There are a million new fitness gadgets, gizmos and diets proclaiming to be the ultimate weight loss solution. So I’ve always shied away from digging in too deep to running for weight loss because the miles are about so much more than calories.
But, I can’t pretend that when I laced up to give it the ol’ college try in 2002 (while literally in college) my focus was anything but losing weight!
It absolutely helped me to lose 35lb pounds and keep it off now for over two decades.
Plus, running for weight loss is about as simple and ungimmicky as it gets.
It’s the simplest type of exercise known to mankind; all you need is some good running shoes and you’re ready to hit the pavement and burn some calories.
In fact, this is what attracts so many of us to the sport on day one. Simplicity.
The confidence, the joy, the friends are all unexpected benefits that eventually replace our thoughts of calorie burn.
And if you take advantage of the right strategies, your running routine can help you lose weight no matter what pace or distance your runs are.
In this article, I’ll be using my running coach expertise to discuss my top 10 secrets to running for weight loss and everything you need to do to get started with it today.
Understanding the Connection Between Running and Weight Loss
Before I delve into the secrets of weight loss through running, let’s first understand how the two are connected.
Simply put, running burns calories.
When you run, your body expends a tremendous amount of energy, which leads to the depletion of stored calories i.e. fat. And so, the longer and harder you run, the more calories you will burn and the more weight you can lose.
The Science Behind Running for Weight Loss
While the connection may be simple, the science behind it is fascinating.
Running causes your body to increase its metabolic rate or the rate at which it burns calories. It also releases hormones, such as adrenaline and endorphins, which accelerate your heart rate, increase blood flow, and improve mood.
Plus, running triggers the release of growth hormones, which help build muscle and burn fat.
(While this picture shows a change, there is SO MUCH I wish I’d known or done smarter. I have since made a lot of healthier lasting changes which this article is going to help you with as well.)
How Running Helps You Burn Calories
When you run, your body uses glucose (sugar) from carbohydrates to fuel your muscles. Once your body has depleted glucose, it will turn to stored fat for energy.
By consistently running, you can train your body to use stored fat for energy more efficiently, leading to greater calorie burn and weight loss.
Another way that running helps you burn calories is through the afterburn effect, also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
This is the increased rate at which your body burns calories after exercise to restore itself to its pre-exercise state. The more intense the exercise, the greater the EPOC, which means you will burn more calories even after you have finished running.
Setting Realistic Goals for Your Weight Loss Journey
If you want to successfully lose weight through running, it’s important to set realistic and achievable goals.
While it’s tempting to set lofty goals, such as running a marathon in a few months, it’s important to remember that slow and steady wins the race when it comes to weight loss.
By setting realistic goals, you’ll be more likely to stick with your running plan and see results.
One way to set realistic goals is to focus on improving your overall health, rather than just the number on the scale.
By setting goals such as running a certain distance without stopping or improving your running pace, you’ll be able to see progress and feel proud of your achievements.
15 Secrets to Running for Weight Loss
You burn more calories with running than you do with cycling or strength training but running to lose weight isn’t as simple as that.
For those of you who are where I once was – fed up with the stubborn pounds and ready for some straightforward answers, here are 10 quick tips and strategies that will get you started TODAY. Please know that being a heavier runner is ABSOLUTELY FINE!!
Your body will adapt. You will adapt. But if weight loss is part of your goal for feeling healthier and stronger, then read on!
You’ve taken the first step by lacing up, now a little more knowledge and guidance can keep you on track.
Because weight loss is a MASSIVE topic, today we’re focusing on the quick tips to incorporate into your running program that will get the scale moving.
1. Just Start Moving
If you’re here, it’s because you’re engaging in one of the oldest forms of procrastination…knowledge gathering.
Oh sure, we make it sound necessary by calling it research, but it usually just leads to analysis paralysis.
Know this, you can always change your plan, but the longer you wait to get started the harder it is.
Today is day 1, put on your shoes, walk out the door and start moving. You’ll know pretty quickly when you need to walk (which might be immediately!). So what?! Walk.
Then the next day try to go a little bit farther. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Yes, you will notice athletes around you constantly optimizing their training plans and formulating race-day strategies, but you don’t need to go crazy if you’re just starting out.
I would recommend that new runners shouldn’t join up with faster, more experienced athletes right away as they begin running.
Start here: Couch to 5K Training Plan >>
2) One Change at a Time
It’s so tempting to make the grand proclamation that you’re now only going to drink green smoothies for breakfast, you’ll be following a 16 hour intermittent fasting protocol and going to the gym every morning.
While you’re laying in bed thinking about how amazing it’s all going to be that sounds great.
At 5AM, after 4 hours of sleep, that first day workout sounds less appealing than a giant cinnamon roll.
Pick 1 TINY thing that you can change.
Like switching to oatmeal from frosted flakes or drinking 64 oz of water or walking over to co-workers desk instead of instant messaging.
Slowly each little change becomes a habit, which means you create a lifestyle that’s EASY to maintain.
