Trying to Lose Weight? Think Before Signing Up for a Race!
As runners, we all know the many benefits of running. For starters, it is a great way to relieve stress and help maintain anxiety. Even if you are not an elite runner or are particularly gifted or fast at running, you have probably laced up your shoes and hit the trails a time or two after a rough day or to clear your head to prepare you for a big meeting at work. For people who love the setting and achieving big goals, running is the perfect way to make lofty goals for yourself, train your heart out, and meet your goal! (And if you DON’T meet it, there’s another great thing about running; you can keep working at it and training until you do meet it. But, fair warning, once you do, it’s likely you will just want to make another race goal for yourself.) And then, of course, a lot of folks take up running purely for physical reasons. After all, it is a great way to tone your muscles and burn a lot of calories quickly. But if that is why you are running, you might want to rethink your strategy. Not only will you probably get burned out and not want to commit long term to something that you don’t actually enjoy, but you might find that you actually start GAINING weight once you embark on any major training program.
Like we already mentioned, running is a great calorie torcher. In fact, as far as cardiovascular activities are concerned, running offers you the ‘biggest bang for your buck’ in regards to being an efficient calorie burner – that is, you burn more calories in less time than other cardio activities. And so you might be thinking that it naturally makes sense for you to start running if you want to burn calories and lose weight. But too much of a good thing might just be too much… sure, running will burn a lot of calories (especially when you start really racking up the miles and training for distance endurance events where you are regularly running double digit miles). But with that comes other changes with your body.
Exercise revs up your metabolism. This is one of the big reasons why doctors and health experts advise folks to exercise, even if they are not interested in losing weight. A faster metabolism means more calories burned quickly but also means increased hunger. And we are not talking hunger that compels you to spring for dessert after a meal. We are talking incessant, ravenous, even borderline painful hunger that is extremely hard to tame. Just ask any distance runner to list out what they consume on a typical day during their peak training season, and the on-going list of calorie dense food that they will very likely give you will make you quickly realize these folks have to consume thousands of calories in order to fuel their day. After all, the human body burns upwards of 2000 calories just to perform minimal, bodily functions (like sleeping and keeping you alive). So to keep up with the huge number of calories that are burned with running, your body is going to crave a lot of food. And while some of those cravings might be for vegetables and lean meats, your body is also easily carbohydrate deprived during training because carbs are what an endurance runner burns up as energy.
Can’t Fight the Cravings
So not only are you burning tons of calories, meaning your body needs to replenish those calories, but your body craves calorie-dense foods that are high in fats and high in carbohydrates. We mean brownies, cookies, cakes, anything topped with melted cheese, bottomless bags of chips, and cups on cups of caffeine (ideally pumped with sugar and creamer and sweet flavorings galore). Needless to say, those are not really on the list of foods of a typical ‘weight loss diet.’ And, sure, you are arguably running so much that you could still eat those foods and lose weight, but you STILL have to eat in moderation. You still can’t go hog wild and eat everything you ever wanted, or even everything your running hunger is asking you to, and still lose weight. The bottom line is that these foods, when not consumed in moderation, simply contain too many calories.
You Can’t Out-Exercise a Bad Diet
You have probably heard it before, but you really can’t out exercise, or outrun, a bad diet. Run all the miles you want but if you are still consuming too many calories, then you are consuming too many calories! Your body will still pack on the weight. And increasing your running to burn more calories can backfire and cause you to just eat more. If you want to train and run distance events, we are NOT trying to tell you not to. You should! But maybe rethink doing it if you are just signing up to lose weight. If it is fat and weight loss that you seek, try shorter distance running in smaller intervals at a higher pace (i.e. High-Intensity Interval Training on the track or treadmill) and add in weights. (Increased muscle tone increases metabolism and calorie burn – but not to the extent that it causes your hunger to be untamable like running might). And finally… diet, diet, diet and nutrition, nutrition, nutrition. Even if you don’t exercise at all but eat well, you will lose likely still lose weight.