Running is definitely one of the most effective ways to help lose weight. As we will show the quality and structure of running or exercise is crucial to success combined with sensible eating. Understanding the simple “how and why” of exercise and food will help you control your weight.
Running remains one of the planet's simplest forms of exercise. You can step out your front door any time that suits you and do as much as you like when you like. If you give yourself a little time to adapt, it can be addictive and fun too. The right programme can also build a little muscle to help with better metabolism.
Overall, science indicates that if you want to lose weight, running is one of the better options, for its absolute simplicity and because it uses a lot of big-muscle groups, key for calorie burning.
You probably already know something about metabolism and have some idea it can help or hinder weight loss. Simply put, metabolism is a name for the process of how our bodies process the food we eat into the energy we need, to do all our daily tasks and get through the day. It never stops working, even when we are asleep. Everyone’s metabolism works at a different rate.
- A slow metabolism burns calories slowly and can result in excess calories getting stored as fat leading to weight gain.
- A fast-acting metabolism burns calories faster, meaning fewer get stored as fat and weight is controlled.
Various studies have shown that although it is possible for anyone to speed up their metabolism to help control weight, the fact remains, exercise and a balanced diet are still way more important in helping to do this.
Let’s look at this with simple age-old wisdom. Although it is never quite as simple as it sounds, the traditional formula involving calories in and calories out is still totally relevant. You have three basic scenarios:
- If calories in = calories out = no real weight loss.
- If calories in are less than calories burnt, possibility of weight loss.
- If calories in = more than calories burnt, you will put on weight.
It does all sound so totally simple in theory, but everyone’s lifestyle and metabolism are different, so it can be hard in reality.
Every day we need energy for anything we do. In all our activities we are burning calories. Walking round the house or office and even sitting at a desk or on the sofa, we burn calories. We all know that when we workout, we should burn more calories. The number of calories burnt will depend on the length and the intensity of the exercise.
For a healthy balanced lifestyle, we do totally need to keep feeding ourselves a regular supply of calories through our food to maintain energy levels. However, it is useless after exercise to then just ‘junk out’ on high calorie foods. Many people who exercise regularly still have issues with weight loss because they are not eating properly.
A healthy mindset would be that running itself is important, but also how you run is important. Running should just be a part of your overall lifestyle choices. Which approach you choose also of course depends on where you are starting from.
1. Running mildly out of your comfort zone
In any running routine, whether you are one of the thousands of beginners taking on couch-to-5k or already a regular runner training for your next event, your schedule will involve hard days, easy days and rest days. All exercise will burn calories, but the harder days – as well as helping you improve as a runner – are burning up more calories.
Studies carried out at the Harvard Medical School involving several sports clearly showed that, even for beginners or recreational runners and joggers, just increasing your pace by 30 seconds or a minute a mile will lead to burning off more calories.
So, wherever you are on the fitness spectrum, doing one or two harder sessions a week – or simply putting in more effort for part of a session – will help. This doesn’t have to be an eyeballs-out effort, it just has to be harder than what you yourself consider your normal everyday effort.
- For a beginner or an older person, it can just involve going a little faster or just including a gentle incline or a hill, which makes you work a bit harder.
- For fitter people, already into a regular routine, it could be a key weekly speed or tempo session.
- HIIT or Higher Intensity Interval training – not carried out to excess and relative to your own level of fitness – are also ‘calorie killers’.
2. Early morning running is best for fat burning
There is never a bad time to exercise – all exercise is good, right? However, studies have shown early morning workouts can be more beneficial to weight loss.
The nutritional science is pretty technical, but basically after sleeping, the stomach is fairly empty after the digestive process and has done the needful overnight. Your exercise still needs to be fuelled by something, so with nothing instantly available, the body draws on its own fat supplies. It is similar to what the body does when you’re on a long training run or a marathon, and it has used up available supplies you have given it.
3. Keep maintaining your daily routine
Other studies have shown that as well as exercising, you must still maintain your usual daily routine. It is no good exercising before breakfast, and then thinking: job done, calories burnt! If you then eat (or over-eat) to refuel and reward yourself by sitting at a desk or on the sofa the rest of the day, the weight-loss benefits of running will be cancelled out.
