impact on the body. And for the person who wants to gain muscle and strength, that’s absolutely going to impact recovery and muscle building processes. Number three is decreased performance and training intensity. A calorie deficit can result in reduced energy levels affecting your performance during workouts. And we know that building muscle is hard work. Typically, when you’re doing a challenging for you strength training workout, you’re really pushing and fighting for those last couple of reps in a set. This stimulus is crucial for muscle growth, so if you’re not fueling your body adequately, you may find it challenging to maintain the intensity needed for the effective strength training. Number four is potential muscle loss when you’re not eating enough. So when you’re in a calorie deficit, your body may prioritize the breakdown of muscle tissue for energy, particularly in the case if you’re not eating enough protein. If you’re not sufficiently taking in enough protein.


Emily Field (00:06:24) – This can potentially result in the loss of muscle mass, which is counterproductive to trying to gain muscle and strength. It undermines that growth objective that you have. I think you can see where we’re going here, and we’ll absolutely talk about how we can prevent this from happening. But again, remember, if your goals are to lose weight, you’ll be in a calorie deficit. This is not the opportune time to gain muscle and strength. Number five a slower metabolism. Prolonged periods of calorie restriction can slow down the metabolism as the body adapts to conserve energy. We have talked about this ad nauseum in other podcast episodes, but I’ll just leave it here. A slower metabolism is going to make it harder to build muscle, and may contribute to a plateau in your strength gains. Next is increased risk of injury. Muscle building exercises, especially those focused on strength training, require proper form and technique in a calorie deficit. Fatigue and reduced energy levels may compromise your ability to maintain good form during workouts, and that can increase your risk for injury.


Emily Field (00:07:27) – I’ve served so many clients who reflect back on periods where they really push themselves and workouts, but we’re inadequately fueling. Maybe that was on purpose or by accident, and they just can’t believe how strong and capable they feel now that they’re eating enough, and they’re actually matching their activity levels with enough fuel. It doesn’t have to be that way. You do not have to suffer through periods of training. You do not have to be injured. That does not have to be your reality. And if you do feel like you’re struggling with injury, you’re kind of frequently injured, frequently sick. It might be an indication that you’re not eating enough. Okay, next, let’s talk about impaired recovery. Adequate nutrition is crucial for recovery, especially after those intense training sessions. So without enough calories or nutrients, the body may struggle to repair and rebuild that muscle tissue, which is going to lead to prolonged recovery times, and that will potentially hinder your progress. This is the situation I see a lot where people are under eating their calorie needs, whether again, it’s on purpose or it’s by accident and they get done with a training session, they are sore for days, they are fatigued for days, and then you’re trying to push yourself.


Emily Field (00:08:37) – Let’s just say you take a rest day after that intense training session, but you’re not even feeling well enough to go at it a day later. This situation can compound day after day, and before you know it, it’ll be weeks or maybe months before you feel like yourself again, before you feel well fueled and energized and injury free because you’ve really just dug yourself into a hole of poor recovery. Okay, well, lastly, cover hormonal imbalance. We know that calorie restriction can impact your hormone balance, particularly affecting those hormones like testosterone and cortisol. And both of those hormones play essential roles in muscle growth and recovery. So if we’re under eating, we might see some imbalances in these hormones, and that can impede the body’s ability to build muscle effectively. So taken together, it’s looking a bit dismal for Carrie’s strength and muscle gain goals. Eating for weight loss and fat loss is not going to present a great situation. It’s not going to be a great environment for her to gain muscle and strength. Okay, but what about her running goals? Maybe she can be okay with putting some of those strength and muscle jangles on the back burner while she trains for the marathon? Maybe she can achieve both her weight loss, fat loss goals and, you know, training for that marathon at the same time.


Emily Field (00:10:01) – Let’s talk about that okay. So again, we’re wondering if Carrie could be more successful with a fat loss weight loss goal and training for a marathon. We’ve already kind of established that eating in a deficit for fat loss and weight loss probably isn’t the best scenario for muscle gain and strength gain, but maybe it’s okay for marathon training. Well, I think you know where this is going, and it’s probably, again, not the right environment. Focusing on two opposing goals at the same time is probably not going to be a good idea. So what we know about marathon training or big endurance event is that we need sufficient energy reserves. So training for a marathon demand, substantial energy expenditure due to the long distance running. So eating in a calorie deficit means that the body might not have enough energy reserves to sustain that prolonged and intense training session. That’s going to lead to fatigue, decreased performance and potential burnout. Number two would be compromised. Endurance and stamina. Marathon training requires optimal endurance and stamina, and being in a calorie deficit can compromise both, hindering the ability to complete long runs and sustain the necessary intensity throughout a training regimen.


