Dear Georgie, I am a runner and love it. I switch up all my workouts: running, running intervals, running hills, different circuits, different weight, reps, different muscle groups, different cross training machines, intervals, length of time, etc. so I have not been doing the exact same thing. My question: how can I lose the 20-25 pounds I have always held onto, to be a better runner? I know it would benefit my running times and be less stressful on my body & joints. I feel dead-ended since I already do what all the advice suggests. I am 5’6″ and weigh anywhere between 150-157 and hope to someday be at 135-140. I count calories (1200-1400 most days) and eat pretty healthy. Thank you so much!
Grace & Peace,
the Hopeful Runner
Hi there! It’s true that running with less bodyweight is easier on the joints, and can help improve your race times. But it’s not as simple as run more, eat less, and you’ll slim down. It takes focus and some strategy to coax your body to give up bodyfat. I’ve learned a lot over the years about what works when someone is already fit, but still maintaining a higher than optimal bodyweight.
Here are some tips that I have found work:
- Learn how many net calories you burn per mile – it’s often less than you’d think. What are “net calories burned”? Well, if you look at the total energy expended while you’re running, it’s a lot. But even if you weren’t running, your metabolism would still be burning some calories, so subtracting for the baseline helps you know how many extra calories you actually require to fuel that workout. Read this article for more on the energetics of walking vs running. For each mile run you will need an extra .63 calories per pound of bodyweight. So for Georgie to trot around a 5K, I’d burn 140(pounds) x 0.63 (cals per mile) x 3.1 (miles) for a total of 273 calories.
- Don’t just do intervals, do high intensity intervals. There’s a difference. High intensity intervals are performed for short bursts of 15-45 seconds, during which you go ALL OUT. I mean 100%. This should get you into an anaerobic state, after which you take 15-120 seconds to recover before going at it again. Now, when done properly, you should not be able to do this for long periods of time. Most of my interval sessions last just 5-10 minutes. What’s critical here is not the volume, it’s the intensity. That maximal intensity produces very specific adaptations in the body: increased metabolism for up to 24 hours afterward (vs virtually nil for a slow steady run), greatly improved insulin sensitivity, and improved muscularity. The brief volume does NOT produce the negative hormonal effects (or massive appetite) that occur with longer bouts of less intense exercise. One or two days a week, just do 5-10 minutes of intervals. You may think right now that sounds easy. Done properly, they may be the hardest workouts you do all week.
- If you’ve been restricting your food intake for years, knock it off for a while. Your body is smart. Feed it less, and it will find ways to cut back on energy output. Your body temp can lower, your spontaneous drive to move and fidget will drop and your metabolism will slow. Your body will downregulate the muscle building capacity it has and favor any extra energy to be stored as fat, because it’s less metabolically costly to store fat than build lean tissue. Raising your energy intake for a while can help get your metabolism up again, and adding in extra strength training can help add some muscle to your frame too. You may be surprised to find you can eat several hundred more calories per day than you are now, and not gain any weight because your body increases it’s burn rate in concert. Give it a few months, then make a small downward adjustment and you might see the weight start to budge.
- Start paying attention to nutrient timing. When you eat is just as important as what you eat, even moreso for athletes. For the best results: consider the 3 hours following a workout to be “prime time” for nutrition. Eat up then! Your body will use carbohydrates and proteins favorably, to store glycogen and rebuild muscle tissue. Pare back your carbohydrate intake during less active times of day, filling up on vegetables, proteins and healthy fats to prevent excess blood sugar which can promote fat storage.
- Don’t neglect your need for recovery. Both sleep and non-training days are vital for health and for lean body composition. The physical stress of workouts requires extra recovery time, so view your sleeping habits as part of your training. Neglecting your body’s needs for restoration and recovery will leave you with higher stress hormone levels, less-than-optimal insulin sensitivity, increased appetite, retained fluid, and decreased fat mobilization. Don’t burn the candle at both ends.
Hopefully this gives you some insight into some areas which you can modify in your training, diet and lifestyle to help shed the unwanted pounds and get the leaner body you’re after.