Running can be one of the most effective ways of losing weight. It doesn’t take much equipment, no expensive gym membership plus there’s no need to follow a ridiculously low-calorie diet. Just strap on a pair of running shoes, grab your running for weight loss plan, and away you go.
Yet it’s not without its pitfalls, losing too much weight, not enough, or even putting weight on. This guide will help you navigate the danger zones, emerging fitter and healthier…
How many miles should I run to lose weight?
- Running one mile burns approximately 100 calories but new runners will burn more calories because their running style is less efficient. Heavier runners can burn 200 to 300 calories per mile.
- You need a calorie deficit of 3500 calories to burn one pound of body fat. This could be from running 35 miles a week, (5 miles a day), or combining running with a calorie-restricted diet. For best results combine running with improvements to your diet.
- It’s a really bad idea to launch into running 35 miles a week unless you’re an experienced runner. Doing too much too soon will lead to injury. As a new runner, you’ll find you can run at a much lower mileage and still lose weight.
- If you haven’t exercised in years, it’s better to start off walking for weight loss until your fitness improves.
- Some people find they lose too much weight from running.
- Not all experienced runners are at their ideal weight. The problem could be your diet or running in your comfort zone. Watch what you eat and make your runs more challenging.
✅ In a hurry? Try my Couch to 5K Plan.
Does Running For Weight Loss Work?
✳️ The exact amount of calories burned depends on lots of factors – your body weight, pace, incline, fitness level, and running efficiency. If you want more accurate information, try our neat little calories burned running calculator.
But studies have shown not everyone who takes up running will lose weight. Diet can be more important than exercise for weight loss. Physical activity alone will often fail because it takes a big commitment to a high level of aerobic weight loss exercise.
But before you decide running isn’t for you or it’s a bad thing, take note that the vast majority of people who lose weight and keep it off regularly exercise. Combining exercise with diet preserves your muscle mass which is essential for your mobility AND boosts your metabolism.
This study by Paul Williams, (a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California), analyzed thousands of walkers and runners over 6 years. Williams found running for weight loss is very effective and keeps the weight off permanently.
How Much Should You Run To Lose Weight?
Losing weight is just simple math. Generally, it takes 2000 calories a day for women and 2500 for men to fuel their normal day-to-day activity. Check yours with our Daily Calories Burned Calculator.
One pound of fat (0.45 kg) is equivalent to 3,500 calories, so if you’re burning fat at one pound a week you need to run 35 miles.
This is where running for weight loss plans go a little pear-shaped for beginner runners.
35 miles a week is too much for beginner runners
Launching straight into a 5 miles a day/35-miles-a-week training plan is too much for many runners. It’s easy to end up injured and unable to exercise with the weight just piling back on.
But here’s the good news. As a beginner runner, it’s highly likely you’ll be burning a lot more than 100 calories a mile. If you haven’t run since childhood, running regularly is going to be hard work and that will burn a LOT of calories!
So don’t even think about launching into running 35 miles/week from a baseline of zero…
You don’t need to start your running plan at such a high weekly running mileage. The sensible approach is to build your weekly mileage gradually, swapping run miles for walking in the first few weeks. Try running 20 minutes a day and see how you get on.
Walking still burns up to 80 calories a mile, if you keep up a fast pace, plus you are less likely to get injured. Most people can manage walking 5 miles a day. You can break it down into 2 or 3 sessions. Walk to work, walk to the shops, take the stairs… time on your feet will all add up increasing your overall exercise level AND burning calories.
One of the best running plans for beginners is the Couch To 5K Plan. It’s helped a lot of people start running and provides a steady build-up of mileage…
Related post: How Much Should I Run According To My BMI?
Beware – It’s easy to overeat.
Think of this scenario… You’re actually getting out running. You’ve completed a 30-minute run. It was hard work and you’re really chuffed with yourself.
So what do you reach for as a reward as soon as you complete the run? A glass of water and a healthy apple? A low-calorie protein snack to fill you up without blowing your daily goals?
This is where running for weight loss problems set in.
It’s so easy to think – “Hey look at me! I’ve just been for a run! Hmm that slice of cake looks good. Maybe I deserve a reward”.
One hour of running effort and all those good intentions of running to lose weight are blown on a 500-calorie sticky treat!
Your appetite skyrockets!
Running can make you hungry! Really hungry! Dragging yourself around those first few runs, as a beginner runner, can leave you starving. It’s easy to flip into eating everything on sight. The result is weight gain!
One way to counter this is to fully hydrate as soon as you finish your run. Water is best. Also pre-plan what you’re going to eat. Your body needs to refuel – carbohydrates to replenish your glycogen stores plus a little protein to help your muscles recover.
