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  1. #1
    Senior Member
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    Feb 2013
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    West Sussex
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    Are you cycling lots but gaining weight or getting bloated? read this!

    Hi ladies

    Just thought I would share a bit of a warning with you all because it is something i am going through at the moment and others might have similar symptoms and be confused about them like I was.

    I entered a few challenging sportives this summer and also set myself a goal of cycling 3,000 miles between 1st June and end Sept to raise money for my favourite charity. I had a good level of fitness and was doing around 400 or more miles per month, but come June I upped my mileage to aim for 750 a month. It was a challenge fitting the rides in around a full time job, but I had been doing well and have done close to 1,600 miles since 1st June. I have had regular rest days and have been eating really well both on and off the bike.

    Oddly though, I started to get stomach bloating now and again and also gained 6 pounds towards the end of June. I assumed it was a combination of eating too much (all the miles were making me very hungry and I was eating like a pig some days!) and also taking energy gels which can cause bloating, so I cut the calories and cut out the gels, replacing them with more natural stuff. However the bloating remained and I also felt exhausted some days. I put the exhaustion down to the heavy training, but was confused about the bloating and sudden weight increase.

    I then turned to google for some answers as to why I was gaining weight and getting so very bloated when I was doing so much training, and the results were quite interesting!

    There is a hormone called 'cortisol' which spikes after around an hour of exercise. It decreases again when you rest or stop exercising, but sudden increases in training or persistent heavy training can cause it to be at a high level all the time. Cortisol is a stress hormone and it tells your body you are in physical danger. It works along with testosterone to give you a boost, so normally it is good, but when its high on a regular basis it starts to have a negative effect. It causes water retention because it forces the body to store water for emergencies, it also causes you to store fat and also causes stomach upset and bloating. Worse still, because your body thinks it is danger, it stops using glycogen and carbs for fuel because it thinks it might need them at a later date and instead it starts using muscle tissue for fuel. symptoms other than bloating and weight gain are not being able to sleep well, feeling a bit wired and also sore muscles (I had all these symptoms).

    I mentioned all this to my doctor, and he sent me for a blood test, and guess what, I got the results today and my cortisol levels are sky high! I am now under instructions to cut back my miles to the levels I was doing before June and to eat more! Apparently if I exercise less and up my calorie intake a little, I will drop the excess water and weight. A strange situation to be in! lol! I am a bit upset about it because it means I won't make the 3,000 miles but I have obviously put myself at risk of overtraining and making my muscles weaker!

    I just thought I would tell the story in case anyone else is training hard but gaining weight. Whatever you do, don't assume you are eating too much and also be mindful that you might be weakening your muscles. The doctor said its a common mistake of many fitness addicts because they don't realise the effects cortisol can have. They assume they need to eat less due to the weight gain, but in actual fact they should be eating more to avoid your body panicking and calorie storing! and that also it is important to only up your mileage or hours by around 10% per month because the body can learn to adjust cortisol that way and become used to the extra stress.
    Twitter: @cyclosally
    http://www.strava.com/athletes/sallymcsorley

  2. #2
    Member
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    May 2013
    Location
    Kilkenny Republic of Ireland
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    30
    Poor you Sally! It does sound counterintuitive but I get the explanation. Did your doctor give you any advice about how to do what you'd set out to do? You can't be the only one who has had this experience given the number of long distance rides there are. I reckon training for LEJOG would rack up a similar mileage.

    Sorry I just reread your post and saw the recommendation to increase by 10%.

  3. #3
    Senior Member
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    Feb 2013
    Location
    West Sussex
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    Yes, I imagine lots of people must suffer with it without realising and just push on regardless. The doctor is referring me to a specialist for some more test and to monitor it, and in the meantime I am going to cut my mileage right down for the next couple of weeks. The best thing to help towards curing it along with rest and eating well is a good sleep apparently, so if people sleep well after heavy training then its less of an issue because that naturally reduces the levels back down, but my levels are so high that I am totally wired and don't sleep well at all. I am going to get some nytol tablets today and see if that helps! :-)
    Twitter: @cyclosally
    http://www.strava.com/athletes/sallymcsorley

  4. #4
    Senior Member
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    Feb 2013
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    West Sussex
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    Sorry, I just realised I put that cortisol works with testosterone above, but I meant to type adrenaline! Cortisol is one of the adrenaline hormones.
    Twitter: @cyclosally
    http://www.strava.com/athletes/sallymcsorley

  5. #5
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Location
    London
    Posts
    21
    Poor you Sally, I'm sorry to hear you won't make your goal, but you were well on your way!!

