How to Lose Weight While Running a Lot (hint: it’s not by dieting)

There’s no escaping the truth: the more you run, the more you have to eat.

A difficult reality for those of us who want to lose weight.

lose weight while running

After a long run or hard workout, you may feel like you could literally eat everything in the fridge. The ravenous hunger that accompanies strenuous running makes weight loss seem impossible when you’re training – even though it seems counter-intuitive.

But it’s not: Matt Fitzgerald calls this phenomenon the “compensation effect” in his book The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition.

As running volume and intensity increase, your appetite triggers will become more sensitive because of hormonal changes in the body. In other words, exercise makes you feel hungrier and want to eat more.

So if that’s what happens when you run a lot, how can you accomplish both your weight loss and running goals?

Admittedly, it can be difficult for some runners. Especially because the compensation effect is stronger for some, actually causing weight gain during periods of heavy training.

But there are ways to control your Cookie Monster cravings, get all the nutrition and fuel you need to run well, and lose weight.

Get a jump-start with our free Nutrition Course – delivered straight to your inbox with tips on training, nutrition, weight loss, and more.

Why It’s Hard to Lose Weight While Running

Recently Anne emailed me an excellent question:

“How can I lose weight and run a lot at the same time? I have 9 months before my marathon and I’m scared that I won’t be able to make it because of my weight. I don’t want to stop running to go on a strict diet but I’m unclear as to how I can lose weight and run at the same time.”

Anne’s question echoes many sentiments that I’ve heard from runners who struggle with weight loss and running. Have you ever wondered how you can keep losing weight while eating all of the carbs necessary for running? Or how to control your appetite after a long run?

These are all great questions. And to answer them, we have to stop thinking about “diets” and cutting calories because those strategies simply don’t work for runners.

If you cut calories or carbs while running a lot (like during marathon training), you’ll feel sluggish, have poor post-workout recovery, and may not be able to finish your most challenging workouts. Your ability to tolerate high training levels will be dramatically reduced.

So you can’t “diet” by cutting calories if you’re training because you’ll run poorly. And to lose weight (and keep it off), you have to run smart.

Train Smart to Lose More Weight

There’s comforting news for competitive runners: smart training can help you lose more weight than “just” running. When your training is designed properly with a time goal in mind, you’ll shed pounds faster than if you were just running for fun.

I’ve asked a lot of runners “what fast workouts have you done recently?” And the responses are often a variation of the same answer:

“45 minute – 1hr runs at the same pace a few times per week”


“Once a week I finish a run a little faster than usual and try to get a negative split.”

“Random intervals when I remember… about once per month.”

No wonder why many runners find it difficult to lose weight. Their training isn’t structured to promote weight loss.

And it’s not just fast workouts, either. The progression of workouts, “extras,” long runs, and even frequency of running all work together to help you lose weight.

So when you see many of my runners posting dramatic personal bests, being at their personal goal weight is a big part of that. Smart training helps get them there and is what I help runners with every day.

Ongoing exercise is also critical for weight management. People who have successfully lost weight and kept it off almost always exercise regularly. That’s why smart training is an integral piece to permanent weight loss.

To see how you can train smarter, check out the PR Race Plan or the full Injury Prevention for Runners program.

But in addition to training correctly, your food choices make a vital contribution to your weight loss goals as well.

Curb Your Appetite and Lose Weight (No Dieting Required)

Weight Loss for Runners

I despise diets. I really detest them. They’re unsustainable and gimmicky – whether you’re following Zone, Jenny Craig, or Atkins, you’re ultimately doing one thing: eating a low-calorie diet. And we’ve learned that low-calorie diets won’t allow you to run to your full potential.

But with better food choices, we can control weight gain and prevent it from coming back once it’s (finally) lost. While I’m not a nutritionist – nor do I play one on the internet – there are several tried and true methods of controlling your hunger and shedding unwanted pounds.

Eat extra protein in the morning. This weight loss strategy was first introduced to me by Tim Ferriss in his outstanding book The 4-Hour BodyThe premise is simple: eat 30g of protein within 30 minutes of waking up to keep you full longer and stop the catabolic break-down of muscle from fasting overnight.

