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Weight Loss Medication: How Will It Impact Your Running?

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How will weight loss medications impact your running? Weight Loss Medication: How Will It Impact Your Running? www.runnerclick.com

In the 1980s and 1990s, weight loss fads centered around aerobics classes, trendy (albeit potentially dangerous) diets, and weight loss pills and supplements. Fast forward thirty years, and the diet industry is still a multi-billion dollar industry, with plenty of companies and manufacturers touting the effectiveness of their diet pills and medications on weight loss. If it seems too good to be true, then it just might be. After all, if popping a small tablet every morning at breakfast was the secret to being thin, fit, and feeling fabulous, then we all would be doing it! And despite what certain celebrities might be advocating for as far as weight loss medication is concerned, many studies suggest that it could cause serious health consequences and potentially adverse and harmful side effects. For individuals who exercise regularly and are active, taking up a weight loss medication regimen might be a risky decision.

Perhaps you took up running exclusively for how it has been known to help efficiently burn calories and get rid of some extra poundage. Maybe you were a little generous with your portion sizes and did not say no when Grandma insisted on serving you seconds at every meal over the holidays, and now your pants are fitting a bit tighter and a friend suggests running (in addition to some magic pills) to get back down to your “happy” size. Or maybe you are a lifelong runner. Maybe running was your first love, and you can’t imagine life without it.

You have never actually stopped running but over time, things have changed. Perhaps you got married, had a few kids, changed jobs, started school, and just generally added a bit more stress to your life, which in turn also added in a few more drive-thru breakfasts and happy hour pints of craft beer. So you will obviously continue running to help deal with stress and as your beloved hobby and outlet, but the extra added weight encourages you to look elsewhere – i.e., to the weight loss aisles of the supplement store and supermarket. So many people seem to be hopping on this supplement train, that certainly it can’t HURT, right?

Which Weight Loss Medications Are FDA Approved?

Before you dive in, it would be best to read up on some of the studies that have been conducted to test the effectiveness of weight loss medication, as well as some of the potential side effects they may impose. First, go straight to a trusted source, like the FDA. There are actually only two prescription drugs that the FDA has approved for long-term use for weight loss, and even these are only recommended for people who are significantly obese. These drugs are sibutramine (which has been shown to increase metabolism and promote serotonin production to enhance one’s mood, but has also been linked to increasing blood pressure and abnormal heart patterns) and orlistat (which blocks the fat-absorbing enzyme lipase so that more fat is absorbed into the large intestine that is absorbed by the body, but as a result, can cause major gastrointestinal issues).

Even these drugs, that HAVE been okayed by the  FDA, pose serious risks to all people. But runners and athletes might be at a greater risk of experiencing nasty side effects. First of all, the body needs all macronutrients, including fat, to function properly – and especially to run. If lipase is being blocked from absorbing fat, then the body might become malnourished of this macronutrient. Fat plays a pivotal role in keeping organs healthy, regulating internal body temperature, and for a cohesive thought process. Now suppose you are out on a long training run on a cold day, and your body doesn’t have enough fat absorbed to maintain a warm internal temperature, and you start forgetting which direction you ran and which direction takes you home. You get confused and lose focus because you can’t think straight. And you start to get really cold… you can see where this is going. The end result doesn’t sound good at all!

Which Weight Loss Medications Are Not Approved by the FDA?

As far as all the other weight loss supplements on the market, that include now-restricted drugs like phenylpropanolamine (PPA), ephedrine, and chitosan, you should stay far away. The FDA has banned these drugs, so you really should not be finding them on your store’s shelves anyway. They function as a combination of appetite suppressants and adrenaline-enhancing supplements. While that might not sound dangerous, the pose severe and very real risks of elevated blood pressure and the risk for stroke, psychosis, and seizures. Even “dietary herbal teas” should be avoided because they often just contain laxatives as the means to “lose weight.” These kinds of “medications” can severely dehydrate the consumer. This poses problems for all people, but a dehydrated runner can face some serious problems and complications. Dehydration during exercise and athletics often leads to lightheadedness, cramping, intense fatigue, and passing out.

The Bottom Line

So basically the gist is this: there really is not a ton of evidence to support the diet industry’s claims that weight loss medications ACTUALLY help lose weight – at least not significant weight in a way that is manageable and lasting. Instead, weight loss pills often leave users feeling exhausted, dehydrated, with intense stomach issues, and malnourished of nutrients that their bodies need to simply perform basic daily functions. All of these issues and problems become exacerbated in runners, who are experiencing these adverse effects while their bodies are working as hard as they can to sustain their desired running performance. If you want to lose weight, it is best and safest to stick to a healthy diet and exercise plan. This will lead to better results not just on the scale, but during your training and races as well.


  1. Judith Stern, Can Diet Pills Help You Lose Weight?, UC Davis Health article

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