    Thank you for posting about this, I have had restless nights of sleep, put on weight and had achy muscles. I watch what I eat religiously (apart from the haribo and angel delight), and this makes a lot of sense to me now, so I will up what I eat slightly to see if this has an effect. I'm about to Google more about it just now.

  6. #6
    Senior Member
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    Feb 2013
    Location
    West Sussex
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    159
    Hi Ali :-) Certainly sounds like you are in the same boat as me, and from a sneaky peak of your strava profile your weekly stats are pretty similar to what mine were up until last week. Did you start training a lot harder recently too? There is loads of information on google on it. Some tips I have picked up are to also increase your vit C and vit B intake. Apparently the normal recommended amounts do not apply when in heavy training and your body needs much higher amounts, and that can help control cortisol levels.

    I just seemed to have got myself into a downward spiral of starting to watch what I eat due to the weight gain and that was pushing the cortisol levels up, which also caused lots of sleepless nights, which only made the situation worse because sleep is one of the main cures!

    I have only cycled 20 miles so far this week, I have eaten the same amount of calories that I would have done if I was still training heavily and my stomach is a bit flatter and I have dropped 2lbs! I am still having trouble sleeping, but hopefully I am starting to reverse the effects.
    Twitter: @cyclosally
    http://www.strava.com/athletes/sallymcsorley

  7. #7
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2014
    Location
    Lower Austria, near to Vienna
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    2
    Hi Sally, I saw this post from last year. I am interested to know how you got on? I may have the same thing. I have scaled down activity recently to see if this helps. I have actually gained 2 kilos despite significantly upping training. I asked to follow u on Strava as I am interested to see what your training looks like now. Can too much of cortisol lead to over training then?

  8. #8
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    West Sussex
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    159
    hi Vanessa, Sorry I only just saw this post. This forum used to send me emails when someone replied to a thread I was included in, but that function no longer seems to work! Anyway, yes, too much cortisol is not a good thing. In short bursts it is good and helps you get through hard physical events (a bit like adrenaline) but if it remains high then it has a negative effect on your body. Over training can increase cortisol quite significantly and have the opposite impact of what you are trying to achieve. I think my body has adapted better this year, I rode all through the winter and have gradually upped my mileage over the summer to give me time to adjust. I also do less long distance riding and mainly stick to 20-30 mile rides with a longer one on a sunday (say 40-60 miles). I also eat a lot better and eat less processed foods because I find eating right helps my body recover and cope better with hard efforts. I still get a bit bloated after long rides, but I think its mainly water retention (does anyone else getting bloating after long rides?). I weigh a couple of kilos less this year that I did last year, so whether it was all cortisol related or whether I was just eating too much last year I am not sure lol. My cortisol was definitely high as I had it measured a few times by my doctor but its a hard thing to measure because the levels vary through the day apparently. How many hours/miles are doing per week and what sort of effort?
    Twitter: @cyclosally
    http://www.strava.com/athletes/sallymcsorley

  9. #9
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2015
    Posts
    13
    Hi Sally really informative post, my friend also suffered from same problems and doctors thought she was overdoing it. So when she reduced her exercise and started eating more, she started losing weight. It was very strange for me when I first heard this but your story now cleared most of my questions.

  10. #10
    Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Leeds, West Yorks
    Posts
    74
    I've read this with great interest as I can't lose a pound to save my life. I have a underactive thyroid too I've cut down on what I do on the riding front. I now do bodypump twice a week, Spin Thurs, road ride Weds 16mls & Sat 20-30mls, mtb Sunday 15-20mls, so Tuesday & Friday are rest day's. I'm keeping to that plan for this year to see if I start to get rid of the extra pounds also feel better
    Elaine

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