So you've decided to take on a running program. Before you start, it's important to figure out your source of motivation. Most beginners start running to lose weight or get in shape. If one or both of these are your objectives, you're in good company. But will running actually help you achieve your weight-loss goals, and how much running do you need? Here are some answers to common beginner questions about running and weight loss.
Will I Lose Weight?
If you've decided to take up running to shed a few pounds, you're not alone. While there are countless benefits to running, weight loss can be a bonus side effect.
Many runners want to know how much weight they can lose and if the pounds will simply melt off once they start logging miles.
While running can help you burn calories and slim down, patience is a virtue. You may shed some pounds initially—especially if you were previously sedentary—substantial weight loss requires sound nutrition and a balanced diet.
"Running can be a great way to improve your fitness," says Road Runners Club of America-certified coach Kim Lovejoy. "But you'll only lose weight if the amount of calories you're eating is less than the amount of calories you're expending through activity."
Rather than drastically slashing your calories, remember that you may feel hungrier as a result of your increased activity level, and it's important to eat enough food to fuel your workouts. To be safe, you may want to consult a nutritionist or health professional to make sure you lose weight gradually without sacrificing your health.
Do I Need to Lose Weight Before I Can Start Running?
Some people think that they can't start a running program until they lose a certain amount of weight. The truth is, this all depends on the individual.
While it's important to listen to your body and not overextend yourself, you can find a program that works for you, regardless of your current fitness level.
"Running is going to be more strenuous on your joints, heart and lungs initially if you have a lot of weight to lose," says Ron Bowman, an RRCA-certified running coach. "A smart way to start running if you're worried is through a run/walk program. Consult your doctor or health professional before beginning any type of exercise program if you feel a reason to be concerned."
How Many Calories Does Running Burn?
Want to know how many calories you're burning every time you head outside or hit the treadmill? The amount of calories burned varies from one individual to the next.
"Calories burned while running is mainly determined by body weight," says Emily Brown, a former professional runner, registered dietician and nutritionist for RunnersConnect.net. "On average, you burn 0.63 times your body weight (in pounds) per mile."
While this formula will give you a ballpark figure, the calorie burn can be increased or decreased depending on your intensity level. As you become a more consistent runner, you may need to tweak your training to continue reaping the same weight-loss benefits.
"You can burn more calories by running faster or longer," Brown says. "As you become more fit, your body becomes more efficient at running, which means you'll burn fewer calories doing the same workout. You can keep the calorie burn up by mixing up your workouts and challenging yourself in different ways; for example, running up hills or doing interval workouts."
Does Fasting Before Running Burn More Calories?
You may have heard that fasting before pounding the pavement or hitting the treadmill is the way to go. Before you skip your pre-run meal, however, let's break down how fuel is burned during a run.
First, you need to understand the type of fuel (carbohydrate, fat or protein) your body uses during a workout. According to Brown, this depends on your exercise intensity. For low-intensity workouts (think slower runs), the primary fuel source is fat, while higher-intensity workouts (hill repeats, tempo runs, interval training,) use more carbohydrates for fuel.
Fasting before a run affects the type of fuel you use during your workout, and while this may seem like a great way to lose weight quickly, this isn't necessarily the case.
"When carbohydrates aren't readily available (due to fasting), the body will use a higher amount of body fat as fuel," Brown says. "This doesn't mean you'll burn more total calories. In fact, it could be argued that you'll burn less because you may not be able to run as far or as fast as you could if you had fueled before the run."
As a beginner, it's more important to determine what type of pre-run meal or snack works for you. Try a couple different things and stick with what works best.
The Bottom Line
When you're starting out, try not to focus all of your energy on weight loss and how many calories you're burning each time you head out for a run. While you'll notice some physical benefits when training, weight loss can be a slow and gradual process. It's important not to get discouraged.
Remember that by starting a running program, you're investing in your health and improving your fitness. Make sure you acknowledge your accomplishments, even the little ones.
It's not always easy to start a new sport or stick to a goal. So congratulate yourself for how far you've come, then lace up, get out there, and keep getting after it.
Sign up for your next race.
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