The same applies to make running part of our lives. Don’t commit to running daily. Instead, just focus on showing up today for a walk…then a run/walk, then a little more run, and so one.
Over time you’ll build up your running intervals, while staying injury free. The little steps approach leads to longevity! If you get injured it’s real hard to stay consistent with this new training goal.
Checkout more how this whole one little change at a time thing works >>
3) Don’t Over Commit
Along with small changes, let’s talk about not going for gold on day one.
I know many new runners start with their eyes on the marathon! It’s a bucket list goal, they can’t wait to tackle it.
They’re excited, they’re motivated, they’re completely freaked out when 3 miles feels like it took forever and they would still need to run 23.2 more.
Not only can that too big goal feel daunting, but fun fact: most runners gain weight while marathon training. So it may not actually be your best bet if weight loss is the goal.
This is because training for a race and running for weight loss are actually conflicting psychological goals!
If you’re aiming to reduce your carbohydrate intake or calories while training for a race to lose weight you can end up with a ton of issues instead.
These include feeling fatigued and sluggish while running, having poor recovery post long runs, and overall reduced energy throughout the day.
So, don’t over commit yourself and focus on one goal that you can work up to slowly and consistently.
4. Focus on Eating The Right Amounts
Running for weight loss is a great first step, but must focus on nutrition.
It is one of the most important things you can do if you want to truly take advantage of running for weight loss. The adage that you can’t out run a bad diet is true, especially the older we get!
But don’t fall into the trap of undereating!
If you’re undereating too much for too long, then you actually damage your metabolism, eat up muscle, screw up your hormones and the result is called skinny fat…also hangry.
It’ll end up increasing the levels of cortisol in your body which can inhibit the thyroid and cause weight gain.
Read more on slow metabolism mistakes for how to handle this! And remember, eating healthy is generally what’s going to make your weight loss goals happen.
What’s important to lose weight is to create an overall calorie deficit. For that to happen, you need to be using slightly more calories than you’re consuming.
Running helps you maintain a calorie deficit by increasing the number of calories you burn, but you have to simultaneously ensure not to increase your overall calorie intake. This often happens because we reward ourselves for doing the workout.
100% you need to fuel your body. But try not to use food as a reward.
A switch I made was to start thinking of food as GOOD for me, instead of the old mindset of not eating “bad” things. That meant I wanted to focus on a few things:
- Eating plenty of vegetables for tons of nutrients and to feel full
- Understanding how much protein I needed (this helps to prevent muscle loss and makes you feel full)
- Enjoying fat!! Yes, you need healthy fats to help lose body fat
That shift in focus made food more enjoyable again and made me want to eat things that made each run feel better.
5. Eat Enough Protein
Oh my, oh my I wish I had known this early on. I was doing an incredible job of eating 7-9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, but probably only getting 50 grams of protein.
That’s simply not enough for the body to maintain muscle or build muscle, both of which are important to burn fat AND give you that “toned” look. Otherwise, we start to see people falling in to what we used to call skinny fat. Meaning they may have lost a bunch of weight, but so much of it was muscle that they look thinner, but not healthier or stronger.
And of course performance can’t improve when the body can’t recover.
We do a deep dive in to all the ways to calculate your macros and eat correctly as a runner in this Runner Nutrition Course with Registered Sports Dietitian Serena Marie.
6. Include Strength Training
Speaking of metabolism, you gotta build some muscle.
In fact, if you had to pick between a run and a strength workout… the data now says you might lose more fat with the strength workout.
Of course, a combination of the two has always been shown to have the highest impact!
While running alone, will absolutely help you start to get some toned legs, it’s not the same as lifting heavy weight in strength training workouts to build muscle.
These are going to help give your body more shape, definition and the power to run faster and farther.
A 2008 study showed women who added resistance training (or weight training) to a weight-loss regime were able to lose weight and preserve lean body mass better than those just doing aerobic training or nothing else at all.
The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you’ll burn at rest. This means that more muscle means more calories burned when you’re just sitting around!
Ready to get started?? Checkout these ideas:
- 30 Day Core Challenge
- Strength Training for Runners Course
- Free Online Strength Training Resources
- Bodyweight Workouts
7. Stay Hydrated
They say it’s common to confuse thirst for hunger, but I don’t buy it.
What I do know is that when you become dehydrated you retain water! That’s right. The next time you drink something your body starts to hold on to all the water because it doesn’t know where it’s coming from next.
This leads to feeling bloated after running or looking bloated all the time!
Plus, when your muscles are dehydrated you feel worse on the run. The worse you feel, the hardrer it’s going to be to stick with your training plan.
8. Don’t Excuse The Junk
Let’s not pretend that I don’t run to eat…I do. I don’t have to earn my calories, but I do like knowing I can eat more because I workout.
Most runners will tell you they love that it gives them some wiggle room in their diet, but that’s the key, it’s wiggle not constant.
The longer you run, the more you realize how much food impacts your workouts.
If you’re eating fast food, skipping the veggies and missing out on protein your legs feel like lead. You suffer though every run wondering where your energy is and it’s a quick spiral back to the couch.
