Running for Weight Loss

Running for weight loss can be a difficult task to stay focussed on unless you set specific and motivating goals to work towards where losing weight will be a side benefit. Running for weight loss can actually be fun and motivating IF you don't have 'weight loss' as your primary goal!

**This first section is intended for those who are new to running and considering running as a primary means to lose weight. If you are a seasoned runner and are looking to lose weight, jump to the section below titled "Seasoned Runners"**

Losing weight as your primary motivator for running may be one of the more challenging ways to go about things. I notice that many folks who are running primarily for the purpose of losing weight, profess not to enjoy running all that much! It's simply a means to an end. Weight loss, much like training gains, typically happens in stages where your body is initially shocked, adapts and then plateaus or rather goes into maintenance mode. Either more running or more variety will be required to get through these plateaus, particularly if you don't have much weight to lose. If you haven't already, learn more about this by reading about your resting metabolic rate .

So to associate this point, let's look at a common real life running for weight loss scenario. Jan doesn't care much for running, but the times which the gym has other aerobic type activities don't fit into her busy schedule. She therefore 'tolerates' 3 to 5k on the treadmill 3 times a week at 5 mph when it's convenient for her. For the first 4 weeks she experiences some positive benefits. She loses 14 pounds, has more energy and is feeling much better over all. Her body then adapts to this activity level and plateaus. Breaking through this plateau will require her to increase or weekly mileage, frequency of running and/or pace. While training adaptations are always a sign of progress, it's not good news for Jan who isn't so crazy about running. In addition to dealing with her new adaptations that she doesn't understand and views as a negative, she will also have to pay particular attention to her diet more than ever now, as she will be that much hungrier as a response to her training!

Add to that the following universal truth about weight loss:

If you lose weight without any attempts to maintain muscle mass, you will lose water, fat and quality lean body mass. If the weight is gained back, it comes back in the absence of muscle!

So there are two lessons here. The first lesson is that running alone, or for that matter diet alone, is not the best way to lose body fat. To help address this challenge, check out some of the time saving yet very effective in-season workouts on the weight training for runners page. The second lesson is, there neeeds to be a change in lifestyle (from sedentary to active) or weight will be put back on even if the weight loss goal is achieved! For this challenge, what better way to adopt the running lifestyle than signing up for a local road race?

So, running for weight loss can be fun and motivating if you can consider weight loss to be a perk of training rather than the end result of running. Pick a challenging goal such as a future local road race and then follow a well rounded training program to train yourself for it. A 'well rounded' program will have a variety of runs including general aerobic runs, some strength training as well as higher intensity workouts which give you great returns on your time invested.


While running for weight loss is not your primary aim, I'm sure you'll agree that probably one of the biggest myths circulating in the general population is that runners neither care nor need to worry about their weight. Nothing could be farther from the truth. On the contrary, runners have more good reason to be as lean as possible then sedentary folks. Not only to minimize the impact of running with extra weight but to improve running performance. Relatively speaking, who is better off – the sedentary person who carries 30 extra pounds or the runner who logs 30 miles/week who carries 10 extra pounds? The answer is simple – neither, but you already know that which is why you’re reading this!

If you have been running for some time, your body has likely adapted and is even ‘expectant’ of a certain number of miles per week. This means that if you want to experience weight loss, you will need to mix things up and do things that your body and its complex adaptive systems are not accustomed to. You also need to recognize that paying attention to your diet, both quantity and quality, will always play a big part in how lean you can get regardless of how much you perform exercise of any kind.

A real danger for runners is the mentality that because you run you can eat whatever you want. While you’re total calorie allotment may be higher than the average sedentary person this definitely doesn’t provide you with carte blanche to consume everything in sight In fact, I’ve actually seen countless times, runners who have gone through an 18 week marathon training program and actually gained weight! How? By using low quality food as your reward system throughout your training program.

Let’s look at a quick example. Gerry gets his long run of 18 miles in. He’s properly hydrated and fuelled before and throughout his run. He diligently takes his recovery shake. Gerry then has 2 helpings of supper and decides that tonight is a good night to consume more alcohol than usual and a bag of Doritos as a reward for his big day and big week.

So, this doesn’t mean that you can’t treat yourself every now and then, but pay attention to when and why you consume your junk Just like missing a workout or even two due to commitments, sickness or injury, it’s really important to remember that it’s what you do 90% of the time throughout your training program that matters most to your running success

In addition to your quality of diet, there are many strategies that you can employ during your training program that can mean the difference between losing and maintaining or even gaining weight throughout your running training program.


  • Read up on what constitutes a healthy diet for runners . This page not only explains what to eat, but also when and how much to eat as these are all key ingredients to shedding the pounds and feeling energized.
  • Run first thing in the morning on an empty stomache for runs that are approximately 1 hour or slightly more in length. With your insulin level most stable in your waking hour, you'll be surprised at how much energy you have before taking in calories!
  • Consume plenty of clean water. Every gram of fat buring requires 3 times as much water.
  • Run doubles. If you can fit doubles into your program such as an easy short run in the morning followed by another run in the evening you'll get some extra residual fat burning effect when compared to one run of the same total distance.
  • Don't miss your speed workouts! All of your higher intensity runs including hill repeats, intervals, tempo runs and speed play of any kind all yield great fat burning returns. Particularly elevated residual fat burning rates when compared to general aerobic runs which really only boast fat burning during exercise.
  • Increase your total weekly mileage. If done safely and gradually, the extra calories burned will contribute to your total at the end of the day.
  • Eat 5 to 6 meals a day. This has less to do with increasing your metabolic rate and more to do with you with a stable glucose level which will leave you feeling more energized and ready to give more to your workouts.
  • Don't consume junk food and alcohol as your reward system! Occassional treats are perfectly acceptable and one of the perks of running however if you're serious about getting lean to run better this one requires discipline.
  • Run long. While this is a given for endurance training, even beginner 5 k runners can gain valuable fat burning and racing benefits from doing a regular longish run of 1.5 hours.
  • Consume caffeine up to 1 hour before your run. A caffeinated beverage such as a cup of green tea consumed before your run enhances your abilities to utilize free fatty acids for fuel during your run. Caffeine has countless other performance and health benefits as well.
  • During running season, aim to perform at least one total body strength conditioning interval routine a week.

An excellent book on the topic of losing weight to become as lean as you can as a runner is called Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald. It's an easy enough read, and Fitzgerald came up with a simplified system for grading the quality of what you eat based on frequency and quantity of that food. It's a cool and unique approach because it is possible to consume too much of a good thing. There are also a good number of interesting recipes in there contributed by triathlete Pip Taylor.

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