Running for Weight Loss: Is it possible or just a way to “die tired?”

My dear readers, let us rejoice that we don’t need extreme measures to lose weight. No starvation diets and certainly no colon cleanses:

Who can come up with the funniest caption?

A photo posted by Jason Fitzgerald (@jasonfitz1) on

Yes, that’s my daughter crawling through an enormous colon. That story is for another day…

But I do realize that losing weight can be difficult. Maybe one of these quotes seems familiar?

I am probably one of the few people who actually gained weight while training for a marathon…

When I started running, one of my goals was to  lose weight. To my surprise, I haven’t lost any weight but gained 3 pounds! What gives?

I usually put on a few pounds during marathon training but I’m able to lose it over the summer.

What do you notice about these weight problems that runners are experiencing?

They’re experiencing the opposite of what they want! Instead of running for weight loss, they’re running for weight gain.

It’s frustrating, but it can happen. 

Unfortunately, “just running” is often not the best weight loss strategy. And after reviewing the running of thousands of runners, it’s clear that most of us are “just” running (instead of training – more on that soon).

If you start running but don’t lose weight, a few things could be happening:

  • You’re storing extra water because of the recovery process and extra carbohydrate intake (this is not “real” weight – it’s temporary)
  • Your body composition has improved, resulting in less fat and more muscle, which will increase your weight (but it’s healthier and makes you look better naked!)
  • You’re hoping for significant weight loss in too short of a time period

Running for weight loss is possible, but it’s more nuanced than simply running more. Logging more and more miles isn’t the best strategy (see what strategy works best here).

Then there’s my least favorite claim: “Running is NOT good for weight loss.

This last sentiment is especially popular in Paleo or CrossFit crowds who love to rally their base around the belief that “cardio isn’t an effective way to lose weight.”

Over the last few years, countless articles have been published with titles like:

  • Run And You’ll Only Die Tired
  • Why Women Should Not Run
  • Running is NOT the Key to Weight Loss
  • Friends Don’t Let Friends Do Cardio!
  • One Running Shoe in the Grave
  • Science Wants You to Stop Running

Are you as furious as I am? These articles are completely untrue – running is actually fantastic for weight loss! Just look at some recent research:

  • This study shows that aerobic exercise burns more liver and visceral fat (the dangerous fat deposits surrounding your internal organs)
  • This study agrees with the first study’s conclusion
  • And here’s a study that shows that aerobic exercise like running reduces liver fat
  • Yet another study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise sums the issue up nicely: Aerobic exercise is better than resistance training for weight loss.

The tired advice to “get off the treadmill hamster wheel” not only ignores the science but ignores the fact that runners don’t just log endless miles (and most of us hate the dreadmill, too).

My major frustration with these claims is that they completely ignore what runners do on a daily basis. They confuse running for general exercise with TRAINING. 

If you’ve ever had problems running for weight loss, it’s most likely because you weren’t running the right types of workouts. You were exercising, not training.

First, let’s look at a few wacky pieces of advice, unfortunately perpetuated by major fitness publications.

The “Gluttony” of Runners “Feeding Frenzies” (can you believe this?!)

Anti-running weirdos think that all of us are gluttonous carb addicts who adore the treadmill. Just look at this:

Running for weight loss

Look at the inflammatory language used: gluttony, feeding frenzy, devastation, swell. If you’re like me, you think this paints a wildly unfair picture of most runners.

And the vicious cycle continues with double sessions of cardio. Not only isn’t this fair to runners, but it’s not even accurate! Runners do not routinely eat 4,000 calories worth of Cheesecake Factory and run twice as much to burn it off.

This is disordered eating – not an accurate representation of the everyday habits of runners.

Or this bullshit:

“I watch my friend Jessica running on the treadmill—day after day, year after year—like a madwoman, and going nowhere. Her body seems to get softer with every mile, and the softer she gets, the more she runs.

For her, I feel sympathy, because the world has convinced her that running is the way to stay ‘slim and toned.'”

I’m not going to dignify this article with a link, but here’s a fantastic rebuttal that clearly shows that this sentiment is a load of horse shit and that women SHOULD run!

The bottom line is that running for weight loss is a fantastic idea. But you have to do it right (endless slow miles is NOT the answer).

