Saturday, September 1, 2012

Running And Weight Loss

Anna Boom
When you think of runners, what do you picture? Do you see yourself as this runner in your mind?

Running is a great way to lose weight, no doubt. TV shows like, The Biggest Loser, show the participants huffing it out on a treadmill, personal trainers yelling in their face, every week. And then, at the end of the season, 13 weeks later, they have lost massive amounts of weight. Seems incredible. The reason that they are able to lose up to 10 lbs a week (very hard on your body and heart) is partly due to running and partly to food choices.

For part of the exercise regimen, contestants run on treadmills and are kept in a steady state of moving. This way of running is great for beginners and can be an impressive weight loss technique. This may be the first time, or the first time in a long time, the contestants have been pushed to maintain an intensity rate for a long period of time, known as steady state training. While running, the heart rate reaches a certain level and stays there while the runners maintain the pace. Oxygen consumption also remains constant at that pace.

When starting, the intensity is low. The body's energy consumption leans more towards fat burning resources, which allows the contestants to keep running for a long time. The downside of this is that this is a ratio, fat burning vs. glycogen. So yes, they are burning more fat than glycogen, but also burning less calories. And losing weight is math: burn more calories than you eat. To increase your weight loss, add the intensity, which will burn more calories.

Jannine Myers

Adding to Anna's words above, I often hear or read complaints from women that they are running but not losing weight. Or worse, they are running and gaining weight! What in the world.....

Read the following (sourced from a Performance Fitness Systems blog post):

According to research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine this year, you may actually gain weight—especially if you’re a woman—training for a marathon. In the 3-month study, researchers put 64 individuals on a marathon training program, 78% experienced no change in body weight, 11% lost weight and 11% gained weight. However, among those who gained weight, almost all were women.

Why is it that some women take up running and immediately start dropping pounds, while others do just the opposite. I searched through various articles and books to come up with the best answers for you, and below is a collection of what seems to be the most commonly agreed-upon factors:

Problem One: Calories In Versus Calories Out:
As Anna points out above, in order to lose weight it comes down to simple math - you need to expend more calories than you consume. Easier said than done! When training for a marathon, there's often a tendency, for women in particular, to start eating more. There's a few reasons for this:

  • Reward Syndrome - Running coach Jenny Hadfield describes in a Runners World blog post, how one of her "newbie" clients would celebrate every long run by enjoying a larger-than-usual breakfast of "a post-run chocolate milk, followed by an omelet, fried potatoes with gravy, toast, mocha coffee, and a cinnamon roll the size of Texas." It's very easy to fall into the reward syndrome mentality and tell yourself that you "deserve" the extra calories, but too often the extra calories (added up throughout the week), end up exceeding your weekly training expenditure.

  • Increased production of appetite-regulating hormones: exercise appears to cause hormonal changes which prompt a desire to eat more. Exercise may also affect insulin levels, causing a change in how the body burns fuel. Women are unfortunately more susceptible to these hormonal changes, most probably because our bodies are wired to retain fat/energy stores for reproduction.

  • Compensating - this was an interesting one, I thought. Similar to the hormonal changes that women experience (as a result of the body trying hard to maintain it's energy stores), compensating also has to to with the body recognizing when it's gone into negative energy balance, and then quickly doing something to reverse the situation. In her book, The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Gretchen Reynolds refers to a type of compensation that's been labeled as "non-volitional exercise-induced inactivity." Basically, this concept implies that some people who exercise to lose weight, may inadvertently sabotage their efforts by remaining sedentary throughout the rest of the day. I believe this may be especially true of females who train for a half or full marathon for the first time - the increased training takes such a toll on them that after they are done running, they're not as inclined to be as active throughout the day as they may have been prior to the training.

  • Eating the wrong types of food - some beginner runners, in an effort to control increases in appetite, try to satisfy their hunger by eating more carbohydrates and less protein and fat. But too many carbohydrates, especially highly-processed carbohydrates, can start a vicious cycle of over-eating due to never-ending cravings.

What to do:
Manage your food intake in several ways:
  • Eat more on long-run days, eat moderately on shorter run days, and eat less on rest days
  • Track your calorie-intake by using one of the many free food logs online, such as, or MyPlate on
  • Choose healthy carbohydrates that keep you feeling satisfied for longer, for example, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains; choose also nonfat or lowfat dairy products
  • Hold off on eating a "recovery meal" after your long run, followed by another meal - time it instead so that you eat a full and balanced meal within the first hour of completing your run (this can save you a few hundred calories)
  • Balance your meals with healthy fats and protein - Hadfield points out that "eating two organic real eggs with avocado and veggies versus egg whites and toast with no butter will stay with you much longer and prevent hunger cravings later."

  • Note: the general recommendation for athletes wanting to lose weight while training, is to not drop below a 15% caloric deficit between calories burned and calories consumed. For example, if you burn in one day a total of 2500 calories, you should consume at least 2125 calories - total calories burned:2500 minus 15% (375) equals 2125 calories.

Problem TwoLarge increases in training coupled with insufficient fuel
Some women, in an effort to lose weight while training for a marathon, may try to restrict calories and yet be shocked to discover that their weight is increasing rather than decreasing. If the duration and intensity of their training is much more than they are used to, sparking a significant increase in calories burned, some serious hormonal shifts can occur if the new energy needs are not being met. Essentially, the brain sends a message to the body to slow down it's metabolism and conserve energy, or in other words - "start storing more fat reserves!"

What to do:
Start your training from whatever fitness level you are at, and increase your weekly intensity and mileage by no more than 10% (allow your body to adapt). As your training increases and you expend more energy, make sure you also increase your calorie intake, but don't overdo it! Your increase in calories should be just enough to ensure that your energy and recovery needs are being adequately met.

Problem Three: Increased muscle efficiency equals less calories burned
As you run farther and faster, week after week after week, your muscles eventually become stronger and more efficient. The problem with increased muscle efficiency, is that fewer calories are burned as a result.

What to do:
In order to continue burning more calories, you need to frequently change up the intensity and/or duration of your workouts. This is not too difficult to do, since you can easily incorporate different types of speedwork into your weekly workouts, and if you're training for a marathon, you will already be challenging your body with weekly increases in long run distances.

Note: on the bright side, greater muscle efficiency equals less energy burned - equals less fatigue -equals greater ability to run longer at lesser effort.

[ - Coach Jenny Hadfield; Runners World Magazine Oct 2011 Pamela Nisevich, M.S., R.D.; NYTimes Phys.Ed Column Author, Gretchen Reynolds; YahooPrecision Health and Fitness Owner, Ross Harrison.]

1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic Article! In 2010 I trained for a half in Seattle and definitely fit in the "Compensating" category. I was too tired to do anything after a run on some days and just "rewarding" myself with not doing anything in addition to that during the fact, I do remember napping a lot back then! Eye opening Jannine...and it even made me laugh out loud to remember my training for my first half...