Can running help to lose weight?
You can be a seasoned athlete or a regular person who’s long forgotten about exercising. Whoever you are, at some point in your life you may decide to lose weight. And the chances are you choose running to do so.
A little disclaimer: we think that any extreme weight loss programs are risky and unnecessary. So we’re going to talk about the really safe yet effective way to lose weight — calorie deficit. However, before taking any actions, we strongly recommend seeing a doctor.
Can you lose weight by running?
Yes, you can, but there’s more to it. The process of weight loss is based on a difference between the amount of energy you consume and expend per day. To lose weight, you simply have to gain less than you need. Any energy-demanding activity can help you lose excessive weight apart from running.
People commit to running thinking this activity burns a lot of energy. And there’s a good reason for that. A study by Paul Williams in 2012 found that long-distance runners were overall leaner and lighter than people who did the same amount of other types of exercise.
However, running itself is not enough to get into the desired shape. Many factors that affect your body weight, and diet is on top of that. It should not be just done and dusted. It is a lifestyle that you have to commit to.
How many calories does running burn?
Your body spends a lot of energy on its own just to maintain daily activity and keep your mind in a good state. And the number varies a lot from person to person, depending on activity level, weight, metabolism rate, etc. To find out your daily calorie need use this DRI Calculator established by the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. People are often confused by the number because they never even thought about their energy needs and how much can body spend. Once you have the number, you can think of changes you need to implement into the diet.
Now, let’s find out how much calories does running burn. It varies a lot, depending on your age, weight, and pace. On average, 80 kilograms (176 pounds) male burns about 500 calories during 1 hour run at the 12.9 km/h (8 mph) pace. Using the DRI calculator mentioned above, we can see that same person burns about 3000 calories just to maintain the daily activity.
To see how much you would burn by running, you can use this calculator, or any other equivalent you can find on the internet.
Though the numbers are very rough and people usually don’t want to get into all of that math stuff, this can give you an idea about your body needs and how you should work on it. Also, it shows how little impact sports have in the process of weight loss and how important diet is.
Set your weight goal
Set your goal weight. Make it specific, so you know where you’re going and can build up your strategy around it.
Don’t limit yourself with only weight measure, it can be very tricky. To get a reliable result, use a tape measure along with calipers, a body fat measuring tool. It is cheap and accurate. Also, take measurements from different parts of the body: waist, arms, and legs. This way you can see the whole picture and won’t be fooled by your body.
Improve your diet
To safely lose weight you need to decrease the amount of daily calorie consumption to about 30% lower than you expend. It is enough to make your body use energy stored in fat. And the best thing is no matter who you are, a professional athlete or a lazy bone foodie, or what you do, this should work for you.
Make sure to see a doctor before making any changes to your diet. Otherwise, you may get very disappointed with results and, what’s worse, damage your health, and this is the last thing you want to happen.
You already know (hopefully) how much energy your body needs per day. It’s time to find out how much calories you give to it. To do so, just write down everything you eat and drink during a day. Then, sum up how much calories you consumed using any food calorie chart.
But the calorie deficit is not enough, the quality of food is important, too. Most of us suffer not from overloading on carbohydrates, but rather from consuming too much empty carbs. They have very little nutritional value. Instead, your body receives solid fats and sugar, which leads to weight gain.
High-quality foods are less energy dense and more satiating, which means they fill you up with fewer calories. Naturally, increasing the quality of food accompanies your weight loss.
But even some high-quality foods are bad for weight loss, so here’s a little chart to give you an idea of what to include in your diet.
|Bad food||Good food|
|Fried and fast foods||Vegetables|
|Sweets (including artificial sweeteners)||Fruits|
|Refined grains||Nuts & seeds|
|Flour-based foods||Meat, fish & eggs|
|Highly processed foods||High-fat dairy|
|Healthy oils (coconut oil, olive oil, codfish liver oil)|
Eating any fruits when losing weight is not the best idea, despite the fact they are rich in vitamins. They contain a lot of fructose — a simple sugar that many snacks and juices are loaded with. That’s why some people who eat healthy still can’t drop off extra weight.
