Running for Weight Loss? 10 Things to Consider Before Starting Out
It’s about more than just putting the miles in
So, you’ve decided that running for weight loss is the way for you to feel fitter and healthier. That’s great.
You put on battered old trainers, go out on a jog around the block and pace at what’s comfortable because running to lose weight is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. Right? Actually, no. Sorry to break it to you but there’s more to running for weight loss than you might think, which is exactly where we come in.
If you want to burn fat by running to reach a healthy body composition then stick with us.
While we can’t lace up your trainers and go striding out for you, we can cover the basics, so you can decide how and when running fits in with your weight loss journey.
- Can running help me lose weight?
If the question is whether running is a good way to reduce fat from your frame, the definitive answer is (sigh): it depends on your circumstances.
‘The only real way to know if running will help you lose weight is to try it,’ says Dr Charlie Seltzer, a weight-loss doctor and exercise physiologist. ‘Some people will introduce mini-sprints for 10 minutes, three times a week, and experience weight loss, whereas others can train for triathlons and see no drop in weight.’
With everything, how fast you lose weight and where you lose it from varies from person to person based on body type, nutrition, genetics and the rest. There is no one formula for all. However, there are steps that you can take to maximise the results from your miles.
Just remember, stressful periods can cause your body to produce high levels of cortisol that can lead to increased fat storage largely around the midsection, and 2020 has been one long stressful period. So, if you’re running more but not seeing any results, try to remember that this has been a unprecedented period of time and not get too down on yourself.
- How much do you need to run to lose weight?
While the exact distances are going to depend on how much you currently weigh, your fitness levels and how far you’re able to run, there are a couple benchmarks you can use to suss your ideal weekly amount. If we’re talking averages – to lose, say 1lb a week, you’d probably need to burn about an extra 500 or more calories every day.
‘To do that with running alone [no change in diet] would likely mean taking on a 45-minute run every day of the week for a woman who’s 11st 4lb, for instance’ says Janet Hamilton, an exercise physiologist and running coach. But, for most, that’s just not realistic.
Something a bit more doable – like a 30-minute run, four days a week – would burn about 350 calories per run for the same 11st 4lb, which would lead to weight loss of about 0.2lb per week, according to Hamilton.
- Can you lose weight just by running?
Sarah Lindsay, former Olympian and founder of Roar Fitness, warns against a regime of pure cardio, as you’re likely to lose muscle as well as fat, which doesn’t often work well as a long-term solution to maintaining a healthy body composition.
‘When you’re burning calories, that energy comes from fat stores, glycogen stores and then protein – which is essentially muscle,’ explains Lindsay. The higher your muscle mass, the higher your basal metabolic rate – in other words, less muscle means you need to eat less to get through the day.
‘So, even if the calorie deficit you’ve created by running is helping you lose weight, as soon as you step out of that calorie deficit again, you’ll likely gain unhealthy fat.’
If you love to run, Lindsay says it’s a great way to increase overall calorie burn, as long as you also focus on preserving muscle through resistance exercise. ‘Three strength-training sessions per week, along with one or two runs, is ideal,’ says Lindsay. ‘Stick to 45-minute workouts to ensure it’s manageable.’
- Is running the best cardio for fat loss?
‘Ultimately the most effective form of exercise for weight loss is one you enjoy the most,’ says Hamilton. That’s because you’ll stick to it. (Read: no hard feelings if you and the pavement aren’t fast friends.)
‘If the idea of running for weight loss makes you feel horrible, don’t do it,’ adds Dr.Seltzer. After all, there are plenty of ways to move your body with calorie burn in mind, like skipping, kickboxing, cycling, rowing and yoga.
The best part? They all come with a host of other benefits – think a stronger heart, better bones, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, better mental health – that have very little to do with numbers on the scale.
- What type of running is best for fat loss?
Research shows that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts– think: sprints, running up and down hills, etc – seem to be most effective for weight loss. In fact, HIIT might burn a third more body fat than moderate-intensity exercise (like jogging), possibly because you’re working harder and your body keeps burning fat post-exercise.
- Should I eat before I go running?
This is a question that many runners have, however, the answer is quite simple. We’ve recruited Anita Bean, nutrition expert in new running book I Can Run to explain.
When to eat
The best time to eat pre-exercise is about three or four hours beforehand because it gives your body enough time to begin digesting that food and for some of that energy to then go into your bloodstream and be delivered to your muscles.
If you eat a big meal too close to your running then you’re going to feel uncomfortable and heavy, obviously. It’s why I’d recommend saving your long runs for the evenings or weekends if possible.
There are also little tweaks you can make along the way. Let’s say you like to train at 6pm and you’ve had your lunch at 1pm. You’ve got a gap of five hours and could probably do with a top-up before lacing your trainers.
A snack around 30 minutes before your run will help to raise your blood sugar a little and ensure that you’re not running hungry, plus it’ll help you to keep the intensity up for longer.
If you’re setting off in the morning, then it’s unlikely you’re going to rise at 6am on a weekend just to give your breakfast time to digest. This is when you need to fuel properly the day before.
Saturday night is really important for getting in your carbs and your protein and making sure that your muscles are filled with glycogen ready to fuel your exertions. That way, when it comes to Sunday morning, you reach for a banana, a handful of dried fruit or a small bowl of porridge. This will be enough to bump up your blood sugar, see off hunger and make you feel better, ready to run. All you need is that little kickstart to get you out the door and the stores from Saturday night’s pasta dish will take care of the rest.
Crucially, this will also teach you to run with the feeling of having some food inside of you. Not a massive meal, but there’s no way you can do a marathon without re-fuelling, so training is the time – especially on those long runs – to get used to running with something in your stomach.
Eating while running
Eating (or fuelling) during a run comes into play on anything longer than about an hour. Between 60 and 90 minutes is a crucial period because that’s when your glycogen stores (the energy in your muscles and your liver) start to deplete and fatigue sets in. You’ll have to slow down your pace or you may need to stop altogether. You need to start re-fuelling before you hit rock bottom.
If you’re new to running and pounding your local park at a steady pace, then the best time to do this is around 45-60 minutes, although this depends on how hard you’re pushing and how well you stocked up the night before.
The types of foods you take with you are also crucial. This is where everything you know about nutrition falls apart. You don’t need to be having complex, nutrient-dense foods when you’re out running. You’re after simple carbs and that means sugar. Yes, sugar. It’s not good for your teeth, but it’s actually really beneficial for your performance because it is absorbed fast, gets into your blood fast and to your muscles fast. This will allow you to keep going for longer at your chosen pace. Try: