A Little More Each Day

One working mama learning to run & to maintain my 100+ pound weight loss!

Weight Loss Wednesday: Running and Weight Loss

on February 19, 2014

When people ask me how I lost weight, I always tell them it was with Weight Watchers. The follow up question, over half the time, is “But you must exercise too?” and when I respond that I run, everyone always says “Oh, that’s it. I could never run.”

A) Anyone can run. If I got started doing it, anyone could (or whatever exercise you like).
B) Running may not be the cure all for weight loss that you may think it is.

I still attribute the majority of my weight loss to changing my eating habits. Yes, running is an efficient way to burn calories and it is the exercise I enjoy, but many people actually experience weight GAIN rather than loss when they’re running. I’m glad I waited until I was in maintenance to commit to a half marathon because it would be hard to balance fueling for increasing endurance events with the kind of calorie watching I was doing when I lost weight.

So if running burns so many calories, why don’t you always lose weight when you start training for a race? There are lots of things that could be playing a role. The most common problem cited by nutritionists and trainers is overestimating your calorie burn and underestimating the amount of calories you eat. If you’re tracking calories, the latter is hopefully not as much an issue but it can be difficult to figure out how many calories you are burning. The calorie burns on a treadmill are notoriously unreliable and the estimates provided in online tracking calculators may not be much better (although most of those do at least factor in your weight, an important variable). Heart rate monitors are said to be much more reliable, but I haven’t tried one of those yet. I generally plan on letting myself eat about half of the activity points I earned via WW (if any) to account for the fact that it probably overestimates my calorie burn.

It’s also important to remember that your calorie burn is going to change as you run more and more often because your body gets more efficient. If you are losing weight, that means you’re burning less to move your mass through space as well. Applications like Weight Watchers and SparkPeople do factor your weight into their calorie burn estimates, but I don’t know that any really factor in overall fitness (again, other than a heart rate monitor).

Another issue is letting the “I earned it” mentality bleed over into the days before and after your big workouts. I can definitely see myself falling into this trap sometimes, saying that I can eat bigger on Friday because I have a long run Saturday (gotta carb load, right?), eating my calories burned on Saturday itself and splurging Sunday because I ran the day before. It doesn’t take a lot to eat more than you burned,especially when you factor in the Gu/gel/fuel you take while running and the electrolyte drinks on the run.

We also have to remember that running a few miles in the morning won’t make up for being inactive the rest of the day. This weekend, I ran 3 miles in the morning and then spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out reading (in my defense, I was cuddling a sleeping baby). My overall step count and calorie burn for the day was lower than usual, despite the 3 miles,  because I spent the rest of the day inactive. image

It’s certainly possible to lose weight while running, but you have to be watchful of your ins and outs. I’m glad I waited to tackle my first half marathon until after I’d lost the majority of my weight so I didn’t risk underfueling for my runs because I was worried about gaining weight or undoing my weight loss progress with those fantastic Salted Caramel Gus (I keep them in my TARDIS cookie jar because the “whoosh” noise keeps my honest about sneaking into the jar to snack!).


Now, my priority is running well and safely and I approach my food with that in mind. My goal is not to lose weight and I actually loosened my “maintain” range mentally to go up to 170 pounds for the last two months (although I’ve come nowhere near that) to give myself permission to figure out fueling for this race. I’m reminding myself a lot this week that “carb loading” doesn’t mean eating giant plates of pasta all week to get ready for Sunday. I’m keeping things sane and healthy and keeping track of what I eat. I really recommend Mickey Miles Podcast episode 123, with dietician Tara Guidus, because she does a fantastic job discussing a realistic approach to these issues.

Have you ever gained weight while training for a big running event?


12 responses to “Weight Loss Wednesday: Running and Weight Loss

  1. Kristin says:

    This is really great insight into running and managing weight!! Great post!

  2. Great post and very informative! A lot of people really don’t realize how training for a long-distance affects their appetite. I have noticed in my training for a marathon that I am hungry all.the.time. No joke! I just turn to healthier snacks, not snacks loaded with tons of calories (which I am actually probably going to do a post on soon). I have had a lot of experience counting calories, so I feel as though I have a pretty good grasp on making sure I don’t eat way more than I burn!

  3. ckaufman89 says:

    Great post – as others are saying, most people don’t realize this and think I can eat “whatever I want” if I run 3 miles!

    I mostly wanted to comment to let you know, though, that I am totally going to steal the TARDIS cookie jar idea. Mine just sits around doing nothing except looking cool – reminding me that I should probably not eat yet another snack out of it would be more useful.

  4. sarahdudek80 says:

    This is a great post. Thanks for sharing.

  5. leannenalani says:

    This is good info. Just finding an exercise you like has a big impact on people because they are more likely to keep doing it. But like you mentioned about your experience with losing weight, the eating habits account for most weight loss. What do they say – 80% is eating habits and 20% is exercise? Sounds about right.

    I hear Gu Gels are good but haven’t tried them. I don’t run, but our racquetball is so high intensity that we tend to lose momentum partway through so it seems like something would be good as a quick pick me up.

    • I waited a long time to try gels because I’m a texture person and taking a gel just didn’t sound that appealing. They really are pretty good though. I also like the jelly beans. Who wouldn’t like fitness candy, right?

      On Wed, Feb 19, 2014 at 1:05 PM, A Little More Each Day wrote:


  6. […] actually written about this before here, with some of the theories as to why people gain weight when they’re doing distance running. […]

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