So try to avoid any other time grapes, mangoes, pears, dried fruits, pineapples, and berries. Instead, you can have avocados, kiwi, clementines, grapefruits, and even tomatoes (yes, that’s a fruit).
There’s one more thing you should pay attention to. It often happens that you cleaned your diet, started exercising and haven’t dropped a single gram. Moreover, you could even gain some.
While running helps you to create a calorie deficit, it also increases your appetite. And you may not even notice that you started eating more than you did. It is known as compensation effect.
That’s why it is important to track everything you eat. There’s one good thing you can do about it. Try to eat 5-6 times a day with smaller portions. It will keep you full and boost your metabolism, which is essential for weight loss.
If you can’t afford having a meal 5 times a day, however, make sure to sneak in some healthy snacks between your regular 3 meals a day diet.
When you established your diet plan, you can get to start running. And it is important to start one thing after another because any changes to your body should come gradually. Starting exercising and getting on a diet might put too much stress on your body.
Some may think they can skip exercising and let the diet do the job. Though it is possible to lose weight just by calorie restriction, there are few good reasons not to. First, it will simply take much longer. Without additional exercising your metabolism is likely to slow down due to a decrease in calorie intake, and the whole process of weight loss slows down or even stops.
Second, a human’s body is very tricky. The body needs energy, and energy is stored in fat. When it feels deficit in calories, it starts to burn its storages. But the body also needs fat to survive, so it starts to burn muscles instead. That is why you need exercises to minimize muscle loss.
As we pointed out in our guide to becoming a runner, there is a weight restriction for running. Obese people, who weigh more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) should start with walking. Combined with the diet, you’ll see nice results at the beginning. If your health allows to run, but you still pretty new to sports, start with run/walk method.
Give your body time to adjust. It’s ok to have only 1 or 2 training days for the first two weeks. Remember to give your body a break. Run every other day, overtraining is as bad for you, as not exercising at all.
Once you started running, there are almost no limits. You can progress up to running 60 minutes a day, six days a week. It will likely increase your appetite, a compensation effect we talked about. Though the impact is not going to be big enough to decrease weight loss, you still can try and trick your body.
Instead of having a cookie, or snack, or a bag of chips, that often contain more calories than you burned, consider rewarding yourself with some activity. A hot shower after a hard workout, or a bubble bath, a gaming session, an aromatherapy. Something you can enjoy and don’t do as often.
Add high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for a better weight loss
As the name suggests, HIIT is intervals of high-intensity cardio training, where you push your body to the max giving all you have, followed by rest to regain the energy. It has been proven countless times that HIIT is a fast way to shed fat.
The number of calories your body burns during a workout depends on the intensity of that workout. And HIIT does just that. Over short intervals (20-90 seconds) your body extends a lot more energy compared to steady-state running. The whole training session should not be longer than 20 minutes.
Researchers are not entirely sure which activity is best for HIIT, they assume running is on top of the list.
Another significant advantage of HIIT running is that when you’re done working out, your body continues to burn calories. It is known as the afterburn effect. And even though, it is relatively small percent of what you burn working out, it is still a big step up compared to steady-state running afterburn.
Now, there’s a lot of ways to do HIIT, but running is probably the simplest. Just accelerate to the max speed and run for about 10 seconds, and then slow down to rest for 20 seconds. It is better to keep walking, rather than completely stop, so your heart rate doesn’t drop as much.
Blend in strength training
Running alone may not get you to the desired body shape. Adding strength training compensates the muscle burn, which prevents a decrepit look when you drop off extra weight. It allows you to look fit and healthy. Also, it increases your running abilities and accompanies the weight loss. Just make sure you’re recovering properly and getting healthy proteins after a lift session.
As you can see, many factors affect the weight loss process. And running alone is not the best way to do it. Proper diet, regular exercising, and self-control is the only way to make it effective.
But don’t forget that you need to enjoy all of it to achieve your goal. If it makes you feel unhappy and you just force yourself to do it, at some point you’re going to break and give up. Try enjoy running. Enhance something that will make it more fun. Listen to music, or bring in a friend, for example. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re more likely to stick to it.