It can be a good idea to run before your main meal. Finish your run, drink some water to hydrate, then eat a balanced meal as normal. This way you’ll eat fewer calories.
You cut too many calories
It’s easy to trigger starvation mode when you launch into a training plan. You’re making your body run, possibly for the first time in years. It’s trying to adapt as fast as it can by building muscles to cope with this increase in exercise.
If your calorie intake drops too much or you don’t eat enough to compensate for the extra effort, your body may start to resist and go into starvation mode.
Your metabolism slows down, your body holds on to everything it can, and running to lose weight becomes almost impossible.
Avoid starvation mode by aiming for a smaller weight loss, maybe even just half a pound per week.
That doesn’t sound like much but your body will be building muscles. Muscles are much denser than fat and take up less space giving you a leaner more defined body shape.
You’ll be dropping clothes sizes, (and feeling great), even if your weight loss is slow.
Stick to healthy eating
You don’t need to follow a trendy diet.
If the majority of your food is plant-based, from healthy fruit, vegetables, and whole grains plus you’re cutting out calorie-dense, fat-laden processed food, most people will lose weight on a running-for-weight loss plan.
Slow and steady fat loss, finding pleasure from daily exercise, and being aware of the benefits of healthy eating – it’s key to maximizing the fun in life.
Not restrictive diets, deprivation, and being constantly hungry.
Focusing on weight loss can ruin your running performance
Sadly, at the top end of athletic performance, running feeds the ugly disease of the mind – anorexia.
I’ve known far too many excellent runners who take their weight loss too far and end up sabotaging their mental health and physical health for the sake of a few pounds.
😔 Shedding excess pounds can make you run faster but if either of these scenarios reminds you of yourself, it’s time to get professional help.
Losing Too Much Weight Running
Some runners find it a real struggle to maintain their weight when they’re training hard. If you’re trying to run to lose weight you may find it hard to empathize but it’s a big issue for many runners.
The solution here is to constantly refuel with small nutritious snacks. Make sure you always fuel your body around an hour before your training session and again within 10 to 20 minutes of finishing your session.
Plan your food intake for each day in advance and make sure healthy food is to hand whenever you need it. A good tip is to prepare all your snacks and meals the night before for quick refueling.
Which Running Is Best For Weight Loss?
When it comes to weight loss, not all running is equal. Basically, the faster you run, the more calories you burn. That’s why High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) sessions are so popular at the moment.
Running intervals increases the calories burned per minute and your body continues to burn calories when you’re no longer moving.
A popular session for beginners is a high-intensity run for 30 seconds hard and jog to recover for one minute. Try to repeat for 10 intervals.
Make sure you warm up properly with a 10 to 15-minute slow run before you start followed by a few quick speed bursts to get your body moving.
Cooldown afterwards with 5 to 10 minutes at an easy pace, (it’s okay to walk).
As you get fitter you can increase the number of intervals or reduce your recovery time to 30 seconds.
Fartlek is another excellent way to boost intensity. It’s a Swedish term meaning speed play. Set off for your run at a slow pace to warm up fully. Once you’ve warmed up, vary your pace during your run mixing up hard and easy running.
Include Strength Training
Yoga for runners is also a great way to build strength by weight training, using just your body weight, and helping to prevent muscle imbalance.
Running For Weight Loss Plan For Beginner Runners
For complete beginners, Couch To 5K is the first step on your weight loss journey. The program builds gradually from mainly walking over the first few weeks, to being able to run continuously for 30 minutes by week 9.
If Couch to 5K feels too hard, it’s best to start by following a walking for weight loss plan. Walking regularly will still burn a lot of calories.
Related post: How To Start Running When Overweight
Build Up To Running 5 Miles A Day
Weeks One And Two
Most people can manage to walk 5 miles a day, especially if they break it down into 2 sessions. Try walking 5 miles a day for the first two weeks then gradually switching walk miles for run miles. Follow these tips for how to run without getting tired.
✅ It’s best to run every other day at first and increase your running distance gradually.
Weeks Three And Four
Aim to run a mile every other day and walk for the remaining distance. On your run days, start by walking 2 miles, then run one mile and finish by walking another 2 miles.
On your walk days, try to walk at a good pace for 5 miles.
Weeks Five And Six
Aim to run two miles every other day and walk on the other days. How soon you’re able to advance to this stage will depend on your level of fitness starting this program.
On your run days, start by walking 1 mile to warm up, then run two miles and finish by walking two miles.
On your walk days, walk at a good pace for 5 miles and break into a slow run for short intervals.
Just make sure you don’t overdo it and end up injured. Tune into your body, push when you can, and rest when it wants to rest.
