Can You Lose Weight by Running?

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on February 20, 2020
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Many people who lose significant amounts of weight and maintain it are exercisers. While many types of exercise can be effective for weight loss, running is quite hard to beat, alongside a healthy diet. Evidence shows that runners were leaner and lighter than those who did the same amounts of any other type of workout. The main reason seems to be that people are burning more calories when running that they do with other sports, like cycling and swimming (1). But of course, losing weight is a gradual process. It should be slow and steady rather than dramatic.

Aside from running for weight loss, you can also enjoy this workout for recreation and to improve your overall health. Understanding the different types of running, the many ways on how it can help you lose weight, its other health benefits, and the foods you must eat after exercising, will help you avoid common mistakes and get you the results you want. Read on to know more. 

The Different Types of Running

Did you know that there are several styles of running and each has its own unique purpose and benefits? 

Most of us know the base or normal runs. These are short to moderate length runs, approximately 10 kilometers, and are done at your own natural pace. Long runs are done at the same pace but over a longer distance of about 15 to 20 kilometers. This type of run is perfect for improving your endurance and overall fitness. 

If you are working out on your speed and running power, short and intense runs repeated many times with short breaks like jogging in between are highly recommended. These are better known as interval runs.  If you are more adventurous, you can do the interval runs uphill. These uphill repeats will improve not only your speed and power but also your stamina. 

If you still want to add extra distance to your overall run, you can do recovery runs at a very comfortable pace after harder runs like hill repeats. A 4- minute recovery run is more than enough. If you want to establish speed and endurance without feeling over fatigued, try progression runs. They mimic competition-style runs by starting slow and finishing hard at a faster pace.  

Whatever your preferred style is, you can pick up running to shed some weight! You just have to do it correctly, considering your overall health condition and body capacity. 

How Can Running Help You Lose Weight?

1. It Burns the Most Number of Calories than Other Exercises

To lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you eat, and running is one of the best ways to do it.  As mentioned earlier, it can help you burn more calories as compared to other styles of exercise because it involves the use of many different muscles at their maximum power, especially during high-intensity interval training (2). 

Another study showed that running on a treadmill or track can help you burn more calories than walking. There’s a difference of approximately 33-35 calories per mile. While this number may not seem significant at first, running more than 10 miles can give you a whopping 330-350 more calories burnt as compared to walking the same distance (3). 

Experts from Harvard also found the same results. An average 70-kilogram man can burn more than 370 calories by running at a moderate pace of 10 kilometers per hour for 30 minutes. This may be equal to the usual count of calories burnt during vigorous swimming and martial arts. It is even more than what you can get from playing half-an-hour of basketball (4).  

2. It Continues to Burn Calories Even After Training 

While doing any exercise regularly can help you lose weight, not all can continue burning calories after training. Interval runs and hill repeats, which are considered high-intensity pieces of training as we have discussed earlier, can keep burning calories up to 48 hours after your run (5).

While this so-called “after-burn effect” has not yet been documented in running, it has been backed up by science through cycling, which is yet another high-intensity workouts and is easier to use for a controlled laboratory study. After cycling for 45 minutes at an intense pace, participants lost 519 calories during the activity and an additional 190 calories over the 14 hours following exercise (6). 

3. It Makes You Eat Less by Suppressing Your Appetite

A lot of people would try to reduce their calorie intake by eating less or changing the types of food they eat. While this may work for some, others may just experience increased feelings of hunger and make losing weight a hard-to-fight battle.  

Many studies have found that high-intensity running can combat this challenge by suppressing your appetite after an exercise. It is believed that running can help decrease the levels of ghrelin, a hunger hormone, and produce more peptide YY, a satiety hormone. One study found that running for an hour and performing strength training for 90 minutes can both reduce ghrelin levels compared to no activity. However, only running has increased PYY production (7). Another evidence showed that 60 minutes of running could lower ghrelin levels for 3 to 9 hours (8).  

4. Running Specifically Targets Belly Fat

Having excess belly fat can be dangerous for your health. Many studies have linked belly fat to a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions (9, 10). The good news is that moderate to high aerobic exercises such as running can help reduce belly fat, regardless of diet (11, 12, 13). 

