Running for weight loss

measuring tape and an alleged fatty
sport, fitness, weight loss, diet and people concept - close up of woman measuring waist size by tape in gym

Research shows that 58% of runners say weight control is one of their three major reasons for running.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise as more and more people are either overweight or obese.
It might seem, from elite runners and marathoners, that running promotes leanness and might be a perfect method for dropping pounds.

And if you ask runners if running helps them manage their weight, the majority will emphatically say ‘yes’. But how real is this? Learn the truth about running and weight loss.


Running for weight loss

Running for weight loss , runnig  to have an outstanding beach body , running to lose weight , these are the words we are constantly bombarded with by the media, but is running the best way to lose weight ?

For several years we’ve been told that exercise, especially running, is an effective tool in any weight loss program and should be an integral part of it. But how effective is running for weight loss in reality?

Is it the panacea that will help us shed those extra pounds?
How much running does it take for us to lose weight?
Are there better strategies to lose and maintain our weight?

And what about the popular belief that’s been circulating for many years among runners—that we burn as much after exercise because of an elevated resting metabolism, as we do during exercise—is this true?

You’ll probably be very surprised at what the research has to say about these questions, and may find yourself making some lifestyle and running changes after reading this.

running woman

Is running the best way to lose weight

How much do you have to run to burn one pound of fat?

The standard measure of calories in a pound of fat is 3,500 calories
So if you burn 100 calories per mile—which is an average for a 150 pound individual—you would have to run 35 miles to lose one pound of fat. And this applies only if you keep your diet constant, meaning you don’t consume more calories to compensate for your increased energy demands.

Let’s compare running with some other major aerobic activities to see how it weighs in on the calorie burning sweepstakes. The most common aerobic sports are ranked in descending order of calorie burn, biggest burners at the top.


Activity – calories burned per minute Weight

in pounds



in pounds




in pounds



in pounds



Calories burned per hour

for 160 lb person

Running – 10 mph 15.7 18.7 25 1380
Stair running – 8 mph 15.7 17.6 25 1260
Running – 8 mph 11.9 14.2 17.3 1165
Cross-country skiing at moderate pace 15 17.8 19.4 1068
Lap swimming – vigorous 10.4 9.8 11.7 16 863
Deep water running 13.1 9.8 11.7 16 863
Stationary rowing at a moderate pace 8.4 10 11 733
Jogging – 5 mph 9.2 11.5 12.7 690
Lap swimming at a moderate pace 7.9 9.4 12 690
Aerobics 8.6 6.8 8.2 14 604
Bicycling – stationary moderate effort 6.9 8.2 11 493
Stair climbing 5.9 6.7 7.9 8.8 474
Walking – 4mph 4.5 5.2 6.1 6.8 366


As the chart shows, you should run for a long time to burn larger amounts of calories. You would need to run at 8 mph for an hour to burn 1100 calories, which is somewhat discouraging when you consider that a 1000-calorie burger take you 10 minutes to eat.


Running for weight loss

It takes long training sessions (lasting an hour or more) to burn enough calories to significantly contribute to weight loss

We can also see the disappointingly small number of calories we burn when running at a moderate tempo. For a running program to be effective for weight loss, we should run consistently enough to burn enough calories to cause an overall calorie deficit.

We have to run (very) regularly to drop pounds, which is 5-7 days/week.


Running to lose weight

Running to lose weight seems obvious at first glance, it appears like a heavy calorie burner, but is it? Burning large amounts of calories demands very intense workout levels, which are, unfortunately, well beyond the range of a beginner or an overweight runner.

We’ve to run at a high intensity to burn a considerate amount of calories

This high-intensity requirement makes it almost impossible for beginners to stick with a running program for effective weight loss. They are simply not able to maintain the energy demands of daily fast running, and will sooner or later end up exhausted, injured or sick.

Moderate amounts of running aren’t enough to reduce our weight

What about the fat-burning zone theory that’s so popular today? Haven’t we been told that we should exercise slow and long to burn fat calories? The theory says that when we run at a nice slow tempo for a long time we tend to burn fat as our primary fuel source. Exercising at low intensity tends to draw more from fatty acids than from carbohydrates, but in practice our body ultimately only recognizes how many calories we’ve burned in a training session—so it actually doesn’t matter what fuel we burn. This is a shattering piece of information to thousands of runners and fitness buffs who spend hours and hours on the roads every day doing long and slow training sessions.

