Beware the Scale: How Weight Effects Runners at All Levels
A basic running principle is that every runner has an ideal racing weight. This is the weight at which a runner runs their fastest and they feel their absolutely best. Seems like a pretty simple principle to understand, right? In theory, it’s extraordinarily simple. In execution, however, it’s probably one of the hardest things a runner has to constantly deal with (alongside gear and weather).
Every runner regardless of their running level (beginning, intermediate, and expert), will all experience the same basic concepts of weight as it relates to running. However, each level of running presents its very own unique challenges regarding weight. It‘s not only important to know the basic concepts of weight and running, but also to know, what each level will bring you as you move forward in your running journey.
What would happen if two runners with identical levels of fitness were put into an experiment? In this experiment, Runner #1 is left as is but, Runner #2 is forced to shed 5 pounds. Would Runner #2 run faster?
Yes, Runner #2 would absolutely run faster. But, the key question here is, why? Technically, a runner can’t move forward without moving up. Add to that, the fact that the more a runner pushes against gravity, the more energy is required to move that runner.
For example: Imagine grabbing a four-pound weight and strapping it to your back. Could you run? Yes, of course you could. But, it would be much harder to run now that you had the weight strapped onto your back.
Regardless of how many miles a runner logs each week, the human body automatically wants to store fat. The body does this in-order to prepare for a shortage of food. As such, even the most motivated runners have a hard time losing weight.
New or Beginner Level Runners
In the beginning, do not get nervous, upset or frustrated if the numbers on the scale increase instead of decrease. If a scale was given a human profession, it would be considered a Con-Artist, by trade. The number on the scale represents your absolute weight. This number isn’t always an accurate snapshot of what is happening in your body. Also, keep in mind that the age old saying, “Muscle weighs more than fat”, is scientifically proven to be true. A few very extreme examples, to help you better understand what this means:
- Your lung is removed and sold on the black market. You instantly lose 2 pounds. Yay!
- You wake up in the morning and drink an entire gallon of water. Boom! Hello, extra 7.2 pounds weight gain.
It’s extremely difficult for runners to achieve weight loss while simultaneously maximizing their fitness level. This is why it is best for beginning runners to focus on their workouts and racing more so than their weight.
Intermediate Level Runners
After running for a year or two (or getting more intense about their training), runners typically start to look for ways to run faster. This often leads to the question, “Will I run faster if I lose weight?” Yes, leaner runners breathe easier. They also dissipate heat better and generally run more effectively. So while weight isn’t everything in running, it’s definitely a big thing.
Runners burn more calories while training and completing races than almost any other activity a human could do. This creates a huge demand for energy. Many runners following a marathon training schedule (or any intense running program) automatically assume the weight will just melt right off due to the high demand for extra energy. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Many runners change their eating habits when they begin training harder. This tends to have a negative impact on their performance and on their weight. They believe “Hey, I just ran 10 miles; I deserve this super sized sizzler sub and loaded fries”. Running does burn a large amount of calories. However, as a runner, you have to be extremely careful not to quickly or inadvertently eat back the calories with non-nutrient dense foods. Eating two chocolate covered donuts in the morning, a Whopper meal for lunch, and a large sub for dinner is absolutely not going to help shed any pounds you are looking to lose.
Not shedding excess weight could be a contributing factor to your non-ability to improve your race times. The best time to focus on weight loss is 4-9 weeks before starting to intensify your workouts in preperation for a big race. It’s also important to note that not every runner who loses weight will end up running faster. Weight is only one factor in a runner’s speed and ability.
Expert Level/Competitive Level Runners
There are benefits for many runners to shed a few pounds. However, losing weight isn’t a good goal for all runners. For runners who obsess about keeping their weight as low as possible and/or for runners who are naturally lean, the threat of falling below their ideal racing weight is very real and very dangerous. Not consuming the proper amount of calories or nutrients, can cause runners to develop compromised immune systems and weak bones. These types of effects can lead to life changing injuries.
Tracking your performance and listening to your body are two of the most important things you can do to maintain your ideal racing weight. If your race times are getting worse but, your still losing weight, or if you’re constantly cranky and starving all the time, you’ve passed the point of beneficial weight loss.
As a runner, don’t focus on how many pounds you weigh. Instead, focus on what your ideal race weight is and strive to get there and stay there. This will take time, effort, and probably some sweat and tears but, it is the most effective and healthy way to improve your race times while still having fun!