-- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English

Nutrition– Accelerating the Weight Loss Results of Running

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

In previous articles, I’ve talked about two related issues: first that running does not always lead directly to weight loss and second the role of diet in that equation. The bottom line is that running, even burning lots of calories, can only result in weight loss if the runner is not over-eating calories that keep them storing extra calories an everyday basis.

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.

Click here to go to the longer two-part series on Nutrition and Food as Fuel.

See also:
Weight loss tips for runners

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona, USA
Running Advice and News


10 responses so far, want to say something?

  1. 1. Curtis February 12th, 2009 at 12:24 am

    Weight loss is a marathon not a sprint.

  2. 2. Joe English February 12th, 2009 at 9:10 am

    This is true Curtis.

    But to properly put this article in context, many people start running in order to lose weight and don’t see results. The reason is that they are either 1) not eating for weight loss or 2) not optimizing their workouts for weight loss.

    Too many runners — especially beginners and those seeking weight loss — run too many slow miles that don’t contribute what higher intensity runs would.

    As you say, weight loss takes time and should be viewed as a life-style choice and a “project” on its own apart from a person’s running goals.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Coach Joe

  3. 3. Training: Will I lose weight when I start running? « Running Advice and News February 12th, 2009 at 9:20 am

    […] Fourth, new runners often run too many slow miles that are not maximized to burning calories and losing weight. Higher intensity runs burn more calories than lower intensity runs, by boosting the amount of calories burned for a longer period of time after the workout. You can read more about this topic in a related post, by clicking here. […]

  4. 4. jay jayesser February 14th, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    I just read an article about someone tryign to lose weight by running and its not heppening. maybe the whole calories/diet thing is a factor with her who knows.

    Food is a big factor in weight loss. Honestly i have seen a lot of people i l know lose weight simply by changing their diet but get this – in all the cases – it happened unintentionally.

    I accidentally got into the whole weight loss thing ironically becasue im someone who tries to put weight on. I figure the opposite of what I am doing helps people to lose weight. Ive seen a few female friends lose substantial weight just by changing their diets unintentionally and the weight has stayed off too. They just happened to eat less due to work worries or just not having time to eat as per normal.

    One girl at work has lost an impressive amount and is still losing it. I noticed this and started to ask questions. I now monitor progress of people who i know are trying to lose wight, offer encouragement and advice. Its all very well going on a diet but without the right encouragement it will be harder to succeed. Ive learnt a lot about weight loss and how to achieve it and its great to be able to help others and see long term results.

    Ive seen real life examples of food as a major factor in weight loss so nice to see a site about it. You can eat meat and still lose weight – the women i know who have lost weight all eat meat. You know one of them even pigs out on chocolate and stuff and still keeps the weight off by walking a lot and stuff and she was pretty big.
    None of the peope i know run..its more gyming or no exercise at all.

  5. 5. Training: Will I lose weight when I start running? | Running Advice and News March 16th, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    […] Fourth, new runners often run too many slow miles that are not maximized to burning calories and losing weight. Higher intensity runs burn more calories than lower intensity runs, by boosting the amount of calories burned for a longer period of time after the workout. You can read more about this topic in a related post, by clicking here. […]

  6. 6. How to Get Six Pack Fast April 15th, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    My friend on Orkut shared this link and I’m not dissapointed that I came here.

  7. 7. Training: Food as fuel; Your diet, weight loss and running (part II) | Running Advice and News July 14th, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    […] See also: Accelerating the weight loss results of running […]

  8. 8. Paul April 7th, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Beginning runners often don't have the condition to put in a lot of quick miles – so the amount of calories they can burn through running is limited. If weight loss is a high priority it's good to mix in other kinds of exercise as well as the running. Long hikes, bike rides – a bit of swimming…. anything really that gets your pulse rate up a bit for a sustained period.

  9. 9. fredklinge July 18th, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Hey Joe…

    I'm really enjoying all the great nutrition insight and information you provide in your blog entries. I'm a 51-year old guy who's been consistently running since the age of 19. I recently undertook a fitness challenge that involved me participating in 110 group exercise classes over a ten week period. I only ran once a week during this period. I went into the project weighing a healthy 170 lbs at 6'1". When I reached the "finish line" I weighed 155 lbs, close to my ideal racing weight back before. Many of the group exercise classes involved interval training and I'm convinced it was this higher-intensity training that triggered my weight loss. I made it through in one piece orthopedically and I agree with your recommendation of "increasing run intensity" to trigger weight loss. Thanks again for the great information!

    Fred Klinge

  10. 10. Training Schedule « Treble in the Kitchen September 4th, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    […] When it comes to nutrition and training for a half marathon or marathon I looked to blogs like running-advice and the Runner’s World magazine site.   When it comes down to it, everybody is different […]

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