Emily Field (00:11:13) – Because this is months, you don’t just get up one day and decide that you’re going to run a marathon. If you do, that’s really scary and you are not like the rest of us. But for Kerry, it’s the end of November, early December. She’s trying to figure out if she does have enough time to train for a marathon. She’s got a few months probably going to be enough time, especially if she’s eating enough. That’s what I mean. It’s going to impede her endurance, her stamina and her training schedule if she’s not keeping up with that. And that’s not only going to impede their progress, but it’s going to negatively impact her performance on race day all the way up. All of those months leading up to race day will be compromised. If she’s not eating enough, the third thing would be increased risk of injury. We know that marathon training puts significant stress on joints, muscles, and connective tissues. In a calorie deficit, the body may struggle to repair and recover adequately, which will increase the risk of overuse injuries.


Emily Field (00:12:09) – Insufficient nutrients because, again, it’s not just a macronutrient problem, it’s a micronutrient problem as well. You’re not getting enough micro and macronutrients that will impact the body’s ability to heal and adapt to those demands of consistent long distance running. I said this before, but we see this a lot with clients who have been chronically under eating and maybe trying to use cardio as a way to control their weight. They could be, you know, on purpose or inadvertently under eating their needs. And they see frequent injuries ankles, calves, knees, hips, back, things like that, that you just always kind of feel injured. And that could be directly related to the lack of nutrients. Macro and micro, very closely linked would be impaired recovery. We know that marathon training involves high frequency and high volume workouts. So without enough calories and nutrients, the body’s recovery processes are going to be impaired. Inadequate recovery can lead to persistent fatigue. So you’re fatiguing the central nervous system. This is, you know, not just feeling sleepy.


Emily Field (00:13:10) – This is just general feeling tired throughout your entire body, but also muscle soreness and decreased readiness to train again in the subsequent training sessions of your week. This is ultimately going to hamper your progress and your ability to get ready for race day. Next would be suboptimal muscle maintenance. We know that marathon running is primarily in aerobic activity, so maintaining overall muscle health is crucial for endurance and injury prevention. But a calorie deficit compromises that muscle maintenance and potentially sets you up for muscle loss. This would be undesirable for marathon runners who need strong, resilient muscles to support their training and racing efforts. Compromised immune function intense and prolonged exercise, such as marathon training can temporarily suppress the immune system. So you couple that with a calorie deficit, this is further going to weaken the body’s ability to ward off illness. Marathon runners need a robust immune system to stay healthy and consistent in their training, so I do not think under eating your calorie needs for the goal of weight loss is it’s not the right time to be doing it when you’re training for a marathon.


Emily Field (00:14:17) – Last couple of things here. I do want to touch on the negative impact on mental health. Marathon training is not just a physical challenge, it is a significant mental challenge as well and requires resilience. Anyone who has been on a diet knows how difficult it can be, especially the longer that you try to go, the more drastic that calorie deficit is. Calorie restriction contributes to mood swings, irritability, increased stress levels, and all of that is potentially going to affect your motivation and mental wellbeing during that demanding training process. Lastly, I will say that you will have suboptimal performance gains if you are under eating your needs. That adaptation to marathon training requires a well fueled body to maximize performance gains, and in a calorie deficit, the body may struggle to adapt and make necessary physiological changes needed for endurance running and potentially limit your improvement in speed, stamina, and overall race performance. So again, trying to really paint this full picture for you about why it’s probably not in Carrie’s best interest to focus on weight loss or fat loss when she also has goals to gain strength and muscle, and when she also has goals to train for a marathon.


Emily Field (00:15:36) – So what’s Carrie to do? Anyone who identifies with a story like Karis knows what’s coming next. You probably need to pick one goal and go hard after that one goal. And so while Carrie has goals to be leaner, stronger and fitter, she likely cannot accomplish all of those same things at the same time. So let’s talk about what I recommended Carrie do through that custom macro calculation and health recommendations I sent over to her first, because it sounded like marathon training was the most pressing and time bound goal. I encouraged her to focus on that athletic feat first. I recommended that she eat at maintenance or as many calories and macros as her body needs, taking into account her training schedule. You know, her time spent running, her intensity of those runs, as well as the activity outside of her formal running workouts. So eating at maintenance or even slightly above ensures that she has enough fuel for those training sessions, is fully recovered from them, and she stays injury free for the next several months leading up to that marathon.


