You’ve probably noticed that long-time runners tend to be thin. That’s because running is more than just a stopgap exercise or a method of maintaining your physique. Rather, you can lose weight running. It isn’t easy, of course; nothing involving fitness is, but if you have the desire, the commitment, and the right guide, you can lose the weight. While I can’t speak to anybody’s specific desire or commitment, this is definitely the guide for you.
For this guide, we’ll be covering every experience level, so beginners and established runners alike will have something to learn here.
Sadly, everyone might be altering their diets, so apologies to the surf and turfs fans out there—there’s a good chance the melted butter’s going to be shelved for a while.
We’re going to define “Beginners” rather broadly before getting into a more detailed analysis. We want you to get healthy and get fit, but we don’t want you to get hurt either. For the sake of discussion, let’s say you haven’t started running yet.
Believe it or not, that’s a good thing. What you have to do before you start running is to change your diet. In the beginning, the dietary change will do more for your weight loss goals than the actual exercise. We have a section on dieting below you should check out. After you’ve combed through that, come back up here and bring your running shoes.
Begin the workout carefully—don’t tear ass out of your apartment like the Flash trying to catch the last train out of Dodge. I mixed some metaphors there, but I stand by what I said.
It’s best to ease into running—those who don’t are at high risk of injury. For the first few weeks, your runs should look more like walks. In fact, they should be walks. After a decent bit of stretching—calf, groin, hamstring, hip, etc.—take a half-hour walk. Intersperse with a little bit of jogging or running. Nothing too strenuous—just get an idea of what your limits are. This will acclimate your body to the activity, and by easing your way into the heavier running, your muscles will be in a better position to adapt and grow.
It’s the same concept as idling your car in the winter. It keeps the oil from thickening and keeps the engine and battery warm and ready.
Once you’re ready to begin running, your regimen should still be at least somewhat light. Run every other day for 15 to 20 minutes. On off-days, you can do one of two things: either relax entirely or to low to no impact exercises (swimming, yoga, misc. cardio, etc.).
For the sake of a drawn schedule, you can give this a try:
The Beginners Schedule
Monday: After a warm-up, 15 to 20 min run (walking/jogging interspersed)
Tuesday: Rest day or low to no impact exercising
Wednesday: After a warm-up, 15 to 20 min run (walking/jogging interspersed)
Thursday: Rest day or low to no impact exercising
Friday: After a warm-up, 15 to 20 min run (walking/jogging interspersed)
Saturday: Rest day or low to no impact exercising
Do this for at least a month. As comfortability and stamina increase, increase the duration of the run from 20 to 30 minutes with fewer intersperses of walking and jogging. Of course, as your stamina and capability increase, you’ll likely find yourself running longer naturally.
But just running longer is a common mistake people make when trying to lose weight running. It’s important that you understand this–when your body acclimates to an activity, it’s subject to diminishing returns from that activity. Check out the video below to learn a little about this as well as other common mistakes that you should avoid.
And now we come to the Advanced section.
The Advanced Schedule
Monday: After a warm-up, 45 min to 1 hr. run (walking/jogging rarely interspersed)
Tuesday: Rest day or low to no impact exercising
Wednesday: After a warm-up, 45 min to 1 hr. run (walking/jogging rarely interspersed)
Thursday: Rest day or low to no impact exercising
Friday: After a warm-up, 45 min to 1 hr. run (walking/jogging rarely interspersed)
Saturday: Rest day or low to no impact exercising
While the basics have stayed the same as in the beginners schedule, the duration of the run, as well as the endurance of the runner, has increased markedly. But your weight might still be an issue for you, due either to your preferred size or to your goals.
There’s a decent chance by now that, rather than run for weight loss, you’re running for speed. If that’s true, the reason you want to lose weight isn’t that of a desire body image necessarily, but because you’ve plateaued while trying to beat a personal best.
It’s not difficult to imagine that some of you reading this have been going to bed hungry or have been pushing so hard that you have a nagging injury you’re trying to ignore. Watch the video below to glean a sense of why going to bed hungry is actually counterproductive and what you can do to counteract this counterproductive habit.
The problem is that our bodies are so adaptable.
When running for weight loss, these plateaus can be incredibly frustrating because they’ll happen with greater frequency. You’ll run with greater ease but won’t see returns before. That’s why altering things like diet and exercise types is important. Your muscles are too accustomed to one thing, so you need to throw them a curve ball.
Change up your running routine with some of these variations. They can be done in both the Beginner of Advanced stages.