✅ If in doubt walk. Walking burns almost as many calories a mile as running. If your main aim is weight loss you can still achieve your goals by walking at a fast pace.
Fitting in 5 miles a day is a big-time commitment but you can always walk to work, to the shops, and try to avoid jumping in the car. Just remember our bodies are designed to move!
Week 7 Plus
Keep slowly increasing the distance you run every day. It could take 3 to 4 months to build up to running 5 miles every day. Just build slowly at a rate that avoids injury.
When you’re strong enough to run 5 miles a day, it’s time to start working on your running pace. Try alternating slow and fast miles.
Running For Weight Loss Plan For Experienced Runners
Let’s set the scene. You’ve been running for years and your times for 10K, half marathon, and even marathon distance are pretty good. You enjoy your running, especially social runs with friends, and clock up about 30 to 40 miles a week.
You just wish you could shift a few pounds, less than half a stone – your annoying belly fat…
Cold hard truth. Your running is in your comfort zone.
First, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re still in much better shape than the vast majority of the population. Secondly, it’s time to get real.
How To Lose Weight When Your Body Is Used To Running
When you’re not at your ideal weight despite running 35 miles plus a week there are two things happening.
- Your body is used to running. Most of your miles are at a slow pace, a leisurely long run with minimal calorie burn and you’re no longer challenging your body.
- You’re eating too much.
Diet Is The Main Reason You’re Carrying Extra Weight
You can’t outrun your diet. If you’re carrying excess weight and you’re already a runner, diet is the main culprit. Try keeping a food diary for a week to find out how many calories you typically eat in a day.
Even if your diet is mainly healthy, you could still be overeating. Those refreshing pints after your run all add up or my favorite – late-night snacking on toast and peanut butter.
Make a conscious decision – are you willing to forgo your treats to hit your ideal weight? If the answer is yes commit to eating fewer calories.
The main aim of this blog is to promote healthy living. If your weight is within a healthy range, losing a few pounds to hit your ideal weight is more about cosmetic appearance or chasing down running PB’s.
Be honest about what it means to you. Don’t become one of those runners who’s unhappy about their weight but unwilling to make the lifestyle changes to do something about it.
Running To Lose Weight – Make Your Runs More Challenging
You need to get out of your comfort zone to start making an impact on your weight. Your running has become too easy. The best way is to challenge yourself by working harder and boosting your heart rate.
Here are some suggestions: (these are aimed at experienced runners who are able to increase running intensity without getting injured)…
Interval Training At 5K Pace
Warm-up properly and include a few speed bursts to get the legs working.
The session is 6 – 8 x 800m with 200m jog or walk recoveries. Aim at maintaining 5K race pace for your intervals.
These longer intervals are tough. It’s easy to start off too fast and drop off the pace. Remember 800m can feel like a really long way when you’re running at speed!
Slow run or walk to cool down afterwards. Don’t forget to stretch!
Timed Distance Run
Pick a route that’s 50% of your regular running distance. For example, if you normally run 5 miles a day, pick a route that’s 2.5 miles.
This is going to be your test route.
Once a week, warm up with a 10-15 minute easy run, then race against the clock over your test route. Each week aim for a PB.
Cool down properly and stretch afterwards.
The old favorite of all running coaches.
Hills build strength and power. They also work your body hard, boost your metabolism and burn a lot of calories.
Find a steep and reasonably long hill.
Run uphill fast and jog or walk back down.
Each week increase the number of repetitions and/or reduce the recovery time.
Remember to warm up properly and cool down afterwards.
NOTE: Hill repeats are tough on your body and even seasoned runners can overdo it. Start with a few and build your fitness gradually.
For me, the health benefits of running regularly are about more than weight loss. It’s the best exercise! Many runners start off wanting to lose a bit of weight and discover a lifelong sport that they fall in love with. Running can be sociable, help with stress and be a constant source of adventure.
Read more about how running changes your body and does running burn belly fat. Add your comments below. I’d love to know if following a running for weight loss exercise program has helped you successfully lose weight.
To lose one pound a week you need to run approximately 35 miles and keep your food intake the same. It can be better to adopt a healthy eating plan alongside taking up running. It’s never a good idea to try and go from zero running to running 35 miles a week. Build up slowly.
All types of running will burn calories. Running faster burns more calories per mile so it can be a good idea to include speedwork in your runs. Interval training boosts your metabolism so the benefits of running continue after you stop.
You get faster results if you combine running with a healthy diet. Try and keep to the recommended daily intake of 2000 calories per day for women and 2500 calories per day for men if you want to lose weight. If you’re trying to maintain your weight you will need to increase your food intake to make up for the calories you burn exercise. Allow around 100 calories per mile. Try and fill up on fruit and vegetables with lean protein and cut back on treats and junk food.