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Reasons Why Running May Not Help You Lose Weight

By Jasmine Antoine
Posted on 20 May, 2015

Reasons Why Running May Not Help You Lose Weight
Body weight is a mix of food calories taken in, calories burned throughout the day, and genetics. Calories that are not burned, are stored as fat.

If you've started a running program, you may be surprised to see you’ve gained weight a week into your workout. But before you throw in the towel, rest assured that it is common for beginning runners to gain weight. By learning what causes the weight gain, you can take steps to avoid it, and continue your journey to a healthier life.


Your Body Becomes More Efficient


Your body is an amazing machine. It's designed for efficiency, meaning if you do the same thing over and over again, the process becomes easier. This applies to your running workouts too. Not only will they start to feel more effortless, but your metabolism burns fewer calories with the same exercise output.

Research conducted at the University of Tampa found that doing steady state cardio such as running helps out with weight loss… but only initially. Subjects lost a few pounds during the first week and then nothing more. The reason? Within one week, their metabolism had adjusted and now didn't need to work as hard to burn off the fat.


The Weighing Scale Doesn’t Tell The Whole Story

weighing scale

A scale doesn’t always offer an accurate assessment of changes in your weight, or more importantly your fitness.

A scale only provides one number, your absolute weight, which isn’t always an accurate measurement of what is happening in your body. Drink a gallon of water and you’ve instantly gained 8.3 pounds. Remove a kidney and you’ve lost 2 pounds.

When you increase your training to gear up for your goal race, your body begins to store more water to repair damaged muscle fibres and to deliver glycogen to the working muscles. All this water adds pounds to the scale, but isn’t indicative of your actually weight loss.

While you’re not going to turn into a body builder after just a few days of running, your body will slowly begin to build muscle and burn fat. So you’re actually gaining weight by supplementing low density fat tissue for high density muscle tissue. While it may not look great on the scale, you should feel the rest of your body toning up.


Your Running Intensity Is Not High Enough

running intensity

One of the biggest problems with running at a steady, moderate-intensity pace, is that the calories you burn are limited to the time you spend sweating. Many runners are active for 30-90 minutes a day and sit the rest of the time. That's why weight training is oftentimes viewed as better than "just" running for fat loss. Lifting weights impacts your metabolism by causing mini-micro tears that need to be repaired. That healing process requires energy, which means you're burning more calories—a process that can sometimes last for nearly two days after your training session.

Researchers at the University of Western Ontario compared short but intense exercise to long, less-intense cardio. One group performed four to six 30-second "sprints" while the other group did cardio for 30 to 60 minutes. Despite exercising for a fraction of the time, those in the sprint category burned more than twice as much body fat.

Read: The Benefits Of High Intensity Interval Training


You Run Further, But Slower


Many of us measure our running progress by how far we can run, and each week we feel proud that we’ve incrementally increased our mileage. And then we look at the scale and are crushed when we see no difference.

The problem can sometimes be that we usually pick a pace that we can sustain for the length of our run. So while we think we are making progress by running further, the calories we burn are the same because we’re going slower.


Eating Too Much To Compensate

slice of cake

Exercise can increase your appetite. And while running does burn calories, you have to be careful not to quickly or inadvertently eat them back with non-nutrient dense foods. Quite often exercise gives us the perception that we cannot gain weight because we’re active, and we rationalize our dessert by saying, “I ran 5 miles today, I deserve it”. If you keep doing it this way, you will quickly eliminate any caloric deficit you obtained from your run and negate possible weight loss.

As a runner, it is important that you provide your muscles with the necessary carbohydrates and protein to recover. But there is a delicate balance you have to keep when your primary goal is to lose weight. The best way is to refuel with nutrient dense and high quality foods.


You Run Too Much

body in the red

It is possible to reach a point where fat loss is stunted by doing too much. True, exercise is an indisputable component of a healthy life, but it's still stress on your body. And the demands of that stress impact your hormones, which also control your ability to lose fat.

Research published in the journal Hormone Research found that long distance running causes a sustained increase in cortisol. And this increase in cortisol for long period of times can lead to more inflammation, slower recovery, breaking down your muscle tissue, building up fat, and even harm your immune functioning.

Remember, sacrificing recovery for a few less calories is not a good long-term plan.

Read: Are You Running Too Much?


Hidden Calories


Hidden calories come in the form of sports drinks and energy gels, which have a high caloric content. These too have to be figured in when you’re calculating your calorie consumption. The total number of calories you will burn from your long runs and hard workouts may be less than you might realize.


Final Word

measuring waist

While I understand weight loss is an important goal for many runners, don’t become a slave to the numbers on the scale. Pay attention to how you feel – do you have more energy, feel stronger? Pay attention to body composition – Are you starting to fit into your clothes better?

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