Emily Field (00:16:40) – During this time, I also encouraged her to keep up with a few of those strength training sessions per week, with the goal of staying strong and powerful in her runs. Offer some activity to do outside of running and injury prevention. It’s always good to be doing some sort of cross training while you are pushing so hard on an endurance goal. Having some strength training is always valuable. It always complements your goals for an endurance event. So I always recommend, even if it’s just 1 or 2 sessions a week, to keep up with that strength training. Okay, so number one, focus on the marathon training. Eat enough. Not in a deficit, not under eating. That is the number one priority here. Then when the marathon is over, it’s like mid spring, late spring, whatever that might be. You can focus on gaining muscle and strength by decreasing her time spent running and increasing her time spent strength training. So, for example, instead of running three times per week in strength training, 1 or 2 times per week, she could move to the opposite.


Emily Field (00:17:37) – She could do strength training three times per week and running 1 or 2 times per week. I really wanted to spend some time helping debunk the myth that losing weight would make pullups or pushups easier. Even if Carrie was successful at losing 15 to 20 pounds, she would not automatically be able to achieve those goals, especially if she never spent any adequate time strengthening the muscles of her shoulders, her back, her chest. I want you to really think about this one. Realistically, there are all different body types doing push ups and pull ups. In this example here, all different shapes and sizes, all different weights can do pull ups and push ups. So it is an absolute myth that you need to lose weight in order to achieve those goals. No, you just need to be stronger. You need to train the muscles in order to get there. Okay, so my biggest recommendation for Carrie during this phase where she’s really focusing on muscle and strength gain, she needs to get on a program. She needs to have a structured strength training program that has progressive overload each week, built in to her workouts.


Emily Field (00:18:43) – That essentially just means that she’s doing something this week and doing a little bit more next week and a little bit more the next week after that. She’s maybe progressively overloading different accessory movements that will help strengthen the shoulders, the back, the chest, all of that, because that’s her specific goal. She really has goals for pull ups and push ups. But if your goal was squats or deadlift or something like that, there are several movements that you might repeat week to week and push yourself a little bit harder, a little bit farther and add a little bit more challenge week to week in order to achieve those goals. Okay. So number one would be to focus on progressive overload, and number two would be to eat enough to support muscle gain and achieve that muscle build. Okay. We need adequate building blocks in order to build that muscle. So just to review up until this point, we’ve basically asked Carrie to reprioritize. We can’t do everything at once. So what would you like to focus on first? And I suggested marathon training since that was time bound.


Emily Field (00:19:40) – You know, that was the most pressing thing on her schedule. Then once that marathon is over, she can focus on that muscle and strength gain goal. And now lastly, we might focus on weight loss and fat loss. So truthfully, this is the lowest priority on Kerry’s list. The way that I see it. And here’s why. Number one is, you know, she doesn’t really know what her weight will do during her marathon training. She might lose some weight without really trying because her energy expenditure is so high and because she’s encouraged to eat lots, that’s going to increase her metabolism. So as long as she stays healthy, as long as she stays eating enough and matching her, you know, energy output with her energy input, calories out to her calories in her weight might change. She might lose some weight. Number two. Number two reason why I think that weight loss and fat loss is the lowest priority on her list is because she doesn’t really know what her body composition will do during that strength and muscle gain period.


Emily Field (00:20:39) – We’ve established that she’ll focus on marathon training next. She’ll focus on muscle and strength gain, and during that time she might lose some fat. She will likely gain muscle. Obviously that’s the point, but she might lose some fat during that time. So her body composition is changing. She might think that her best feeling body is on the other side of losing 15 to 20 pounds, but it might also be on the other side of gaining muscle and losing fat, which is what happens when people start strength training and eating enough to support that goal. Okay, putting energy into gaining muscle before losing fat is always a good idea. Most people underestimate what gaining 5 pounds of muscle will look like, and overestimate what losing 5 pounds of fat will look like. In. My hunch is, after she spends time training for her marathon and after she spends time gaining muscle, both those activities will fill her cup in multiple different ways. It will set her better up for a fat loss in weight loss phase. She’ll feel proud of herself and how far she’s come.