Other studies showed that high-intensity running yielded better results as compared to low-intensity running. Also, high-intensity interval training performed three times weekly had significantly lessened body fat and belly fat as compared to a steady pace workout (14, 15). 

Running Also Offers Many Other Health Benefits

Aside from helping you get your ideal weight, running is known to offer several other health benefits. The following can be prevented by running regularly: 

  • Heart Diseases: Evidence showed that running at least 5 to 10 minutes daily, even at slow paces, can help reduce your risk of developing heart diseases by as much as 45% (16). 
  • Blood Glucose Level: Running can help decrease your blood sugar level by making your muscles cells more sensitive to insulin. This will help promote sugar storage in muscle cells (17, 18). 
  • Cataracts: Moderate-pace walking and vigorous running can both help reduce your risk of cataracts (19). 
  • Falls: Evidence shows that the elderly can benefit greatly from running. By making their leg muscles work and become more responsive, they are less likely to suffer from a fall (20). 
  • Knee Pain and Injuries: Studies found that people who ran more had less knee pain and stronger knee tissues (21, 22). 

How And Where Should You Begin?

There are several things you can get to make running a lot easier for you, especially as a newbie. You can invest in a good pair of running shoes, a high-quality and temperature resistant water bottle, and of course, comfortable clothing such as tops, shorts, tights, or pants. Women are advised to wear a sports bra to prevent upper body or chest pain. Reflective gears are necessary to avoid accidents if you plan to do a run during the early hours or late at night. 

You should also know these basics before you start running: 

  • Warm-Up: Before every run, it is crucial that you warm-up and do some stretches to prepare your body. Start by stretching in place, followed by a 5-minute walk, then slowly progress to running. 
  • Cool Down: You have to cool down at the end of your run by gradually decreasing your speed and walking. 
  • Frequency: As a newbie, start with 3 to 4 days of running per week. This will give you enough time to recover between workouts. 
  • Total Time: Run for a total of half an hour. This should include 5 minutes of warm-up exercises, 20 minutes of running and walking in between, and 5 minutes for a cool down. 

Quick and Easy Guide to Running for Weight Loss

1. Decide Your Goal Weight 

Your plan should be specific, healthy, and achievable. Know exactly what your target weight is and consider factors like your current body weight and overall health condition. The inclusion of simple body measurements can help keep you honest and motivated. Anyway, tape measures are cheap and yet accurate in measuring body fat. 

2. Don’t Overdo It

Your bones, muscles, and joints need time to adapt to and recover from the stress of running. For newbies, one day is not enough time for these tissues to come back stronger. So, try running every other day for the first several weeks of your training. If you want to exercise more frequently, do low-intensity workouts like walking in between run days. 

You will also not lose 10 pounds within a week by running more than 20 miles instead of 3 in one day. What’s worse is, you might just get injured. Pace your training slowly. The 10% rule is highly recommended. To do it, do not increase your total distance or time by more than 10% from one week to the next. 

3. Variety is Key

After getting your body adapted to easy runs, it’s time to mix up your training. Why? Over time, the fat burning gains will grow smaller. By including as many varieties as possible, you will force your body to adapt. This, in turn, will continue boosting your metabolism and improving your performance. Aside from doing long-distance runs, you can do sprints, fartleks, and strength training during intervals. Evidence showed that women who added resistance training to their routines had lost more pounds and preserved lean body mass (23). A great guideline is to never do the same workout twice back to back. 

4. Take Breaks and Rewards

As mentioned earlier, your body needs time to get used to all the different training stimuli. It would be beneficial to treat yourself at least once weekly. Get plenty of sleep, get a massage, or see a movie as relaxation will positively affect all the metabolic processes in your body. 

5. Slow Down at Happy Hour

While it is necessary to take breaks and give yourself rewards, enjoying a night out by drinking should be monitored. Every beer or glass of wine contains approximately 120-150 calories, and alcohol is being metabolized to fat by the body. Try sipping a glass of water between drinks or diluting your wine with some seltzer. Limiting your happy hour to just once a week, with a maximum of 2 drinks is still acceptable. 

