Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why am I running and not losing weight?!

I have a friend who just shared her frustration of not losing weight since she started running and in fact gaining weight. I have found another great article by Coach Joe English that addresses this issue. This article is for her and everyone else out there who is feeling frustrated with not seeing the pounds melt off while their feet are hitting the pavement. I hope it is helpful! ~Danyelle

Will I lose weight when I start running?

It seems that I have the same conversation about ten times a month. A new runner says: “I decided to start running so that I could lose weight, but I haven’t lost any. Is that normal?”

Yes, in fact, it is quiet common for new runners not to lose weight when they start running. In fact, a lot of them gain weight. Here’s why.

A running program will provide a number of great benefits to you. It will increase your cardio-vascular efficiency, making your heart stronger and more efficient. It will also increase your basal metabolic rate, helping you burn more calories when you’re at rest. And running itself burns calories at a rate of about 115 calories per mile. But all of this together does not automatically lead to weight loss.

The reasons are four-fold:

First, your weight is directly related to your diet - The foods you consume will either be burned by your activities during your day or they will be stored as fat for you to use later. There is no other option for those calories – they have to go somewhere. Generally speaking, when people are over-weight they are eating too many calories, or more specifically, too many calories from food types that are not useful to them for the activities they pursue in their daily lives.

Second, new runners often have a greater appetite than before they started running- With the body burning more calories, it is normal to be more hungry and craving more food. The problem is that new runners may not have figured out which foods to increase in their diet and which to avoid. This often means they may just eat more of the foods that they don’t need, which works against their desire to see weight loss from their running.

I often hear runners say things like, “hey, the reason I run is so that I can eat whatever I want!” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Runners still need to eat sensibly to avoid gaining weight. They may be burning more calories, but they are not gaining a license to eat whatever they want.

Third, new runners often gain muscle when they begin their running program- Since muscle tissue weighs more than fat, some new runners may actually gain weight when they initially start a running program. But the flip-side of this is that as their bodies start to respond to the training, they often feel stronger and have more energy.

I’ve noticed with my female runners that they often put on new muscle in their legs, in particular their quads (the large muscle in the front of your legs). They often tell me that their jeans are snugger than they have been in the past — again, I think this is normally the result of larger muscles in their legs — and that their bathing suit bottoms don’t fit particularly well. (As you can imagine this doesn’t make me that popular around the start of Summer!)

Fourth, new runners often run too many slow miles that are not maximized to burning calories and losing weight. Higher intensity runs burn more calories than lower intensity runs, by boosting the amount of calories burned for a longer period of time after the workout. You can read more about this topic in a related post, by clicking here.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that for new marathon runners as the distance of their weekend long runs increase, most runners will tend to lean out in their mid-sections. This is simply because of the greater number of calories that are being burned by these long runs slow runs. So when new marathon runners start hitting about 15 miles in their weekend runs, they start burning enough calories and even if they aren’t eating particularly well, things start to balance themselves out. Their stomachs start to get flatter and their pants fit more loosely around the waist.

Do I need to go on a diet?
It isn’t always necessary to “go on a diet” to lose weight when starting a running plan, but if you want to lose weight you need to consider what you’re eating as you start running. Most important is the idea of shifting your eating toward foods that you need and away from foods that you don’t. For some easy recommendations on changing your diet to help with weight loss, click here.

You’ll notice that many athletes eat a ton of food, yet they are what you’d consider thin. This simply means that they are eating the foods that they need to fuel their exercise and leaving out those foods they don’t.

The bottom line is this: running will not automatically shed pounds. Running burns calories, primarily those coming from complex carbohydrates (grain, rice, potatoes, pasta). The key is to understand your dietary needs and develop a nutrition plan that supports both running and weight loss. You will burn abou 115 calories for each mile you run, depending on your weight and the intensity (speed) at which you run them. Running with greater intensity burns more calories both during the run and for a longer period of time afterward.

As a rule, look carefully at what you’re eating, trying to get enough carbohydrate for the energy that you’ll need, but cutting down on fats, oils and sweets that will keep you from losing weight. Aim to eat the right foods, in the right quantities, and you can manage your weight effectively.

If you’d like more information on this topic, there are many great books available. Two of my favorites are available at These two books are by Nancy Clark, who is considered on the top sports nutritionists in the field. Her two books are Nancy Clark’s Food Guide for Marathon Runners Training: Will I lose weight when I start running? and Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook Training: Will I lose weight when I start running?. The Food Guide for Marathoners is a short and concise book that sums up a great deal of good information. The Sports Nutrition Guidebook includes much more information and many great recipies.

Related Articles:
Weight loss suggestions for runners
Accelerating the Impact of Running on Weight Loss
Food as fuel; your diet, weight loss and running (part I)
What should I eat for breakdast before a long run?
Ten things you need to know about hydration
Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon USA
Running Advice and News

Was this article helpful? Did you learn something new?

Wishing you much happiness in this life journey as we are all learning together! ~Danyelle


  1. This post is very timely. I have 60 plus lbs to lose and have been getting back into running after toning it down from an injury. I GAINED this week after no loss last week. With a food journal. I cried. Then I read your post and regained some perspective. Thank you.

  2. Stephanie, I am so glad that you found this post helpful! We all struggle with this. As my Mom would say, "Keep on, keepin' on"! It sounds like you are doing everything right! ~Danyelle

  3. My daughter and i were just talking about what she should be eating to get the best energy for soccer! When i was looking on my nook for the books mentioned in the article i ran across a sports nutrition book for soccer Nancy Clark! So I bought the one for soccer for her and the new runners one for me! Thanks for the great info!