If you’re trying to lose weight, you might wonder whether running is the solution. Many people start running to slim down.1 You can expect to burn calories and excess fat with a smart running program. But there are a few other factors that will determine your level of success on a running weight loss program.
Running to Lose Weight
In order to lose weight, you need to create a substantial calorie deficit. Most experts recommend that you shoot for a weekly calorie deficit of 3500 to 7000 calories to lose 1-2 pounds per week.
You can achieve this deficit by eating fewer calories or burning more calories with physical activity, such as running. You can also combine the two methods to reach your target.
Runners have special nutrition needs, but the basic principles for healthy eating still apply. Try choosing smaller portions of high-fat and high-calorie foods and eating more whole grains and whole fruits and vegetables.
One common eating mistake among runners is that they overcompensate for the calories burned with extra calories from more food and beverages. Some runners even find that they gain weight or hit a weight loss wall, despite their regular training.
The first step to hitting your goal is knowing just how much you’re eating. Use this calculator to learn how many calories you need for weight loss.
One way to prevent overeating or mindless eating is to write everything you’re eating in a journal for a few weeks. Reviewing a record of your food intake will help you see where your diet needs improvement.
And, because you know that you’ll need to log it later, it may also prompt you to think twice before eating that chocolate-covered donut, helping you stay on track. Runners often find that they constantly feel hungry, so you’ll want to try to plan your snacks and meals to avoid going overboard. Here are more tips to keep your diet on track include:
Eat smaller meals: Spread your calories over five or six smaller meals instead of the usual three. This can help stabilize your metabolism and energy levels and prevent the hunger pangs that may drive you to overeat.
Watch liquid calories: Though you may be running a lot, you don’t need to constantly drink sports drinks to hydrate yourself. The same applies to fruit juices, coffee drinks, and soda. Plain water is enough to stay well hydrated.
Trim carbs: Generally speaking, the average adult should consume around 225–325 grams of carbohydrates per day on a 2,000 calorie diet (or roughly 45–65% of the total daily calories). If you are exceeding this—or are within the range but are still unable to lose weight—trim the carbs slightly and replace with lean protein.
Running for Exercise
Running is an effective way to burn calories in a relatively short period of time. The number of calories you burn while running will vary based on your body size, your pace, and the running duration. But as a very general guideline, many runners of average size estimate that they burn about 100 calories per mile.
Individuals who successfully lose weight and keep it off burn about 2,800 calories a week through planned exercise, according to statistics from the National Weight Control Registry. Assuming an average of 100 calories per mile, that’s about 28 miles per week.
If running is your only form of exercise for weight loss, it is possible to reach that goal. Don’t worry about your pace or the intensity of your run, just focus on getting the miles with a consistent weekly schedule.
Plan your runs in advance and schedule them like you’d schedule any other important event. Eventually, you will burn the calories you need to lose weight with running.
The type of running workouts you do can play a role in the time it takes to lose weight. While there is no “best” running workout to lose weight, but you can maximize your weight loss potential by combining different types of training.
Burning Carbs vs. Burning Fat
When you exercise, the ratio of carbs and fat your body uses for fuel can change depending on the speed, duration, and intensity of the workout. Think of it in this way:
High-intensity running: The body relies more on carbs simply because they’re a quicker source of energy. They provide your body with the burst of energy it needs when launching something like a sprint. It’s like putting a match to paper: it burns hotter and faster but then is quickly over.
Lower-intensity runs: With these longer, lower intensity runs your body gradually shifts from carbs to fat. While fats may not be as immediate a fuel source, they are more sustainable. In this sense, burning fat is more like lighting a candle: it burns steadier and longer.
If your goal is to burn fat, it would seem reasonable to work out at a slower but steady pace, right? Not necessarily. While exercising at a lower intensity will allow you to burn a greater proportion of calories from fat, working out at a higher intensity means that you’re burning more calories overall.
To burn more calories when running, you would need to run at a higher intensity pace, roughly 80 percent or 90 percent of your maximum heart rate. At this speed, you’re not doing an all-out sprint, but you’re working hard enough so that you’re not able to carry on a conversation.
Start by doing a 20-minute run at around 80 percent to 90 percent intensity. Alternately, you can do interval training where you alternate between high- and low-intensity workouts. As you progress and become more fit, you can extend the time of the intervals as well as the repetitions.
Of course, you shouldn’t run at this pace all of the time. After strenuous activity of any sort, you need to give your body a chance to recover and rebuild itself. It is reasonable to complete one or two high-intensity runs per week.
On the other days of the week, complete longer runs that are less intense. These runs will feel more sustainable so that you can put in more miles and burn more calories. Lastly, to bust boredom and build strength, consider doing hill repeats or indoor treadmill runs.
An important part of your running training involves no running at all. Runners who lose weight and keep it off make strength training part of their regular routine.Not only will you burn calories while you’re strength training, but your increased lean muscle mass will improve your running performance. You’ll be able to run faster and longer, and burn more calories when running.
Having lean muscle mass also helps you burn more calories in a day overall, even while at rest. Strength training also helps prevent running injuries, so you’ll be able to maintain your commitment to exercise by staying injury-free.
Try doing resistance or weight training every week. Set aside time in your training routine for 2–3 sessions of 20–30 minutes of strength training each week. You don’t have to lift heavy weights to make a difference. Simple body weight exercises can be effective.
How to Begin
If the different types of workouts and running styles sound confusing, don’t worry. It’s not necessary to do all of the planning on your own. There are plenty of training plans available online. Consider any of these programs or combine a few of them according to your schedule and your needs.