Running the same speed for the same distance at the same locations will not only bore the hell out of you, but your body will acclimate to the activity after a while. Interval running involves increasing your run time by, well, intervals.
Distance running is the fastest and most efficient way to lose weight while running, but you don’t want to dive into the deep end before you’re ready.
Interval running (for beginners): After adjusting to your 15 to 20-minute runs, add five more minutes. That extra five doesn’t even need to be a full run. A jog or even a walk would suffice. As always, as your body develops and adjusts, you will eventually be able to run that extra five anyway.
Interval running (advanced): Advanced interval running is, however, very different. Let’s say you’re doing an hour-long run. Sporadically, you will do a five-minute set at maximum speed, like you’re being chased; as fast you can go, as fast as your heart can beat. Rest for one minute in between those sets. Five and six sets during this hour are optimal.
Next, remember how aggravated you would get in school when the time was running out during a test? Remember the sweat and accelerated heart rate? Apply that to running.
Timed running (for beginners): Let’s say you’re still at the beginning stages. Your run sessions are about 20 minutes. Over the first month of these runs, time out how far you get in that 20 minutes. Each week push a little harder — same amount of time, just a faster, more intense pace. Even if only making incremental progress, it’s still progress. Do this weekly throughout a month.
Timed running (advanced): At the advanced level, you’re probably running for longer. For timed running exercises, you’ll be running for an hour. In that hour, as above, you’ll try to get as far as you can. Try to beat that record every week throughout a month.
Yes, I know muscle weighs more than fat. I also know that runners tend to be leaner and that the leaner you are, the faster you are. But how about strengthening those muscles so their output increases? So you can run faster? So you can run longer? Look, we’re not telling to look like Arnold in the 70s. But for 30 minutes a week, these exercises will burn what you don’t need and strengthen what you do. In fact, even actual, serious, competitive runners can benefit from strength training in a huge way. The two videos below will tell you all about it; if nothing else, they’re interesting and informative videos, even if all you want to do is lose weight and look better.
For weight loss purposes, you don’t have to be so dedicated to the performance aspect of strength training. You just have to make sure you’re moving and continuously challenging your body in new and stimulating ways. Here are some things you can–and should–incorporate into your training regiment at whatever level of intensity you prefer.
Squats: Even if you weren’t planning on setting fitness goals, this would be an exercise to do in your daily life anyway. For runners, squats can even help improve speed over time thanks to the increased oxygen use. Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps. We would also suggest this for a warm-up or cooldown exercise before or after you run.
Pushups: This multipurpose exercise will workout more than just the arms. They also strengthen the core and the spine. Even when not considering the weight loss and potential speed benefits, this is a good workout to do in general. Do 2 sets of 25 reps.
Crunches: Your core plays an important role in running, though it’s rarely given the recognition. Do 2 sets of 25 reps. We would also suggest this for a warm-up or cooldown exercise before or after you run.
Swimming: This is also a good rest day aerobic exercise. It’s low to no-impact, but still, a great way to work out nearly every major muscle group. Swim for at least 20 minutes.
Deadlifts: You should do this just because the name sounds cool, especially in front of people who don’t work out. Deadlifts exercise nearly every muscle from the knees to the upper back. Of course, since this is a weightlifting exercise, you’ll want a spotter. Injuries are a stronger possibility with weightlifting—, especially with free weights. Be sure of your form and have someone around to help guide you. Do 5 sets of 5 reps.
And also be sure to check out the following video for some more exercises and detailed instructions that you can start following right now, in your home, or office, or wherever you are.
Yeah, this is the part nobody likes.
A low-calorie diet would generally see men take in 1,200-1,600 calories a day and 1,000-1,200 for women. More detailed analyses would require consideration of age, height, weight, and level of active lifestyle. We cannot speak to that, but there are many calorie calculators online that can work the specifics out for you.
Universally speaking, just because you are on a diet, does not mean that deprivation is a necessary or even a good idea: do not starve yourself. This could, in the long run, lead to weight gain. When you deprive your body of nourishment, you will have some short-term gains. Yes, you’ll lose weight at first. Then, your metabolism will adapt by slowing down; it will hold on to more of whatever you actually eat.
Deprivation is not, nor will it ever be, a workable solution in weight loss.
A solid, high-protein breakfast is the way to start the day. Egg whites, oatmeal (water, not milk; no syrup) and yogurt are for the best.
As always, avoid processed and chemical-heavy foods. No hushpuppies for us, I’m afraid.
