20th October 2016
One of the main reasons people take up running is to lose weight (or at least to keep the weight off). But rather than seeing the pounds fall off, some people actually gain weight with running. This seems counter-intuitive. Here are 4 reasons why you may be gaining weight running.
You overestimate your calorie needs
It’s very easy to overestimate how many calories you’re burning and how much you need to eat. Jogging 5-miles 3 times a week burns just 1500 calories – equivalent to loss of less than half a pound (0.25kg) a week. To lose 1lb (1/2 kg) weight, you will need to burn around 3500 calories.
You underestimate your food intake
The most common mistake I see runners make is eating too much to compensate for their training.
When you’re running regularly, it’s tempting to see a workout as a free pass to eat what you like. A chocolate brownie with your morning coffee? Don’t mind if I do. Another helping of mashed potatoes? Why not – after all I just did a long run.
All those extra calories here and there can soon add up if you’re not mindful of your food intake. Unless you’re blessed with a fast metabolism or an ability to self-regulate your appetite, you will need to keep a check on portion sizes and daily calories
You’re less active during the rest of the day
You may be very active for 60 minutes or so while you run but do you then sit for long periods during the day? Many people are not be aware of it but on days when they run, they tend to do less spontaneous activity (like walking or ‘fidgeting’).
This means you are burning fewer calories through ‘non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), and so your overall daily burn may not be much different from what it was before you took up running.
A study in 2015 found that people who exercised vigorously but sat most of the time were 1.65 times more likely to develop metabolic syndrome – type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
You over-consume sports nutrition products
It’s easy to get sucked into the hype around sports drinks, gels, bars and confectionery. Unless you’re exercising for longer than 90 minutes you don’t need extra carbs. You already have enough fuel (glycogen) in your muscles to keep you going to the end of your workout.
Sports nutrition products contain a lot more calories than many people realise. A 500ml bottle of sports drink typically contains 140 calories; a gel 90 calories and a bar 200 calories.
Here are 6 tips on how to avoid running weight gain
- Be realistic about how many calories you are burning during a run – activity trackers (such as the Fitbit and NikeFuel bands) and heart-rate monitors can give you a reasonable idea (although, being based on predictive equations and standard algorithms, they are not super accurate).
- Be honest about your food intake – it can be helpful to log your food intake with an app such as MyFitness Pal (or just write everything down for a few days).
- Sit less – Try to incorporate more movement into your daily routine and break up long periods of sitting with short walks or pacing while talking on the phone.
- Schedule your workout just before a main meal – this does away with the requirement for a post-run snack, and means you won’t be ravenous before your meal (leaving too long a gap can make you feel more hungry).
- Don’t reward your workout with unhealthy snacks– refuel instead with nutrient-rich foods like milk, yogurt, nuts, fruit and veg
- Save sports drinks, gels and bars for your long runs (more than 90 minutes)
In summary, running regularly has countless health benefits but, unless you also look at what you’re eating, it won’t automatically result in weight loss. It’s easy to overestimate your energy needs and overeat. If you want to lose weight running, you’ll need to consume fewer calories than you’re burning (about 10 – 15% less than before) and that means choosing nutrient-rich foods over calorie-dense snacks. Oh and not seeking comfort in the biscuit tin!
If you enjoyed this post and want to find out more about food and nutrition, then read the new edition of my book:
A sports nutrition guide and recipe book rolled into one, Food for Fitness dispels popular myths and gives you the tools you need to reach your maximum performance. It is the ultimate resource for anyone who is serious about sport or fitness. Now in its fourth edition, this bestselling book has been updated to include the very latest nutrition research for exercise and performance, and is packed with easy, delicious and nutritious recipes, snacks and helpful new menu plans.