Instead, various studies prove we’re better off exercising at a higher intensity for a shorter period of time, in comparison to exercising at a lower intensity for a longer period of time, because we’ll burn far more calories in the shorter period of time. High-intensity exercise also has another health benefit, according to some studies—it tends to preferentially draw fat from the abdominal area.

running to lose weight

The key to successful weight loss is reducing the number of calories we eat

The goal of every savvy runner and coach should be to get as much as possible from our workout in the shortest possible time. Going long and slow suddenly doesn’t seem so appealing or efficient, does it? What could explain why running is so ineffective in reducing weight? First, to burn a significant amount of calories we have to run at least an hour a day, six or seven days a week, at a fast clip. You’ll find plenty of thin distance runners—but if you ask them about their training, you’ll find out they run close to this amount, often at a fast pace.

Second, a lot of people eat more when they take up a running (or workout) program, which of course negates the effects of the calories they have burned during running. Others might be so tired from running that they need to rest more, making their net daily calorie burn negligible, even after exercise.

The after-running ‘calorie burn’ is minimal, and usually not enough to help lose weight

What about all those stories we’ve heard about how our resting metabolism is all revved up after a running session? Don’t we burn as many calories after we run as we do during the training effort? Let’s put this tale where it belongs—in the garbage. Some well-researched studies suggest that the ‘after-running calorie burn’ is minimal, not worth tuppence.

Jogging at 12-minutes/mile, for instance, for half an hour causes resting metabolic rate to remain elevated for 20-30 minutes, and burns—wait for it—12 more calories! When running intensity is increased to 75% of aerobic capacity for 35-45 minutes we burn an extra 15-30 calories.

What about really long runs? Studies that examined long running session lasting for 80 minutes or longer also discovered a very modest after-running calorie burn. Weigh these (not so) massive after-running calorie burns against the calories in one Hershey’s kiss (25 calories) and you’ll soon realize the futility of this belief.

is running good for weight loss

Beginning runners following weight loss programs are unlikely to have higher resting metabolic rates than sedentary individuals. Higher RMR’s among elite runners are transient, and appear for up to 24 hours after a very long and hard run.

The after-running calorie burn is closely connected to another metabolic myth, that of the chronic revving up of our post-exercise metabolism. Recent research reveals that the athlete’s resting metabolism stays higher for up to 24 hours after a very long and very strenuous training bout, but not 48 hours after. Once again, unless you are an elite runner doing more than 60 miles every week at a fast pace, this is unlikely to have an effect on your weight loss.

Restrict your calories by no more than 500-1000 a day; avoid very low calorie diets, because they’ll cause higher losses of lean mass

Another belief that running will prevent the loss of lean mass (muscle) while we are on a diet seems to pervade running lore. Again, research is a spoilsport for runners: the degree that we reduce caloric intake is more closely related to the amount of lean mass we lose when dieting, than running. The more you restrict your calories, the more lean mass you’ll lose, because the body depends on to its fat for this ’emergency’ situation. The take home message here is that you your goal should be to limit your calories by 500-1000 calories/day, rather than very low calorie restricted diets (VLCD) that reduce your daily caloric intake by 1200-1500 calories/day.

Run for good health, not weight loss

So how effective is running for maintaining our weight once we’ve achieved our ideal weight? Finally, some good news! Regular exercise and running show up as being among the many top predictors for success in weight management and maintenance. Other habits for maintaining ideal weight include managing eating habits and other behavioral techniques, measuring weight frequently, and consuming fewer high fat foods.

is running the best way to lose weight

Running is a great strategy for maintaining your weight after you’ve reached your target weight, so don’t stop running

Running, then, isn’t a particularly efficient approach to drop extra pounds. What’s far more important is what you put in your mouth (or don’t). Nutrition and diet is by far the key player in the weight loss game, unless you’re a runner cranking out an hour or more of fast running every day. However, running gives us some spectacular health benefits and has been proven to help us maintain our weight once we have achieved our weight objective.

So why should you run then?

If running has been showed so ineffective at weight loss, why go out and pound the roads and trails, then? While running is a poor performer at dropping pounds, it does confer some marvelous health benefits. It improves our cardiorespiratory endurance (also known as VO2 max), improves our blood lipid profile (decreases total cholesterol, decreases triglycerides, decreases our risk for hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart disease), and last but not least, it promotes significant improvement in our psychological state of well-being, with decreased anxiety and depression.


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Written by Kyra Williams

Kyra Williams likes to say in a joke that she preferred running to walking already as a child. Regular running has always been part of her life and she has joined several running events. She loves long runs with her loyal playful companion Vicky, Brittany Spaniel, in the early morning or in the evening.


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