When it comes to lunch and dinner, consider fish and poultry—never fried. Throughout the day, dairy is still good for you (not including butter).
Of course, do not jump into a menu plan immediately. Ease out of the delicious/bad for your meals as you increase the healthier diet and the magnitude of your runs.
Gluten Wars: The Wrath of Sweeteners
But let’s not forget about gluten. Gluten seems to be the nutritional villain of the year. Athletes have been flocking to food packages with burst balloons advertising “Gluten-free!” on them for quite a while.
This is a mistake.
Making substitutions, in general, can be a mistake. “Artificial sweeteners!” “Fat-free!” Advertisements like that get us to buy these things, but they don’t tell the whole story. Artificial sweeteners can’t be used by the body. Without sugar, you won’t be as full as long after eating. That means less fuel. That means you’ll tire faster during a workout.
In the case of gluten-free foods, they do, instead, load it up with sugar. While sugar is indeed helpful, this extra amount comes at the expense important nutrients you would be taking in with normal food.
It comes down to two important things: portion control and eating natural food sources, not artificial substitutes.
Sure, the beginning of this section sounded rather dour. Yes, you will have to be careful, but here, by the end, you see there is a silver lining: you don’t have to drink any more skim milk. Like winning the lottery, isn’t it?
We should note one last thing, however: yes, we ran down the whole gluten-free thing quite a bit. However, if you have Celiac disease or you are otherwise allergic or can’t metabolize gluten, then please ignore what we said. These articles are about getting healthy, not threatening your health.
On the Topic of Snacking (midday and post-run)
“Should I snack?” is a question that haunts the athletic. In reply, I’ll quote Reverend Lovejoy from The Simpsons: “Short answer, ‘yes’ with an ‘if.’ Long answer, ‘no’ with a ‘but.’”
During the day, feel free to snack on nuts, fruits or vegetables.
Yes, I’m aware you’ll be eating like a squirrel, but not for nothing, they run pretty fast, don’t they?
Please note, that while protein bars and sports drinks are great, unless you’re planning on for an hour or longer workout, I would suggest skipping them.
You should also have a little snack after a run. This goes back to our deprivation topic earlier. Let’s say you start cutting too many calories; not only are you going to force your metabolism to slow and keep more of what little you eat, but you’re doing a disservice to your muscles. You’ll be making them weaker and less resilient. You will not be able to run as far or as fast for as long as you are accustomed, and you will be leaving yourself open to a higher risk of injury.
Of course, in working out, we expend calories and carbohydrates. Replenishing your carbs (40 to 50 grams worth) afterward is necessary. These replenishing carbs will be used by the body and not stored as fat.
Some go-to foods for that would be fruits, whole grains, oatmeal or rice. Sadly, burritos do not fit into this category, despite having rice in it. I know it’s a disappointment, but if you thought there was a chance, you’re probably reading the wrong article. However, a little bit of protein along with the carbs in a post-workout snack isn’t a bad idea at all.
As we said, it’s about portion control.
Have a (Realistic) Goal in Mind
There’s an episode of Frasier called “The Seal that Came to Dinner.” In that episode, he and Niles plan to throw a dinner party at Niles’ wife’s beach house. When they enter, the home security system goes off. Niles comments that the code is Maris’ ideal weight. Frasier gasps, seeing the code: “Good lord, no one could weigh that and live!”
Don’t do this.
Make a specific goal or set of goals—this weight, this measurement, fit into this pair of jeans, whatever. But make sure that the goal is a reasonable one. Consider time. Consider capability. Losing a hundred pounds in six days isn’t realistic in any way.
Especially at the beginning, it’s good to set smaller, achievable goals. Set micro or macro goals; some calories you want to consume in a day; a duration for a run; some calories you want to burn by a scale and work daily or weekly goals.
Your goals need not be looking like an action figure. In turn, looking like an action figure may not be necessary for you to achieve a healthier physicality. There is such a thing as working out too much, and especially in the fitness space, there’s this desire always to push harder, avoid plateauing at all costs, which, in turn, can be an invitation to danger.
In short, don’t push too hard too fast, and be realistic. Follow the advice laid out here and in time you’ll see results.
- Map My Run, Essential Guide to Running for Weight Loss
- My Fitness Pal, Beginners Guide to Running for Weight Loss
- Runners World, Running to Lose Weight
- Runners World, 6 Science-Backed Tips
- Active, Top 10 Rules of Weight Loss for Runners
- Map My Run, 3 Effective Running Plans
- Womens Running, Lose Weight With This 8-Week Running Plan