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Inverse relationship between percentage body weight change and finishing time in 643 forty-two-kilometre marathon runners
  1. Hassane Zouhal1,
  2. Carole Groussard1,
  3. Guenolé Minter1,
  4. Sophie Vincent1,
  5. Armel Cretual1,
  6. Arlette Gratas-Delamarche1,
  7. Paul Delamarche1,
  8. Timothy David Noakes2
  1. 1Movement, Sport, Health and Sciences Laboratory (M2S), UFRAPS, University of Rennes 2-ENS Cachan, Rennes, France
  2. 2Department of Human Biology, University of Cape Town and Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa
  1. Correspondence to Professor Timothy David Noakes, Department of Human Biology, University of Cape Town, Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Boundary Road, Newlands 7700, Cape Town, South Africa; timothy.noakes{at}


Objective The purpose of this study was to determine the relationship between athletic performance and the change in body weight (BW) during a 42 km marathon in a large cohort of runners.

Methods The study took place during the 2009 Mont Saint-Michel Marathon (France). 643 marathon finishers (560 males and 83 females) were studied. The change in BW during the race was calculated from measurements of each runner's BW immediately before and after the race.

Results BW loss was 2.3±2.2% (mean±SEM) (p<0.01). BW loss was −3.1±1.9% for runners finishing the marathon in less than 3 h; −2.5±2.1% for runners finishing between 3 and 4 h; and −1.8±2.4% for runners who required more than 4 h to complete the marathon. The degree of BW loss was linearly related to 42 km race finishing time (p<0.0000001). Neither age nor gender influenced BW loss during the race.

Conclusions BW loss during the marathon was inversely related to race finishing time in 643 marathon runners and was >3% in runners completing the race in less than 3 h. These data are not compatible with laboratory-derived data suggesting that BW loss greater than 2% during exercise impairs athletic performance. They match an extensive body of evidence showing that the most successful athletes in marathon and ultra-marathon running and triathlon events are frequently those who lose substantially more than 3–4% BW during competition.

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by the Ethics Committee of the University of Rennes 2 and by the Organizing Committee of the 2009 Mont Saint-Michel marathon.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.