In fact, Ferriss’ credits this one simple ritual as the catalyst for his father losing 90 pounds – at age 65.

The fastest digesting form of protein is whey, derived from milk and widely available as a powder that you can mix with water or milk.

I’m often asked what supplements I take and my answer is “virtually none.” But the one supplement that I regularly use is a protein shake using whey powder. Specifically, I use Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard because it’s the most affordable, trusted, and best-tasting product available.

And in case you’re hesitant: a daily protein shake will not cause you to gain weight or “bulk up.” There’s not enough calories and you’re not doing the weight workouts necessary to gain muscle mass.

Besides, if you’re running a few times per week it’s incredibly difficult to gain muscle mass. Trust me, I’ve tried…

Focus on nutrient dense foods. Too many of us “reward” ourselves after a good run with bagels, cupcakes, or cookies. And before you complain that I’m being a stick in the mud, know that I’ve out-eaten guys 100+ pounds heavier than me. I can eat!

But that doesn’t change the truth that if you’re trying to lose weight, nutrient dense and low caloric density foods need to form the corner stones of your diet. Here are a few examples of nutrient dense foods:

  • Vegetables (low calorie)
  • Fruit (moderate number of calories)
  • Legumes (moderate number of calories but high satiety)
  • Grains (moderate number of calories but high satiety)

Satiety is critical here because these foods keep you full and satisfied for longer without a lot of calories. For more recipe ideas than you can shake a stick at, check out this list of healthy recipes by Registered Dietitian (and runner!) Anne Mauney.

Make Grocery Shopping Easier

Surrounding yourself with whole, clean, and “real” food is one of the best ways to force yourself to eat nutrient dense and healthy food. That’s not a diet – it’s just enabling yourself to make better food choices.

The first step is to clean out your kitchen and remove most processed foods that are calorically dense but nutrient poor. Either have one last eating bender, donate those items to a food pantry, or simply throw them out.

Now it’s time to go shopping! Instead of worrying about eating the same 10 foods over and over again, I put together a free resource to help you eat more real foods.

The Master Shopping List has nearly 90 foods you can buy on your next trip to the grocery store – from fruit and veggies to seafood and even nut butters. Everything here (well, almost everything) is what I consider a “real food” – so stick with these foods to feel great.

You can sign up here and I’ll send it to you. Use it to get new ideas for dinner when you’re feeling stuck.

As my Italian Grandmother would say, mangia!

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  1. Brett Sterley says:

    Thank you for your tips. I’ve worked hard to shed 30 pounds over the last 18 months by running and eating better. I completed my 1st 1/2 in April 2013 (3 halves for 2013 in total) and my 1st marathon in Nov 2013. My running schedule this year has 2 more halves and 1 more full (2 halves and 1 full logged already in 2014). I’ve been struggling to shed my final 10 pounds to get to my race weight of 175 pounds. If you can send your shopping list, I am sure there still improvements we can make to our shopping habits.

    Thank you for your insight and support.


  2. Thank you for the link love, Jason!

  3. Jerry Moran says:


    I’m looking to shed a few pounds and it’s tougher, in part, because I’m in my 50’s. A better shopping list will help.


  4. Great tips! I can never seem to get a distance runners body, I either have a more physically dense sprinter figure from many years of sprinting or am just heavier than I’d like. Hopefully I can finally be lean AND light for my first marathon!

  5. Thanks Jason. That’s exactly what I needed right now. Being 6’5 the weight is a struggle in the longer distance. But if I try to restrict calories my DOMS get worse and the vicious cycle continues even though I’m running a decent number of miles every day and mixing up intervals, tempos & long runs. I know what I’ve got to focus on now.

  6. I like to do my runs right when I wake up, drink some water, do a warm up and go for a run (1hour). For runs longer than 1 hour I might eat a banana and drink a little sports drink. Since I have to squeeze my run in before work, I am curious about when to take eat the protein. You mention “eat 30g of protein within 30 minutes of waking”, do you do this before you run or can I keep my routine and do this post run?

