The stereotypical body of a long-distance runner is tall and skinny. But if you've ever been to a 5k, 10k, half marathon, or even a marathon race you know that not all runners are thin.
If you've recently started running to lose weight or if you've been a runner for years, you might find yourself asking why it isn't helping you lose weight. You've been told that cardio burns calories, so why isn't that translating into pounds off the scale?
Here are 5 reasons why you might not be losing weight from running and 5 suggestions on how to fix it.
1. You're Building Muscle
Muscle weighs more than fat.
If you are new to running, your body is going to build muscles (especially in your legs). So that extra weight you think you have could actually be extra muscle. You will likely see weight loss eventually, but not right from the beginning.
2. You're Not Burning As Many Calories As You Think
Running typically burns more calories than other cardio exercises like the elliptical or a stationary bike. But you might be overestimating exactly how many calories that really is.
If a 150-pound person jogs for 30 minutes at a 10 minute per mile pace they will burn about 380 calories. One bagel with cream cheese is about 350 calories. I don't say this to bum you out or to tell you not to eat bagels.
It's just that sometimes we overestimate the number of calories we burn while running. Treadmills are also notorious for giving us credit for more calories than we actually burn.
And we also tend to reward ourselves for running with lots of
3. You're Not Eating As Many Calories As You Should
Yes, I'm aware of the contradiction.
But truthfully, eating too many or not enough calories can have the same result. When you drastically reduce your calories and amp up your exercise to lose weight, it might backfire. Your body is confused and goes into semi-starvation mode. You will retain fat and potentially lose muscle as a result.
Even if you are trying to lose weight, your overall calorie deficit (including calories burned from exercise) should not be above about 600 calories. And your total caloric intake should never fall below about 1,500 (especially if you are running).
4. Your Body Is Storing More Water
Water weight is a real thing. And it's not just when you drink a gallon of water and get on the scale. Water weight can also change based on your muscles needing more water to repair and replenish.
So it's likely that you are drinking more water to stay hydrated and that your body is keeping more water to restore muscles and cells that may have been damaged during exercise. This can cause a "false" report from your scale.
The Good News!
It is possible to use running as a way to supplement your weight loss. Here is what you need to know.
1. Shift Your Focus
Weight can be a misleading metric for health and body composition. As mentioned above, muscle weighs more than fat. You may be burning fat, building lean muscle, and actually be gaining weight.
Instead of becoming a slave to your scale, think about other ways you can measure your progress toward better health.
Do your clothes fit differently? Do you have more energy? Do you see muscle definition?
And don't forget about the mental health and heart health benefits!
2. Mix Up Your Routine
The body responds to variability. If you are running a few miles a few times a week you may see some weight loss after a few weeks or months. But you'll likely reach a weight loss plateau.
To break past that plateau or increase the success of your weight loss you can supplement your running with strength training, swimming, or biking. These activities help you boost your metabolism and build muscle which helps burn more calories (even while you're at rest).
You can also try running a few faster intervals. Challenging yourself to speed segments can increase your metabolic rate and help you get stronger as a runner.
3. Create a Realistic Calorie Plan
If you're serious about weight loss and struggling to see results, take another look at your diet again. Are you over or underestimating the number of calories you are eating and drinking? Maybe there are a few small things you could change to help you work towards your weight loss goal.
4. Be Patient
If you have recently started running, just be patient. It takes time for your body to adjust. If you are going from little to no activity to running a few times a week, that can help you lose weight.
You don't need to start out by running 10 miles a day. Instead, try a mix of running and walking. Over time you will be able to build up your endurance and the running will become easier, and maybe even enjoyable. Imagine that!
5. Be Consistent
Running once a week may not give you the weight loss results you are looking for. Especially if you aren't doing any kind of other exercise or strength training.
If you want to become "a runner", start gradually, but be consistent. Make yourself accountable for running at least twice a week to start, and then build to three or four, or five times a week. Ask a friend or family member to train with you or encourage you when you may feel you're lacking motivation.
If you build and follow a consistent training plan you can more easily determine whether it's working for your weight loss goals. And if you reach a plateau, you know it's time to mix it up (see #2 above).
Is It All About Weight Loss?
For some people, the answer to this question is yes. They are willing to run every day for a month if it means dropping 8 pounds before their sister's wedding. So for that person, running is a means to an end. And it can help them lose that weight provided they regulate their diet too.
But for millions of other people in the world, running is about health and vitality, not just weight loss. It taps into our endocannabinoid system and makes us feel happy, even euphoric.
So, here are the highlights:
- While running can be useful to lose weight, it's not a guarantee. You have to also pay attention to your diet
- Running may not cause immediate weight loss, but be patient, and results will come
- The best way to lose weight with running is to mix in strength training and occasionally some faster running intervals
Good luck, and happy running!
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