Let me just clarify one thing first: I was never really overweight. I’m not one of those guys with an incredible story of how I lost 100 pounds with running.
However every time when I wanted to get rid of the kilos gained around Christmas, my running came in handy.
This is also not a post of a new fancy, trendy diet. Obviously this whole website is focused on physical activity and next to your diet this is the other contributing factor when it comes to weight regulation.
So my approach here is to explain how running can help you lose some weight.
There are tons of diets that promise to get you rid of massive weight in no time. And there are new fancy diets popping up almost every day. As these may have a lot of different health benefits, they are often useless for weight loss.
Why? Because what you eat isn’t that important after all, as a renowned study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed. How – in theory – you lose weight is much easier than the exact composition of your food. It comes down to one simple equation:
If you burn more calories than you eat, you lose weight. If you burn less calories than you eat, you gain weight.
This is of course a simplification and the energy metabolism is more complex than that. But in my opinion this is the most basic principle you need to understand if you wanna lose weight.
So if you want to lose weight, you have two options to choose from: Either eating less, or being more active. If you want to hold your current weight, calorie intake and expenditure need to be balanced in the long run.
For me this choice is quite simple. As for most other people also my diet is far from being perfect and I have my guilty pleasures. Even after cutting back on it in the past few years, I still consider myself a chocolate addict. And Switzerland is a great (and dangerous) country to live in if you crave for chocolate.
So to hold my weight while eating a kilogram of chocolate a month, being more active than the average healthy eating guy is a must.
So being more active is not the same as running. You might think that it doesn’t matter which sport you choose. That’s right to some extend. But if you wanna burn calories by playing Darts, you have to play for hours each day.
And that’s the big advantage with running. With no other sport you burn that much calories per time as with endurance running.
This might seem counter-intuitive because you maybe learned that moving on two legs is very efficient. And you’re right, it is. In fact modern humans can move on the ground four times (!) as efficient as a chimp.
However we don’t compare mammals in an ancient environment here. We look at different sports you could do to burn calories. And most other sports use help from equipment that saves energy (like a bike), only use some parts of your body (like playing darts) or you’re not in constant motion (soccer, strength training and many more).
If you go for a one-hour run, your body is in motion the entire sixty minutes. And not just your legs, your entire body. Your core muscles are maintaining an upright posture, your arms swing to keep balance, your neck is holding your head in position and inside your brain you probably burn calories by solving one of the universe most complex questions while running 🙂
But there are some other reasons running might be a good choice to lose weight. You can do it anytime and anywhere. Some run first thing in the morning, some use their lunch break and others to clear the mind after a hard day at work. Other sports require infrastructure and equipment that is not always accessible.
Also it’s a great way to be outside and breathe some fresh air. I consider this to be much healthier than breathing in a smelly gym.
Last but not least there are many other health benefits when you establish a running habit. I’ve written about them in other posts and won’t go into detail here.
Okay running is great for weight loss. But is this just it? Should you go running every day for hours and eat what you want? No, certainly not! Here some best practices on how to lose weight with running.
When you run, each time your foot hits the ground, around 2.4 times your body weight hits your joints. This sounds like a lot but a well-trained human body can easily handle this load for dozens of miles each week. But if you weren’t running for years, your locomotive system isn’t used to this strain.
Also if you’re overweight or obese, the 2.4 multiplier of your body weight can do massive damage to your body. That’s why it is very important to start slowly. Start with walking fast and put in a couple of 100 meters of running every once in a while. Running is supposed to make you a healthier person and not get you injured in more ways you could ever imagine.
So again: Start out slowly with running and never increase your weekly mileage by more than 5-10%.
Ok let’s get into the details. How many calories can be burned with running?
It’s not possible to give you a single number that is correct for every person. That’s because your rate of energy expenditure is dependent on several different things, especially your body weight and the intensity you run. There are several calculators like this one that give you a rough idea of how much you burn when running.
The body weight part is pure physics: If you need to transport a heavier load for a certain distance, you need more energy. So at the beginning when you start running to lose weight, you burn more every hour you run compared to when you get leaner.
The more important part if you wanna get rid of some pounds is the intensity you run in. The harder you run, the more calories you’ll burn per hour. But I strongly recommend you to run rather slow at a maximum intensity of 70-75% of your maximum heart rate.
The kilos you wanna lose are stored in fat cells in your body. Fat is one of the two primary sources of energy but for high intensities your body will burn mostly the available carbs stored in your blood, liver and muscles, because it is more efficient.
The amount of body fat for energy metabolism is highest when running at low intensity for a long time when your glycogen storages start to get depleted.
So if your main goal in running is to lose weight, focus on long workouts (around 1.5 hours) at a low intensity.
It is a good practice to not only track your workouts but also track the calories you take in each day with food and drinks. I recommend this in the beginning for several reasons:
Luckily this task is easier than ever before. For activity tracking there are dozens of products on the market like FitBits, smart watches or a modern sports watch. And also for the calories you eat and drink there are great apps like Lifesum or MyFitnessPal.
Don’t rely too much on this data and focus on developing a feeling for your body. Not everyone can lose weight as fast as others. As with running in general, it is important to get to know your own body and react to its signals.
Last but not least let me emphasize that losing weight is more of a lifestyle and habit change than an intense project you can do for a month and then get back to your old habits.
It’s easy to get overmotivated in the beginning and overdo it. Sure you could run 20 miles each day and just eat salad and drink water. But then your body would be depleted, lack energy and you would just get sick and/or injured.
Aim for a moderate negative caloric balance day-by-day and have a long-term thinking mindset. Chances are that you get out of this in great shape not only regarding weight but also fitness.
Losing weight is one part of it but if you fall in love with running and a more active lifestyle along the way, that’s the real long-lasting benefit.
Ok so if you’re convinced that you wanna put in running in your weight loss plan, let me give you these action steps for beginners:
So I hope this post helped you get started with running for weight loss purposes. If so, I’d love if you share this article on social media and subscribe to my mailing list below.
If not, your feedback and critique is always appreciated! Just drop me a mail.