Emily Field (00:21:43) – She’ll feel so good about challenging herself through those different activities, you know? Now we’re maybe six months, maybe nine months into next year. So when she enters into a fat loss phase, it will be with confidence and happiness and not self-loathing or desperation or fear. So let’s say you’re in a similar position to Carrie’s, but you didn’t have the forethought to organize your priorities like I’ve just described here. Here’s what I would suggest you do if you find yourself, you know, having opposing goals like I’ve just described. As you can now see, embarking on a journey to simultaneously lose weight, train for marathon, and gain muscle requires a strategic and balanced approach. So I would say begin by setting realistic goals, understanding that achieving all of those objectives concurrently is going to take some time. So I would recommend establishing both short term and long term milestones for weight loss, marathon training, and muscle gain. I would recommend that you create a modest calorie deficit to support weight loss and fat loss, but not so drastic that it would compromise your energy for training.


Emily Field (00:22:50) – In order to do this, I think your best bet is to consult with a dietitian to develop a personalized and balanced plan that can align with your goals, and possibly phase across a year. Okay, the goal is not to try to lose as much fat or as much weight as possible in the shortest amount of time as possible. That is absolutely going to lead to nutrient imbalances, muscle loss, injury, and fatigue. All the things that we’ve described in this episode. So your goal would be to create a slight to moderate calorie deficit. If you are kind of in this situation, the most drastic and demanding deficit is not going to work out well for you, and working with a dietitian could help illuminate how you might be able to do that. Next, I would make sure that your training matches your priority, that priority being that weight loss priority marathon training, or your strength and muscle gain. So periodization your training to manage the intensity and the volume based on whatever is your primary focus at different times is going to be really helpful.


Emily Field (00:23:54) – So for example, as you approach a marathon date, you’ll be okay with your strength workouts taking a hit. Maybe you don’t have enough time to complete all that’s required of you in a workout, but you still do like a 20 or 30 minute session 1 or 2 times per week because it’s healthy for you, because it’s appropriate for you for injury prevention and preventing muscle loss and keeping you balanced, things like that. Alternatively, when you are nearing the end of your deficit for weight loss or fat loss, you’ll be okay with your running. Taking a hit. Maybe you don’t do formal cardio. Maybe you swap that with lower intensity activity like walking instead. Okay, so hear me when I say you cannot have all of these priorities. You cannot train exactly the same way across all three of these different goals. I hope you’re getting that picture. And while I want you to keep and hold on to some strength training or some cardio here and there, maybe your emphasis or your intensity or the time spent per week varies depending on which focus is, you know, on the top of your list for that time.


Emily Field (00:24:54) – Last but not least, if you are finding yourself in a position where you are holding multiple goals at one time and you feel like you didn’t do a good job at prioritizing one at a time, listening to your body is going to be one of the biggest suggestions. Pay attention to those signs of fatigue, overtraining, inadequate recovery, and I want you to adjust your calories up and your training down in intensity based on how your body is responding. Along with this goes with proper recovery strategies. This is not the time that you can afford to get little sleep, prioritize sleep, rest, facilitate that recovery process, and reduce the risk of injuries. By doing so, you’re going to be much better off if you consider incorporating activities like yoga or mobility. Work for flexibility and relaxation. Okay, so let me summarize. If you find yourself in a similar position to carry, but you didn’t really have the forethought to organize your priorities like I’ve described in early part of the episode, here’s what I suggest you do.


Emily Field (00:25:56) – Number one would be to create a slight to moderate calorie deficit that’s going to support your weight loss and fat loss goals, but it probably will not compromise your energy for training. Number two would be to make sure you have a good macronutrient balance. I would highly suggest that you track macros. Ensure that you get sufficient protein throughout this entire time, whether your goal is weight loss and fat loss, or marathon training or strength in muscle building, you can pretty much eat the same amount of protein. And I would highly prioritize that in your nutrition. Strategic timing of nutrition. I would just make sure that you pad your workouts with enough carbs and protein before and after. That’s going to support your energy for that training session. And it’s also going to aid in recovery. Next would be to make sure that you are strength training. You would be using that training and intensity, though, depending on where your focus is. So I want you to be strength training. I want you to be doing cardio. I want to see you doing those relaxation, stretching, yoga, all of that.


