But there is another side of this discussion that I haven’t treated here: how can a runner make their running workouts burn more calories, helping contribute more to their weight loss goals? This is a great question that Coach Dean and me talked about with some runners over the weekend, so let me share the answer with you.
The Role of Calories in Fueling Workouts
Food calories are required to fuel workouts. In fact, particular foods are required to power your body through workouts. The most important foods are those that fuel your muscles and your brain, which come from the simple and complex carbohydrates. Because these foods act as fuel for working muscles, it is important for a dieting runner to eat enough carbohydrate to provide them fuel for their workouts.
This is the first area where most dieting runners (or just dieters) run into trouble. It might feel logical to cut as many calories as possible from their diets to lose weight, but in doing so they then cut out the fuels needed to do their workouts. It is important to keep in mind that exercise is a means to an end for dieters: fuel is required for exercise and although it feels sensible not to eat, this just reduces the impact of the exercise itself.
Exercising has more than one role in weight loss, in that it not only burns calories directly while exercising, but it also raises the level of calories being burned by the body throughout the day after the workout by raising the bodies basal metabolic rate (or rate at which it is burining fuel to operate at rest) So, giving the body fuel to get through the workout not only burns off those calories, but also keeps the body burning calories throughout the day. This is why it is so important to eat to lose weight.
Making Your Runs Burn More Calories
The second piece of the equation is to make those runs and workouts count for more than just burning a few calories. The important thing here is that low intensity workouts burn a few calories and then have a limited impact on the body afterward, while high intensity workouts burn more calories AND have a longer impact on the calories burned by the body throughout the day.
Coach Dean put it nicely in out discussion, when he said it this way: “If you do a slow run for 40 minutes, when you step off the treadmill the run is over. You’re done with the workout and the caloric burn stops within minutes. BUT if you run hard for 40 minutes — or even 30 minutes — then you’ll burn more calories during the workout and you’ll continue burning calories for two or even three hours afterward as your body cools down and recovers from the workout.”
The key then to increasing the impact of running on weight loss is to increase the intensity of the workouts, so that they have a more lasting impact throughout the day. By bringing the intensity up, you will quite literally feel it for a longer period of time as the body winds down and your body is still working hard to burn calories during this time.
Back to Calories
Circling back to the fuel that we talked about in the first part of the article, its important to note that without fuel, a runner can’t run hard or increase the intensity. Without the fuels needed to power exercise, the body will just slowly muddle through workouts and this reduces their impact. Not only that, but without fuel the brain lacks energy as well, which is often interpreted as feeling tired or listless. Again, a tired and listless feeling runner stumbles through workouts, lacking the drive to push hard.
So this two part equation goes like this: increasing the intensity of workouts burns more calories and leads to great weight loss for runners AND you need to eat in order to have the fuel to power those high intensity workouts. The key is to eat small portions of foods throughout the day to keep the body fed and then have the energy to attack those workouts. The results will be more calories burned during and after workouts and great weight loss results on the scale.
A great book on the subject is Nancy Clark’s Food Guide for Marathoners, which you can purhcase by clicking on the highlighted link. For other book and product recommendations, visit our products recommendations page.
Weight loss tips for runners
Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona, USA
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