“I’m older but feel better than I did in my younger years”

I’ve been coaching Barbara since last May. She came to me after her 5k times were getting slower and she realized that at 40+ she couldn’t run like she did in her 20’s.

Barbara’s previous program was good – but there’s always room for improvement. I tweaked her training (using the same principles in the Nutrition for Runners training plans) and now she’s running more and staying healthy.

Oh, and her recovery is even better too! She told me:

The last time I ran mileage like I’m running now I had pain and discomfort and never really felt recovered. I’m older now but I still feel much better than I did in my younger years.

The training is better for my recovery now and I don’t have any pain. It’s an easy plan for me to embrace mentally; never underestimate how much mental commitment contributes to performance.

Even as she gets older, Barbara’s running more mileage and still recovering faster! 

THAT is the power of smart training. But her running isn’t the only thing that’s improving. She’s also losing weight:

Jason’s training has helped me lose weight, and now I have structure and consistency. Because I’m able to recover so much better I can get a lot more out of each workout.

I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time, even though I’m older. I told some friends that even if my times didn’t improve, coaching has been worth every dollar because of how much better I feel and the fact that I can look forward to running again. Though I can tell you my race times will improve…

Barbara’s new training program has helped her run higher mileage, recover faster, feel better overall, and lose weight. Imagine how it feels to transform your running like this.

Her story illustrates that you too can train smarter and see the same benefits: faster recovery, weight loss, and a sense of looking forward to your workouts.

If your goal is weight loss, you can accomplish it with running…

… even if you’ve been running for years and have seen no progress.

… even if you’re getting older and think it’s “all about hormones.”

… even if you’re a woman and always struggle with those last few pounds.

If you train the right way, it’s entirely possible.

Running for Weight Loss

Our new program – Nutrition for Runners – is the most comprehensive nutrition program that exists for runners. You can learn more about the program and get a free e-course on diet tips for runners here.

But you might be curious why there will be training plans in the program (actually, 15 of them!). Why are there running plans in a nutrition program?

Simple: to reach or maintain your goal weight, it’s enormously helpful to do the right type of training.

Smarter training means faster weight loss.

Just imagine what it would feel like to go running tomorrow with 10+ fewer pounds. How much lighter would you feel? How much more efficient would you be? How much more confident would you feel?

Being at your goal weight is critical to getting faster and boosting your recovery. And it’s exactly why I developed a library of training plans in this program: to help you optimize your weight.

Does this sound interesting to you?

Are you curious about what this combination (rock solid nutrition + smart training) could do for your running?

I invite you to sign up to learn more here. You’ll see exactly how to dial in your nutrition – from a certified running coach and a Registered Dietitian.

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Comments

  1. More than any thing, running after a while becomes addictive. Health benefits of running are obvious and experienced by so many people around the world. It is also the cheapest way of working out, no need to by expensive gym subscriptions, just head towards your neighborhood park and start! Initially start small, run for 5-10 minutes regularly and with in few weeks, those 10 minutes will become 30 minutes and you will feel great.

  2. Running for weight loss ?
    Actually it is a very very poor choice. To run efficiently and not hammer your joints to death, you need to be lean. To really have strong joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, you need at least 5 years of running experience. To be able to loose weight with running, you got to run at least 1h a day. This will just totally destroy you.

    However, cycling, cycling is a non impact, non weight bearing sport, with a 500% improving rate in a month. You start with 10minutes a day, in two month you can set out for a 7hour ride, without risking any injury. 100%.
    What you need is a properly sized and properly set up road bike. Forget mountain biking, cause it is a very demanding sport. I mean very very demanding. Forget flat handle bars, as it will kill your back. Get a proper road bike, with cycling shoes and cleats. Get a bikefit from a proper bike store. Ask them to show your how to change a flat tire and that is it.

    This will be life changing. In 1 year time you can half your body weight, without caloric restriction, without killing yourself, without injuries. So easy.
    …and no, I am not a burnt out anti-runner who turned to cycling to preserve his knees. I am running 50 to 200km every week and doing races from 10km to 150km with 35000feet of elevation gain.

    • I count at least SEVEN completely false assumptions & statements made in this comment. Can anyone point them out?