If the body is used to moving around regularly through the day, it still needs to move around to burn calories taken on through food. Even though you ran in the morning, perhaps still aim to get in a few thousand steps in the rest of the day, to keep the metabolism working well.
4. Do some simple strength work
Again, this is all relative to your current fitness level, but one generally acknowledged way of increasing how your metabolism works is to build – or at least maintain – your muscle mass. More muscle mass seems to give the metabolism more to think about!
- For fitter people, a strenuous workout involving most of the larger muscle groups like quads, hamstrings, upper arms and shoulders is great.
- It doesn’t have to be mega-intensive though and there are also much gentler ways of doing some ‘resistance training’ with exercise bands, sitting in a chair or on the floor.
5. Learn to love running!
Finally, if you are convinced that running is one of the keys to losing weight, mentally you have to learn to LOVE your exercise and look forward to it, rather than seeing it as a chore, or a punishment.
It goes back to the attitude or outlook of lifestyle choices. Elite athletes and coaches talk of the process leading to the goal of the next major race … then the next one. Similarly, having made your choice to lose weight, it should be looked on as a long-term journey rather than a short-term goal. Yes, there will be inevitable challenges, ups and downs, but the journey will unfold successfully.
How long before I start losing weight from running?
Although we have all read of exceptional cases of runners losing many kilos in a short space of time, for most of us it is (like the running schedule), about long-term gradual gains over weeks and months.
How much should you run to lose weight?
As above, it comes down to offsetting the calories you consume against the calories you burn. So it is not just about how much you should run to lose weight, but combining that with sensible eating. Running for example 30 minutes a day for 3 to 4 days a week will certainly shed some calories, but the weight-loss benefits are counteracted if you then have a fry-up to refuel every day.
Can you lose weight just by running?
You can certainly lose weight just by running, and running has been shown to be one of the simplest and most effective ways of burning calories, but the calories in / calories out formula should still be respected.
Is weight loss good for a runner?
Yes and no. It depends on where you are starting from. If you know you are carrying a few extra pounds, then losing a few pounds will certainly make you a better and more efficient runner, whatever your standard. If you don’t really have a weight issue, but are training hard without paying attention to proper refuelling, it can then cause too much weight loss than you need and negatively affect performance the other way.
What is a good running schedule to lose weight?
There is no generic weight-loss running schedule. If you follow the guidelines of a general schedule, it can help you lose weight. A good schedule would focus on small relative harder efforts and some resistance work to help with muscle mass.
As one makes progress, there is a national network of running and jogging groups out there, all with qualified coaches and the camaraderie of group support, waiting to help you.
What should runners eat to lose weight?
Common sense indicates cutting out (or being sensible with) high fat, high processed foods. Simple things like boiled or mashed potatoes rather than chips;whole grains like bulgur, quinoa, whole wheat pasta rather than processed white bread or processed pasta. They will fuel your run and recovery while still providing the fibre you need to stop overeating as well as promoting better digestion. Also remember that protein is important in rebuilding muscle that breaks down during exercise. Here are some more general tips:
- Avoid headline-grabbing fads and keep things simple.
- Taking the few minutes to prepare fresh fruit and vegetables rather than reaching for a tin or phoning for yet another carry out.
- Always have a little ‘tuck box’ of healthier snacks and fruit to grab like a flapjack instead of chocolate; a couple of oatcakes instead of processed bread or crisps.
- Plan ahead and challenge yourself (and like-minded friends) to be creative with snacks.
- No need to be like a monk on a retreat. Little treats – you know the ones you like – are fine in moderation. But learn to see eating properly is an integral part of an overall lifestyle choice – you are striving to live well.
- Alcohol is notoriously high in sugars and calories, so drink only in moderation.
- Water is still one of the most effective and simplest rehydration methods on the planet.
- Follow the old adage of avoiding too many packets or tins in the supermarket – if you can’t understand the list of ingredients in 10 seconds or less, put it back :-)
This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. If you experience any difficulty with this advice, stop and consult your healthcare provider. Anyone with a serious weight issue or an underlying health problem is advised to consult their GP or a fitness instructor.