Having gone through phases of not eating as well, I can 100% vouch for how I eat impacting how my runs feel. Even when it’s a week of traveling, I start to notice aches and sluggishness that wasn’t there before.
Enjoy your treats, but follow what we call the freggie life (5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables daily).
Here are some great tips to help you start sneaking more veggies in everyday.
9. Treat Runs as Rewards
This brings me to my next tip – treat your run itself as the reward.
A 2019 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirmed that new exercisers tend to overcompensate with calories when they work out, losing less than expected.
It can be really easy to reward ourselves with snacks, over-eating at night and having way too much sugar because we feel we deserve it after an intense running session.
But all it’s doing is giving you empty calories that won’t benefit you in any way. In fact, they’ll reduce your overall calorie deficit and may even lead to weight gain.
So learn to enjoy your run itself as a reward instead of viewing it as a chore that needs to be done and rewarded.
How do you do this??
- Focus on the feeling you get from finishing a workout
- Choose a word that describes why you run (for me it’s pride, I feel really proud I did it)
- Think about the progress you’ve made
- Write down 1 word after each run to describe how it made you feel (this is really fun to look back on)
- Or set up other rewards! Like $1 for every mile run goes in a jar for shoes or a trip
Running can be fun. It’s maybe not fun the day you start, but over time there’s a freedom and a joy it.
Much of that comes from your mindset around the workout
Your mindset when running matters, so get into the zone before running and learn to enjoy every minute of it. If you need a little boost, here are 73 motivational running quotes to get you going.
10. Change Things Up
As you get better at running, your body starts to do it more efficiently, meaning that you’ll use fewer calories when doing the same activity.
That’s why it’s important to change things up as you get better at running. Nothing too drastic, but incorporate different types of runs to keep the momentum going and to get a good running workout.
Change your training slowly, either by making your long runs longer or making them harder. But like I said above, don’t change things too much at once! It may lead to soreness and injury rather than being fit and toned.
11. Hill Training to Boost Calorie Burn
Hill training can be a great way to challenge your body and burn more calories. Running uphill engages your glutes, hamstrings, and calves, which can help to tone and strengthen these muscle groups. You can also do this with incline workouts on the treadmill!
Remember, it’s important to listen to your body and not overdo it with any one type of run.
By incorporating different types of runs into your routine, you can challenge your body in new ways and maximize your weight loss potential.
12. Create Habits
Long time readers know, “habits” is one of my favorite words.
Habits are an automatic reaction to a cue, signaling the mind to undertake a learned routine.
Tapping in to this automatic signaling allows you to change the way you eat or commit to exercise with ease, rather than fighting the process. It allows for maintaining those changes long after friends have fallen off the wagon.
Think of running for weight loss like training for an ultramarathon. It’s not a sprint, so expect results but expect them to come slowly but surely.
Habits are what will allow you to reach the goal of losing weight from running, so stay consistent and keep going.
In the video below, I dive into all these topics in-depth, in case you prefer to listen to your tips!
13. Move All Day Long
One of the unfortunate side effects of a hard workout is then we may actually move less during the day. It’s the mentality that “I did my workout, now I can relax.”
But your body disagrees! If you move less during the day, then you are actually decreasing your total daily calorie expenditure regardless of the workout. This is one of the strange reasons folks often gain some weight when working out.
Instead, make it a goal to get in 10,000 steps outside of your workout. Think of all the house chores and little errands as being part of your total fitness routine now.
14. Track Progress to Stay Motivated
Weight loss from running won’t happen overnight, but you’ll see results if you truly stay consistent and motivated. And one of the best ways to stay motivated while running is to track your progress using a running app.
These apps can help you monitor your pace, distance, and calories burned, which will allow you to set goals and celebrate your achievements and milestones along the way. Some popular running apps to track include Nike Run Club, Strava, and MapMyRun.
15. Listen to Your Body
While you’re running for weight loss, don’t forget to listen to your body. Recognize when your body needs rest or when it’s time to push yourself to the next level.
Avoid overtraining by taking rest days and incorporating active recovery, such as stretching or yoga.
Rest days are essential for allowing your body to recover from the stress of exercise. During rest days, your muscles repair and rebuild, which can help prevent injury and improve performance. Active recovery, such as stretching or yoga, can also help improve flexibility and reduce muscle soreness.
In the video below, I dive into all these topics in-depth, in case you prefer to listen to your tips!
NOW LET’S GO RUN!
You don’t need to wait to be picked.
You don’t need permission.
Running is open to everyone.
It doesn’t require a specific body type, just a heart that knows there is more and wants it now.
I started running because it was the fastest way to burn calories.
I never considered that running would fundamentally change me, that running was going to change my outlook on life, increase my confidence and lead me on journeys I never imagined.
Hopefully this gave you a place to start and some ideas to implement!
Have more questions, hit me up!
- What Muscles Does Running Work?
- Does running tone your legs?
- Why your weight goes up after long runs?
Other ways to connect with Amanda
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