6. Practice Mindful Eating  

Running should not mean eating more. Some are tempted to eat more after training because they think that they have already burned enough calories. If you want to lose weight, you want those extra calories to go toward creating a deficit so that your body will get what it needs from your fat reserves. You have to be mindful of what and how much you eat. 

10 Best Foods to Eat After A Run

Though much attention is always centered on what to eat every day, what you take for snacks or meals after a run is equally important. Listed below are some of the best post-run snacks or meals that you can eat to promote weight loss and muscle gain. 

1. Watermelon

Who doesn’t love this watery summer fruit? Containing more than 90% water by weight, this is perfect for hydration after a run! It does not only contain few calories, but it is also rich in lycopene and citrulline. The latter can help your body produce nitric oxide to treat sore muscles and delay fatigue (24, 25, 26). 

You can enjoy watermelon by itself or add it to salads. Combining tomatoes, red onions, cubed watermelon, baby arugula, and feta cheese would also make a healthy post-run snack. 

2. Hummus and Raw Veggies

Made from mashed garbanzo beans, hummus, which is more commonly known as chickpeas, is an excellent source of plant-based protein. Instead of munching on chips dipped in hummus, get low-calorie, nutrient-packed vegetables such as bell peppers, carrots, cauliflower, celery, and radishes (27). 

3. Apples or Bananas with Peanut Butter

Apples and bananas are best paired with nut butter! The natural carbs from these fruits and the fat from the peanut butter can help control your hunger (28). 

4. Veggie Omelette

Packed with protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, an egg is certainly a nutritional powerhouse! Breakfast with eggs can help boost weight loss when mixed with a low-calorie diet. That makes omelets a good meal for early morning runners (29, 30, 31). 

5. Beet Salad

Beet contains high amounts of fiber, which can control hunger. They are also rich in dietary nitrates, which help your body produce nitric oxide, an important molecule that keeps blood vessels healthy. Studies showed that dietary nitrates could increase your running performance and delay fatigue (32, 33). 

Use greens mixed greens as your base. Add cubed cooked beet and top it with cheese crumbles! You may add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. 

6. Chocolate Milk 

Chocolate milk is loaded with protein and fast-digesting carbs, which are perfect for energy refueling and muscle recovery. Evidence showed that chocolate milk resulted in more than 12% strength increase in squats and bench press among adolescents, compared to a regular carbohydrate drink (34). 

7. Whey Protein Shake 

For sure, you have heard about whey protein among bodybuilders. Whey protein contains more amounts of the nine essential amino acids, which are needed by the body to start building muscles (35). 

Blend 1-2 scoops of whey protein with water. If you want to increase its calorie and protein content, replace water with milk. You may add some frozen nuts or fruits for added flavor and nutrition. 

8. Cottage Cheese and Fruit

A single cup of low-fat cottage cheese contains 28 grams of protein and 16% of the Daily Value for calcium (36). It is also rich in sodium, one of the major electrolytes lost through sweat during an exercise (37). 

Top your cheese with fresh fruit slices to make it tasty and for additional vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. 

9. Grilled Chicken with Roasted Vegetables

Chicken is a lean protein. A 4-ounce chicken breast contains 27 grams of protein, which is good enough to help start the muscle-rebuilding process after a run (38). To make it more delicious, add a side of roasted veggies to your grilled chicken. Sprinkle with some olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper for added flavor.  

10. Pea Protein Powder

If you cannot follow a plant-based diet, you can use pea protein powder instead of milk-based preparations. While studies discussing how pea protein can help endurance athletes repair muscles are limited, it has been proven to promote muscle protein synthesis, the same way as whey protein (39). Blend 1-2 scoops of pea protein powder with water until smooth. 

The Bottom Line

Running is one of the best forms of exercise for weight loss. It burns more calories during and after the workout, helps suppress your appetite, and targets harmful belly fat. It is effortless to do anywhere as it does not require a lot of equipment. 

Eating nutrient-packed, low-calorie foods can help you lose weight after running, while high-quality protein can greatly benefit muscle building.

References

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