      • Sorry Jason, but there are no assumptions and statements, but lifelong experience. When you try to set up a 120kg person for a jogging routine, you’ll end up with dodgy knees, lower back issues and swollen ankles.
        If you want to really loose weight, without cutting back calories and developing unhealthy eating habits, yes surely 1 hour of easy exercise a day is necessary. Easy and takable pace at cycling or walking. The 30min crash and burn training sessions are not sustainable.
        Also to really have strong joints and muscles what can resist the shock and vibration caused by running, you must build up gradually and develop yourself as a runner. 5 years is a good start to think yourself as not a beginner anymore.
        However, in cycling you can really improve like 5 times faster, loose the weight first and foremost and become a healthier you. Then when you start running with a proper technique you surely won’t cause the damage, what you would have done while running a 125kg body.

        I am curiously waiting the 7 assumptions I stated, cause I can explain all of them to you and tell you the exact reasons why they are the right choice for overweight obese people who want to loose weight on a health way without permanent damage.

      • Is it that cycling isn’t an impact sport? I’ve seen the Tour de France – plenty of impacts there…

        • If you are on the top of your game, all sports can be dangerous. If you a TDF rider, you must be willing to crash 100km/h into a corner, otherwise you won’t be selected to any team. If you want to be an elite trail runner, you must be willing to fall at 3:00/km pace downhill on a rocky slope, otherwise you will never win, neither find a sponsor. It is cut throat out there on the pro level.

          This is not the point here. Running for weight loss, is great if you have 5 to 10kg to loose max.
          Running for weight loss, when you carry 40 or 60kg extra ? Not gonna work, ever. This is the point of discussion.

          Please note, again, I am not an anti runner, on the contrary, I love every moment I spend with my clients wanting to be a better runner or become a runner. Just sometimes, you have to look elsewhere before, to be able to it long term later on. You invest now in health and fitness, to get cashed later on when you can start running.

          • See below: I weighed 240 when I started. I now weigh 185. I can’t drop the last 10-15 without switching things up. You might be doing your clients a disservice by telling them not to run?

  3. Running does suck for weight loss. I have to stop running after each marathon to get back in shape.

    • Let me clarify. Running for weight loss sucks for me because I have difficulty controlling what I eat after a long run. As Jason wisely says, “You can’t outrun your fork.”

      Diet is 80% of weight loss. Until you can control that, your efforts will be in vain. Unfortunately for me, I love to binge eat after a long run.

      That being said, when I started running years ago I weighed 240 pounds. After my last marathon I weighed around 185. It’s just those last 10-15 I can’t seem to shake when I’m running and eating like crazy.

      This is why I’m interested in Jason’s nutrition guide. I love running. I need help.

      • Great realisation ! You are surely on the correct path as you already understand that it is actually diet what causing you gain/loose weight on the long term. Sport can be a catalyst if done properly.
        I am not gonna start a plant based vs. paleo debate here, but if you have to limit any kind of food intake, that is not a sustainable form of diet/lifestyle. Choose a diet, where you can eat unlimited calories, year after year, without gaining a gram, and actually leaning you out, while eating more and more.

        • Interesting I’ve been working on that, going from eating way too many carbs and a lot more good fats (dropped about 9 pounds). So far it’s working and the best thing is I’m not going through my day so dang hungry.

          Thanks for the confirmation that I’m not crazy.

  4. Whether you are a runner, cyclist or body-builder and training 16 hours , eating 12 doughnuts and drinking 7 sodas every day will never allow you to lose weight. You still need to eat balanced meals to maintain or become a lean mean fighting machine.

    The problem is that we are not always discipline enough to avoid stuff we know is unhealthy.

  5. Thanks for an insightful article! I totally agree! About 6 years ago, I weighed 300 pounds. I lost the first 100 pounds by walking, stairs, elliptical training, rowing, and weights. As I reached 200 pounds, I took up jogging and running to lose the rest of the weight. I became addicted to long distance running. I’ve run many half and full marathons in the last 5 years. Running has indeed been helpful for maintaining my weight loss over the years, BUT I do not use it as a means for over eating anymore. I can’t stand those skimpy tank tops that say crap like, “Run Now, Wine Later”… you know what I’m talking about! I work with my health coaching clients to get past this flawed way of thinking about eating and exercise too. Thanks for setting the record straight! 🙂

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