    • I have the same question as Gary – I’m also wondering what to eat before a run that early…

      • I’d like to second this question. I also have to run first thing in the morning. Tough to get anything substantial in me that won’t bother my stomach while running. Any ideas, Jason? I try to go for something low fiber, low fat.

        • I usually have a big spoonful of Greek yogurt before my long runs. I try to have it right when I wake up, then pound down a good amount of water while I get ready and stretch. Seems to work well for me–does not upset my stomach and I am less likely to be worn out toward the end of my run.

  7. I’m at the point where I would pay someone to plan my meals. I know what I should be eating to a degree but I fail at execution. I’ve been training for a tri for 12 weeks and haven’t lost a single pound.

  8. I was able to lose weight a when i set myself a goal to run a half marathon every month for six months. Otherwise, when i train for a marathon i put on muscle weight. However, i don’t eat pasta as other runners. I get my good carbs from vegetables and sweet potatoes. I’m 50 and just ran my 11th marathon at 4:06. I must be doing something right.

  9. Lisa Van Maanen says:

    Any thoughts on Rice Protein Powder or Pea Protein Powder vs Whey?

  10. I have the opposite problem. Running tends to really dampen my appetite and I have to make sure that I eat enough to maintain a decent weight.
    I have only run one marathon, almost 12 years ago, but I lost over 10 pounds during my training. When I started the training I was around 150lbs but was under 140lbs on race day. I finished 3:25 but felt I had a disappointing day and should have been faster.

  11. Chris Green says:

    I gained about 15 pounds during my last marathon training, and just can’t get rid of it. I am hoping this is the answer, thanks for your great articles!

  12. The information is very interesting. I do have a similar blog with a motto to give quality suggestions and advises to my readers. I would like to re post it in my blog. Would you mind granting me permission?

  13. raymond carter says:

    This is a great article, nice read. I would just like to do a little shout out here, I used to be overweight and really struggled with losing weight until I came across a nice weight loss plan that a friend recommend to me. The plan was brilliant and very informative and helped me lose weight within 1 year. I loved the plan so much
    that i have devoted my life to helping other people lose weight too.

  14. I would love to get a copy of the shopping list. With a husband that is a chef/owner of a fine dining restaurant I always have to watch my weight when I cook for myself when he’s working. I also gained 10# after I completed an intense full marathon training schedule last year and can’t seem to get the pounds back off.

  15. Great article! I love running and WANT to lose weight… yet find it is an uphill battle.

  16. The tip about clearing out your kitchen with all the processed food is one of the key things that I have learned in my journey to eating better. I found that if I didn’t have the cookies available (which I love!) I would not crave them as much. Also just chopping up fruit and vegetables and storing them accessibly in your fridge really makes it easy to grab them instead. Great article! I am going to try having some protein powder in the morning before my runs and see how that works. Thanks!

  17. I’ve recently joined your mailing list and love your updates – i have started to change the way i do things as i was completely stuck in a running rut!!!

    I would appreciate if you could send me The Master Shopping as discussed in your recent article.

    Many thanks and keep up the good work 🙂

  18. Aren’t there negative long term effects with protein shakes? I always thought protein shakes were kind of in a grey area…

  19. Windrunner--Marc says:

    I’m 5’11” and did my first marathon at 250#(down from #330). I am now around 200# and still struggle with weight and body image. Bloody nips stuck!!! But don’t let weight stop your journey. It’s a process and we are all evolving. Run and enjoy!! I find Matt Fitzgerald a great help. I am on a life long journey to my optimum weight of 160# and the time I can run but I embrace and celebrate every run and race on the path. I could not reach the end if I did other but I know where I want to be and why and I see it as a journey with great inspiration like Matt’s bones books and the comments on post to help me be what I can be and the reward, at age 48, is is 50 more years of running and life with son, grandkids, nephews, etc. That is a WIN!!!!! Hope you find yours!!!!!

  20. Alison Gemmell says:

    Just starting running again to help lose weight. Hopefully the shopping list will help me get organised.


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