Nothing can give you that instantaneous cardiovascular hit quite like running, but how can running help you lose weight? Read on to find out more…
One minute you’re tying your laces, the next you’re pounding the pavements – and right away you’re boosting endorphins, getting your heart working, and losing weight, right? Hmm… If you ever find yourself thinking, “I run, why aren’t I losing more weight?” you’re definitely not alone. One look at the many runners training on the roads or even crossing the finishing line of a marathon will show you that running doesn’t necessarily make you slim. So, what can we do to make sure our running is giving us the best chance of shedding pounds?
How far should I go?
Most experts agree that it’s best to vary distances and times. Variety in general is key for good fitness, for burning calories and for boosting intensity in running-based training. So mix in some shorter sessions and longer runs each week.
When you’re going for longer distances, getting a running buddy can really help to keep boredom at bay, as well as helping to relinquish any concerns over safety. Jordan Head, Herbalife coach and ultra distance runner says: “Getting a training partner is one of the best moves you can make towards improving your distance running. To be successful with weightloss goals, you need to be consistent, and the accountability a running buddy will give you will ensure that you get out there even when you don’t feel like it.”
Having someone to run longer distances with will also help you with pacing more effectively. Jordan says: “When running distances alone, it’s easy to build up and then stick to your comfort zone, so having a training partner to help you stretch yourself is priceless and will ultimately help you to shift weight.”
How fast should I go?
Lee Pickering, PT at DW Fitness Clubs tells us that changing to a faster pace can make all the difference. “If you’re already a runner and you’re struggling to lose those few stubborn pounds, it’s likely that your body is crying out for a change.”
Lee says that going faster is your route to pushing your body further and harder. “This creates an anaerobic effect which helps your body to increase its metabolic rate. Challenging your body in short bursts also helps to improve your endurance levels, as your body conserves energy and uses it much more efficiently.”
Interchanging between paces is what’s known as interval training, and it’s now well evidenced that this can boost fitness and propel weight loss. Jordan explains how it’s done: “Alternate working at a level of high intensity followed by a recovery or rest period. For example, do a timed faster pace for two minutes and follow with one minute of jogging.”
Many runners use lamp-posts as markers, Jordan says. “Try to run for two or three lamp posts and walk or jog for one. Hill training is great, too. Run up at a high intensity, and walk or jog down for recovery.” Such workouts are great if you’re short on time too, as you’ll get more benefit in a shorter timeframe.
How often should I go?
This will depend on the amount of time you have to dedicate to exercise, and then how you split that time between your running and other activities.
Lee says it’s best not to ‘just run’. He suggests: “Ideally run three times a week, including at least one longer run, and cross train (i.e. other training at the gym, for example) once or twice. This will help to make sure you’re using the muscles you don’t engage as much whilst running. Mix it up with different gym classes such as Spin, or BodyPump, and go for a swim, to really give yourself an all-over workout.”
And don’t forget: nutrition + running = weight loss. Another key reason we might not be seeing the pounds shift at the rate we feel we deserve is to do with the fuel we are putting into our bodies when measured against the calories we’re burning.
What does the expert say?
Professor John Brewer, head of the School of Sport, Health and Applied Science at St Mary’s University says, “Most runners will burn between 100 and 120 calories for each mile that they run. To lose weight, you need to use more calories than you consume from eating and drinking, but most people are shocked to learn that you need to exercise off around 8,000 calories to lose just one kilogram of body fat!”
Unfortunately this sets you the heartbreaking challenge of needing to run 70-80 miles just to lose one kilo of fat. “So the most effective way to stay in trim is to combine exercise with a sensible diet, which reduces energy intake”, says John.
That said, we do have good news. Whilst calories in versus calories out is a useful and clear calculation, running does also propel your metabolic rate after the run has finished, so during your recovery period you will be burning some extra calories.
Weightloss dos and don’ts
- Keep going: Plateaus when you seem to have reached a point where you can’t lose weight are normal. Stopping will make you gain weight and lose fitness.
- Have other goals too: Focusing on weight loss alone can be disheartening. Think about how running lifts your mood and makes you feel more energetic.
- Reward yourself: But never with food! When you reach your 5k, 10k, or half-marathon goal, treat yourself.
- Over-eat: No, you don’t deserve two chocolate bars because you ran three miles. Sorry!
- Just measure weight loss on the scales: Think about how your clothes feel as well.
- Skip a post-run snack: This helps muscles to repair, but keep it fewer than 200 calories