Want to Lose Weight by Running? Avoid These 5 Common Mistakes

Dec 9 2021 - 6:00am

Running can absolutely help you lose weight, but if it's already part of your routine and you're not seeing results, frustration can set in fast. What's going on here? As a form of intense cardio [1], running has the potential to burn major amounts of calories, but weight loss isn't just about how many calories you burn. Many other factors impact your weight, such as your diet [2], hormones, genes, overall workout routine, and general lifestyle.

Still, you can do a few things to maximize the weight-loss potential of every run you complete. For starters: when you come home ravenous from a long run, have a satisfying snack ready to go so you won't overeat between meals. You'll also want to mix up your workout routine to include strength training to boost your metabolism and recovery days — never forget about recovery days! POPSUGAR spoke to Heather Milton, MS, exercise physiologist supervisor at NYU Langone Health's Sports Performance Center, to learn why all these things (and a few more) matter when it comes to running and weight loss. Lace up your shoes, and keep reading to troubleshoot some common reasons you may not be seeing the weight-loss results you're after.

You're Overeating

You burn a ton of calories when you run, which naturally leaves you hungry and can lead to overeating at or between meals, Milton said. To lose weight, you have to be in a calorie deficit [4]; if running leaves you so hungry that you're eating more than you burn, you won't lose weight.

Of course, food is a key part of your run preparation and recovery, so don't start skipping meals or essential snacks. You just want to be thoughtful about what you eat, prioritizing nutritional and satisfying meals that will keep you full and energized. Before a run, go for a light snack [5] (think: a banana, a piece of whole-grain toast, or some carrots and hummus). Satisfy your post-run hunger with something more filling [6], like yogurt with fruit, a protein smoothie, or a power bar. At mealtime, focus on eating filling and nutrient-dense foods [7] such as fruits and vegetables, dairy, lean protein like chicken and fish, and whole grain starches like brown rice or whole-wheat bread.

You Run at the Same Pace or Duration

"The slow, steady pace also means a slow, steady calorie burn," Milton told POPSUGAR. You might see some weight loss right when you start your running program, but then you plateau. "This is because the body gets more efficient at that same pattern," Milton explained. In other words, your body gets used to that pace or that length of run, and you're not challenging it enough to see continued weight loss.

To push past this plateau, start mixing up your runs. Once you've been running consistently for more than four runs, Milton said, begin adding an interval run [8] or a hilly route once a week. However, make sure to know your limitations when you're starting a new style of run; don't add in too many hills or increase your pace too quickly right at the start or you could run into injury trouble (no pun intended).

You're Not Varying Your Workouts

Running is a great tool for weight loss, but a balanced fitness routine will help you see results faster while lowering your risk of injury. You especially want to incorporate strength training, Milton said. Why? Although cardio such as running is great for a burning a lot of calories, strength training is what helps you build muscle and boost your metabolism [9], which results in burning calories at a faster rate, including when you're not working out.

Instead of running every day or just relying on cardio [10] for your workout routine, aim to mix in two to three strength workouts per week. A good balance would be running one day, then strength training the next, with one to two recovery days (think: gentle yoga [11] or a short walk) mixed in every week.

You're Not Prioritizing Recovery

Workouts and diet are only part of the weight-loss equation, Milton said; recovery is just as important. This is when your body rests and heals from your workouts, allowing for muscle repair and reducing inflammation [12] to keep you injury-free.

By recovery, we mean getting adequate sleep, hydrating, and fueling your body properly. These are all key factors in your weight-loss plan and metabolic processes [13], while also helping you live a healthy, balanced life.

This Is the Weight Your Body Wants to Be at Right Now

Depending on your starting weight, body type, and genes, you might find it more difficult to lose weight because your body sees your current amount body fat as necessary to survive. And in fact, it is: body fat is necessary for important processes like hormone regulation [14] and maintaining homeostasis (aka control basic survival mechanisms like body temperature and chemical levels). Fat also serves to protect your organs and cushion your joints.

If your body judges its current body fat content to be sufficient, Milton explained, it may adjust your metabolism to "conserve energy loss and preserve body mass," thus slowing or stopping weight loss. If you think this might be the case for you, consult with a healthcare professional and consider getting your body fat percentage tested [15].

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