Why You Run But Can't Lose Weight


This article is not for runners who run just to stay active and healthy. This article is not for runners who run because it is a hobby or because they are good at it. This article is not for runners looking to improve performance (unless losing weight will help you perform better).


This article is for runners who are looking to lose weight. Period.


It is for the runners who enjoy running, are trying lose weight while doing an activity that they enjoy, but can not seem to do so.


If this is not your situation, then continue to read if you wish, but this does not apply to you.


Now if this is your current situation, then read the following five possible things that may be destroying your efforts and how to fix them.




1) Your workouts are always the same.


Today you ran four miles. Yesterday you ran four miles. Last Tuesday you ran four miles. Tomorrow you plan on running four miles.


It's great that you are running four miles. That is better than zero miles. But if you see a very common theme in your running - so common that you are running the same distance across the same route every day you train, then you may not be seeing the results you wish to on the scale.


Your body is a very smart machine. It longs for homeostasis and therefore it is constantly adapting to the stimuli that you and the environment place on it.   


When you always run the same distance, for the same amount of time, or at the same speed that you always do, your body starts to adapt to the stressor (in this case running) that you are placing on it and becomes more efficient at the activity at hand. 


In some cases you want your body to adapt to the stressor and become more efficient at the task, but when it come to running for weight loss, that is not the case.


If your body becomes more efficient at the task at hand, in this case running four miles, then you burn less calories per mile as you become more efficient. 


When the goal is weight loss, you want to burn more calories in order to create a greater caloric deficit. So why would you want to become more efficient and therefor burn less calories?


The good news is you can combat this.




By changing your program. Run slightly longer, run slightly shorter, run faster, run on a different terrain, run intervals, run tempos, etc. The list can go on and on.


The main point here is to not run the exact same distance, speed, etc. every day, rather variety must be in place to prevent your body from adapting to the same activity and in return burning more calories along the way. 




2) You go longer but not faster.


Ever heard of post-exercise oxygen consumption or, "afterburn?"


It refers to increase intake of oxygen after strenuous activity in order to restore the body back to it's resting state and adapt to the exercise it just performed. 


Post-exercise oxygen consumption also includes an elevated consumption of fuel. In response to exercise intensity, fat stores in the body are broken down and free fatty acids are released into the blood stream. When this happens, these free fatty acids are used as fuel.


What does this mean?


Plain and simple, you burn body fat post-exercise.


But wait, there is a catch. The amount of post exercise oxygen consumption and therefor amount of body fat you can burn post-exercise is directly related to exercise intensity.

Intensity is key.


So what does this mean for fat loss?


Pick up the pace of your runs if you want to burn more fat! 


This can be accomplished through tempo runs, fartleks, intervals, speed work, etc. To learn about all the different types of running training, read this


Distance runs and easy runs are great, but if you want to burn more body fat, you need to increase the intensity of some of your runs.




3) You feel like you deserve a reward for running a little extra.


So you run 5 miles instead of 3. So you run 2 more miles. Who cares? 


You probably do. And sometimes, you probably see this as a chance to reward yourself with your hard work by eating an entire extra second helping of everything at dinner or having that double fudge ice cream, with M&M's sprinkled on top and a little bit of fudge poured on top. Or if you are like me, then it would be about 5 chocolate chip cookies with some ice cream as a "side." 



Well guess what?


Those extra couple cookies that you ate that night just wiped out the extra calories you burned during that run and in regards to you weight loss effort, it is now diminished. 


This is often the case for many people that run farther than they previously have, they feel that they should be rewarded for their efforts. 


The reality however, is that for an 180 pound person running at a nine minute per mile pace, an average of 135 calories per mile is burned. So that entire second helping? Or that crazy good, but yet, crazy excessive dessert you had to reward yourself for the little bit of extra time you put in running?


Well that easily wiped out the extra 270 calories you burned that day. And what happens to the rest of those excessive calories? Well, the get stored as a little thing called body fat.


Stop using running to reward yourself. If you are serious about losing weight, then remember your goal before you stuff your mouth with more food. 



4) You do not eat enough.


The last point was about rewarding yourself, this point is the exact opposite.


Some people are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They think that in order to lose body fat, they must be in some HUGE caloric deficit - like only eating 1200 calories, when they burn 2400 calories a day.



While a caloric deficit is needed to lose body fat, an excessive deficit will lead to stagnant results and may even cause the scale to go the opposite way you want it to.




Because you metabolism will slow WAY down due to your body feeling like it is always in "starvation" mode. When this happens, your body holds on to most of the food you eat and stores it. This is due to your body's innate nature of survival mode and doing everything it can to survive.  


If you want your metabolism to be a furnace and burn body fat, then you have to feed the furnace to keep it burning.


A great starting point for  most people looking to lose body fat is a 500 calorie deficit. This will allow you to lose roughly a pound a week. So if you were to burn 2400 calories a day, then aim to eat 1900 calories a day.


A caloric deficit of 500 calories will allow you to burn body fat at an attainable and sustainable rate, keep your metabolism burning, and allow you still feel like you can function during day to day activities and enjoy life.


Losing body fat is not a race, it's a process that consistent effort.


You didn't put all the weight on in one month, so don't try to lose it all in one month.




5) You run too much.


If your goal is weight loss, there comes a point when you are running too much.


Sure running burns calories, but it can also be catabolic.


What does that mean?


When running for extended periods of time, cortisol is released and your body turns to protein (muscle) for energy.  


Why should you care if you are losing muscle?


Because having muscle helps you lose weight.


Muscle mass is a very metabolically demanding. This means your muscles burn a ton of calories at rest. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn every single day. The less muscle mass you have, the less amount of calories you will burn every day.


More calories burned = more weight loss.


So you need your muscle mass. 


Instead of running more and longer, you can burn more calories in a week (and preserve your muscle mass) by strength training!


Runners, especially those trying to lose weight can highly benefit from strength training. 


Running is great, we all love to run. It is also a very effective tool for weight loss, but too much of one thing can sometimes lead to sub-par results. 


Mix up your training, add in strength training, keep your muscle mass, burn more calories, and see the results you are looking for.




Wrapping Up


If any of these five scenario's sound like you, I hope you can take what you have learned, apply it, and start seeing the results you want!


Losing weight can be extremely frustrating at times, but just remember, if as a runner you are disciplined enough to go out and run (most people in this world aren't disciplined enough to do so), then you can be disciplined enough to lose the weight you want to lose.  

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