Running to Lose Weight? Here’s What You Need to Know
So, you want to drop some pounds and you’ve selected running as your mode of weight loss. You’re not alone! Many people start running as a means to lose weight. The surprising fact is, it’s not uncommon for people to actually gain weight. Especially those training for longer distances. This doesn’t mean running can’t be a strong tool to aid in attaining your goal weight; it just means you need to be smart about it.
Here are strategies to help running get you to your weight loss goals:
Fuel for Performance
One of my favorite (fitness) quotes goes, “You can’t out run a crappy diet”. If you fuel your body with fast food and processed junk, you won’t recover properly and your running will suffer. Think of yourself as a car that needs to be maintained and fueled to run it’s best.
In general, a diet full of whole foods with a mix of carbs, protein and healthy fats will support your workouts and recovery. By focusing on what fuels your exercise and what repairs your muscles, your body will be prepared for your workouts and will recover quicker. Plus,by routinely eating healthfully before and after your workouts, you create a healthy eating habit that will influence your choices the rest of the day!
The goal of your pre-exercise meal is to provide fuel needed for your workout and to optimize glucose availability, meaning giving your body easy access to sugar that will be used as instant fuel.
It takes a few hours for your body to process food, so after work/afternoon workouts will be fueled by your lunch or afternoon snack. Early morning workouts will depend on what you ate for dinner/late night snack.
If you’re going for a low intensity, <60 min. workout in the morning you’ll be OK without having anything before hand. If you feel you need something, that’s fine, but don’t stress about waking up way early to cram in some food.
If you do plan to go hard first thing in the morning, have a small snack of simple carbs at least 30 minutes beforehand.
What do I eat?
First and foremost; go with what you know! Many runner’s love bananas for the high sugar content and portability, but if you hate bananas, eat something else! Digestive systems are highly individual so experiment and note how your workouts feel. Never try something new on race day.
Your main goal is to find a relatively high carb and moderate/low protein mix. This will give your body the sugar it needs to keep moving.
Avoid foods with high fat and fiber content to minimize chances of gastric distress. Fiber takes longer to digest which is great for feeling fuller, longer, but will divert blood away from working muscles to help digest, plus you’ll be moving with a full stomach. Not fun.
The goal of your post-exercise food is to replenish the lost glycogen stores (carbs) and promote muscle repair. During exercise you create tears in the muscle fibers, as you rest these tears are repaired primarily with protein and become stronger (ahem, exactly why rest is so important!).
Your main focus should be refueling within an hour of your workout. Your body is primed to put fuel to optimum use so take advantage!
It should be noted, the more intense your workout, the more important this timeframe is.
What do I eat?
Again, a higher carb content is key to replenishing all the glucose you burned during your workout, but a focus on protein during this time is more important than before your workout. Avoiding fat and fiber isn’t as crucial, however if you’re eating immediately after a workout you may want something easier to digest quickly. Healthy fats should be favored over saturated.
Be Realistic About Calorie Burn
The biggest and most common mistake runners – especially new runners – make is overestimating how many calories they’re burning. Generally, running burns roughly 100 calories a mile for a person of average weight, speed aside. Don’t get me wrong, this can really help you lose weight, but it also means your 5 mile run doesn’t mean you can eat a burger and fries and be in a calorie deficit.
I get it; after a tough 12 miler I feel I should be able to eat a whole pizza and quench my thirst with 2 beers, guilt free. This is fine occasionally, but if you reward yourself with indulgent food after every run, you’ll maintain your weight at best.
What should I do?
Eat as you normally would, but gradually add a little more protein and carbs especially on higher mileage weeks. Tune into your body and ask yourself if you’re really hungry, or just feel you deserve a treat. A good way to determine that is asking yourself, “does an apple and peanut butter sound good or do I only want french fries.”
You want to fuel your body with enough calories, but running for an hour does not give you a green light to inhale your fridge. As always, keep your treats in moderation and running can be that missing piece of your weight loss puzzle.
Keep it Consistent
Picture this: You haven’t worked out in 7 days and suddenly go for an hour long run (good luck with that, by the way!) then are too sore to do anything the next 4. So you’ve gotten 60 minutes of exercise in 12 days. But, if you fit in 30 minutes of run/walk intervals on 4 of those days, do 30 minutes of intervals on 3 days, and complete two 50 minute longer runs, you have successfully gone ABOVE the minimum without spending over 30 minutes exercising and throwing in 3 full rest days!
Unfortunately, you aren’t going to see changes in a week. There are positive changes happening – lower blood pressure, improved mood, reduced stress, etc. – but in order to see results you need to be consistent. Aim for 3 days a week of 20-30 minutes. If you can only fit in 10 minutes, do it! Having that consistent mindset as well as physical practice is more important than getting a set number of minutes or miles. Have fun and know that even elite runners have off days and runs that don’t feel great.
In order for your body to change, it must be challenged. When you start running, it will be challenging simply to continue without walking for 20 minutes. But – with consistency – you’ll soon find it easy. When this happens, add a few minutes until you can consistently run for 30-45 minutes. After that, add speed intervals where you speed up for 1-3 minutes, and recover at a slower pace for equal time.
There isn’t one formula to follow to get fit, so have fun with finding new ways to challenge yourself! Take it to a hill for hill repeats, see how fast you can go for 30 second intervals, go slow and set a distance PR, just keep it a challenge and change will come. With that said, make sure you are allowing your body to recover. Avoid doing intense and challenging workouts 2 days in a row so your muscles can repair themselves before your next hard effort.
Stay consistent, keep challenging yourself, and be mindful of how you fuel and you’ll be on your way to a slimmer, fitter you!