Emily Field (00:26:53) – But maybe the intensity or the time for those workouts varies based on the focus and priority. Okay. So, you know, maybe ramp up the strength training during your muscle building and strength building phase and maybe you ramp it down in your marathon training. And lastly, I just encourage you to listen to your body and to really not ignore those signs of fatigue. And overtraining. This can be dealt with by increasing your calories, by getting more rest, by taking down your training intensity or time spent training. There’s a lot, a lot of options here. But all in all, working with a dietician who has experience in, you know, kind of fitness plans like this and various goals around health, body composition, athletic performance can absolutely help you with prioritizing when and how we’re going to accomplish all these varying goals. In conclusion, navigating the complexity of opposing health and fitness goals, as illustrated by Carrie’s story, requires careful consideration and strategic planning. We explored the challenges of pursuing simultaneous objectives like weight loss, marathon training, and muscle gain, and it becomes evident that aligning actions with specific goals is paramount for success.


Emily Field (00:28:02) – The pitfalls of trying to achieve everything at once, as seen in the potential drawbacks of a calorie deficit for muscle gain and marathon training, underscore the importance of prioritization. So for individuals facing similar dilemmas, the key takeaway is to prioritize and focus on one primary goal at a time. In Carrie’s case, with marathon training taking precedence, the recommendation was to eat at maintenance or slightly above to support the rigorous training demands. By focusing on this time bound athletic feat, she can ensure optimal fuel for training, prevent injuries, and lay the foundation for a successful marathon experience. The episode also shed light on the misconception that weight loss automatically enhances performance and activities like pull ups and push ups. I emphasize the need for progressive overload and debunked myths surrounding weight loss in strength. Achievements. I suggested a phased approach to goals, and I urge you to concentrate on one thing at a time. And in this episode, we focused on Kerry with her marathon training first, then transition to muscle gain and strength gain. Focus post marathon.


Emily Field (00:29:07) – The rationale behind this approach lies in the potential benefits of gaining muscle before focusing on fat loss, and this sequence sets you up for a more confident and positive mindset during subsequent fat loss phases. Fostering a sense of accomplishment and self appreciation. Ultimately, I encourage you to. If you have opposing goals, adopt a flexible mindset. Regularly assess your progress and seek guidance from professionals by aligning actions with specific objectives and understanding the nuanced journey of retrieving multiple goals. You can embark on a personal and rewarding fitness journey. Thank you so much for listening to the Macros Made Easy podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, take a screenshot of the one you’re listening to right now to share it on your Instagram Stories, and tag me at Emily Field so that more people can find this podcast and learn how to use a macros approach in a stress free way. If you love the podcast, head over to iTunes and leave me a rating and a review. Remember, you can always find more free health and nutrition content on Instagram and on my website at Emily field.com.


Emily Field (00:30:12) – Thanks for listening and I’ll catch you on the next episode.

Ever tried to gain muscle, lose weight, and train for a marathon at the same time? Spoiler alert: It’s tricky!

In this episode, I dive into the topic of opposing goals. I use the example of Carrie, who wants to lose weight, get stronger, and train for a marathon. I explain that trying to achieve all these goals simultaneously can actually have negative impacts on our bodies and overall well-being. Instead, I share how to prioritize your goals and tackle them one at a time.

the dilemma of trying to accomplish opposing goals simultaneously

Let’s dive into something many of us can relate to: the challenge of juggling multiple health and fitness goals at once. 

Let me introduce you to Carrie (not her real name), a go-getter who’s aiming to conquer multiple goals. Carrie wants to boost her strength, so she’s diving into pull-ups and mastering push-ups. Simultaneously, she’s a running enthusiast and plans to join a spring half-marathon. Her belief? Shedding pounds will make her faster.

But here’s the snag: Carrie’s goals are in a bit of a wrestling match. She’s chasing strength, speed, and weight loss all at once. Sound familiar? She’s not alone. Many of us have similar conflicting aspirations, and it’s natural to want it all. However, the challenge arises when these goals clash and we try to achieve them all simultaneously. 

That’s what we’ll dive into next—understanding why it’s tough to pursue strength, speed, and weight loss all at the same time.

why eating in a calorie deficit is not the best choice for someone who wants to gain muscle

Eating in a calorie deficit might seem like the go-to for shedding fat, but it’s not the ideal route for those looking to gain muscle and ramp up strength. 

Take Carrie’s scenario: she aims to lose weight and boost her strength. The hitch? When she eats in a deficit, she’s basically consuming fewer calories than her body requires to maintain its current weight. Sure, it might lead to fat loss over time, but it’s a massive roadblock on the journey to building muscle and getting stronger.

Here’s why a calorie deficit poses a hurdle for muscle gain and strength improvement. First off, fewer calories mean less energy, impacting the body’s muscle growth processes. To build and repair muscle, the body needs a treasure trove of nutrients—protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals—and a deficit can starve these essentials. Not just that, but lower energy levels make intense workouts tough, hindering effective strength training. Worse yet, the body might break down muscle tissue for energy, leading to potential muscle loss. Plus, calorie restriction can slow metabolism, increase injury risk, impair recovery, and even mess with crucial hormones essential for muscle growth like testosterone and cortisol. 

All in all, eating in a calorie deficit for fat loss can throw a massive wrench in plans for gaining muscle and strength.

how eating in a calorie deficit may actually hinder your endurance training

Trying to train for a marathon or other endurance event while eating in a calorie deficit brings a host of problems that can mess with your performance and well-being. Think about it: endurance training is tough work, and if your body isn’t getting enough fuel, it’s like running on empty. 

On top of that, there’s a higher risk of getting hurt. Your body might not repair itself well after those long, intense runs, leaving your muscles and joints vulnerable. Plus, without enough calories and nutrients, you might feel tired all the time, muscles might stay sore, and you won’t be ready for the next training session. Keeping your muscles in good shape is super important for runners, and not getting enough food might cause you to lose muscle.

And that’s not all. When you’re eating less and working out hard, your immune system might take a hit, leaving you open to getting sick. Mentally, it’s tough too—mood swings, being cranky, and feeling stressed can all kick in. Plus, your body might not be able to adapt and change in the right ways to make you a better marathoner. 

For anyone eyeing that marathon finish line, having enough food and the right nutrition is key for handling the tough training both physically and mentally.

steps to align your actions with your most important goals

When juggling multiple health or fitness goals, it’s crucial to prioritize and strategize your approach. Instead of pursuing opposing goals simultaneously, consider focusing on one primary objective at a time. Start by assessing the urgency and importance of each goal. If, for instance, your goal involves a time-bound event, like marathon training, prioritize it initially.

After completing the time-bound goal, shift your focus to the next objective. Transitioning between goals involves adjusting your workout routine to align with the new priority. For instance, if building muscle is your next focus, emphasize strength training while potentially reducing the frequency of other activities. 

Remember, attempting to conquer opposing goals simultaneously can often lead to burnout or hinder progress. Prioritize your goals strategically, allowing dedicated focus on each one sequentially, ultimately optimizing your efforts and achieving greater success.

actions you can take right now if you have opposing goals

So if your situation sounds a lot like Carrie’s, and you’re feeling a bit confused right about now. Don’t worry! Here are some actionable steps you can take right now if you’re juggling opposing goals:

Set realistic goals: Understand that achieving all objectives simultaneously may take time. Establish short-term and long-term milestones for weight loss, marathon training, and muscle gain. Set achievable goals to track progress effectively.

Create a gradual caloric deficit: Create a modest caloric deficit to support weight loss without compromising energy for training. Consulting with a nutritionist or dietitian can help design a balanced meal plan that aligns with your varied goals.

Balance your macros: Ensure sufficient protein intake to support muscle preservation and growth. Prioritize complex carbohydrates for sustained energy during marathon training. Include healthy fats for overall health and hormone production.

Strategically time your nutrition: Structure your meals around training sessions to optimize energy levels and recovery. Consider consuming a balanced meal with protein and carbohydrates before and after workouts to enhance performance.

Periodize your training: Develop a well-structured training program that encompasses phases focused on weight loss, marathon training, and strength/muscle gain. Adjust the intensity and volume based on your primary focus at different times, allowing flexibility in your workouts.

Incorporate strength training: Incorporate strength exercises 2-3 times a week to maintain or build muscle mass. Focus on compound movements engaging multiple muscle groups for efficiency.

Listen to your body: Pay close attention to signs of fatigue, overtraining, or inadequate recovery. Adjust your calorie intake and training intensity based on how your body responds to avoid burnout or injuries.

Recover adequately: Prioritize sufficient sleep and rest to aid recovery and reduce the risk of injuries. Consider including activities like yoga or mobility work to improve flexibility and relaxation, enhancing overall recovery.

By implementing these steps, you can strategically balance your objectives, optimizing your efforts towards achieving your opposing goals.

Remember, it’s crucial to listen to your body’s signals to make sustainable changes. By setting aside opposing goals and taking a strategic approach, you can achieve long-term success in your health and fitness journey. So, let’s prioritize, set realistic goals, and make sustainable changes together!


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