Runners have the ability to burn plenty of calories during a run. Some runners in the search of building a competitive edge, require to lose weight, mostly excess fat that is stored in the body. The fat that is stored in the body adds to the overall weight which obviously works to hamper performance. The leaner of a body you have, the more likely you will be able to run faster or longer, depending on the length of the run. For short distance runners, muscle mass is extremely important. It is important that you have more bulk so as to enable you to accelerate faster and build up speed.
On the other hand, long-distance runners would benefit from not having to spend as much energy moving greater body weight. The lower your body weight, the less energy would be needed to move it. Hence, during the run, you are more likely to maintain better energy levels with a leaner body than a body that contains excess fat.
Most long-distance runners have thin and lean physiques. They do not have stored fat slowing them down. However, if you are a runner that has stored fat and are looking for the best means to shed those extra pounds, you have come to the right place.
Your diet and what you eat plays a significant role in the success that you see when it comes to weight loss as a runner. Runners tend to burn many calories during training, hence it is easy to maintain a calorie deficit which will lead to weight loss. Overall, it is easier for a runner to lose weight as opposed to someone who doesn’t take part in cardio exercise.
That being the case, it is important that you realise that you may not have optimum levels of energy during the weight-loss period. The diet will hamper performance and it is best to consider weight loss ambitions well ahead of a race, so you have plenty of time to fine-tune your diet for performance as opposed to weight loss, closer to race day.
How Runners Lose Weight: The Science
The science behind weight loss for runners is rather simple. Carbohydrates are considered the primary energy source for runners and it is carbohydrates in the diet that will allow you to maintain good energy levels during a run. After all, regardless of how many muscles you have, they cannot work at optimum levels without carbohydrates.
We do not recommend that you cut carbohydrates from your diet completely. This could greatly hamper performance and lead to weaker runs. The best way for a runner to lose weight is through a low carb diet. It is best to place yourself on a low carbohydrate diet for 3 to 4 days per week; running days. However, you shouldn’t restrict carbohydrates on the hardest workout days or on those days when you go on especially long runs.
The low carb diet allows you to take control of the amount of glucose available. The low carbohydrate intake means there will be a short supply of glucose, which will mean there will be smaller reserves of stored glycogen. Excess glucose is stored in the body as glycogen and converted back to glucose during times of activity when energy is needed by your body to perform.
With a short supply of glycogen, you simply do not have enough energy to meet the requirements of the calories that are being burnt during the run. This works to create a energy deficit and it is more likely that at this point, your body will start to burn stored fat to produce energy.
Hence, the run on a low carb diet leads to fat burning, which resultantly leads to weight loss. We do not recommend that you restrict carbohydrates to a no-carb diet in hopes of losing weight. As a runner, you do need those carbs to perform. That being the case, the fewer carbs you consume, the more fat you will burn.
What is important is that you find a steady pace on a low carb diet, which helps you lose a specific amount of weight in a week or month’s time. Don’t try to burn too much fat at once, as this could lead you to hamper your athletic performance.
The more fat you burn, the more weight loss you will observe and the more of a leaner body shape you would have. This will help you to build performance in the long run. What is important is understanding how many carbohydrates your body needs and only eating sufficient carbohydrates to maintain a low-carb diet.
Diet for Weight Loss vs Diet for Performance
When it comes to runners, carbohydrates play an integral role in propelling your run. This is ever more important for long-distance runners who have to maintain good levels of energy throughout the run and have to eat a diet that will help them fight fatigue.
When you place yourself on a low carb diet, your body has to resort to stored fat as an energy source. The metabolism of fat doesn’t readily produce energy and is not as effective of a means to deliver energy as glucose. Hence, when on a low-carb diet, you could experience symptoms of weakness. It is more likely that you would face fatigue sooner and you would definitely feel more pain when pushing yourself to run that extra mile.
Running the extra mile on a high-carb diet is much easier than running an extra mile on a low-carb diet. The mechanism of fat burning involved isn’t the smoothest or easiest way to deliver energy to your working muscles. It requires extra steps and though you would notice fat burning and weight loss, your performance may be hampered.
Hence, though a low-carb diet is best for weight loss, it isn’t considered the best diet for performance. When looking to boost performance, you have to ensure that you eat plenty of carbohydrates and ensure that your primary energy source is from carbohydrates.
Energy derived from fat metabolism is not great when it comes to boosting performance. This is why it is recommended that you tackle unnecessary weight well ahead of the race, so you have plenty of time at hand to tweak your diet to better suit it for performance closer to race day.
For a better idea of what you should eat as a runner to boost performance, we recommend that you read this article linked herewith on, What Should Runners Eat: Essential Nutrition Tips for Runners.
How Should Runners Eat to Attain Weight Loss? The Low Carb Diet
With the low carb diet established as the best means to lose weight for runners, what exactly do we mean by a low carb diet? A low carb diet means restricting carbohydrate intake to 1.0 gram of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. You shouldn’t look to consume more than this recommended amount of carbohydrates, otherwise, you simply won’t notice the changes in weight.
It is important that you maintain your performance by only eating the amount of carbohydrates that are essentially crucial for performance. You also have to ensure that you maintain some sort of deficit in the amount of carbohydrates that you eat and the energy that you burn. Then only will fat reserves be broken down in place of carbohydrates to produce energy.
If your body has plenty of carbohydrates to source energy, it simply will not touch those fat reserves, hence you won’t lose weight nor burn fat on a high carbohydrate diet.
Combined with 1 gram of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight, you should also be looking to include about 1.3 grams of protein per pound of body weight and 0.5 grams of fat per pound of body weight. The added protein and fat in your diet will work to balance out your meals, ensuring that you are still well-fed and not starved during the weight loss process.
Further to this, the protein and fat will work to help nourish the muscles in your body that are being used in training and will prevent your body from using up muscles to resolve the energy deficit created by a low-carb diet. This will ensure that you don’t lose muscle mass; rather experience weight loss through fat burning.
A timed low-carb diet has also been proven effective for runners who chose to perform on a low carb diet. It can also be a great way to balance performance with weight loss. A timed low-carb diet is considered the best approach to adopt for runners who are looking to maintain a low-carb diet for weight loss.
A timed low-carb diet simply means that you consume adequate carbohydrates before, during and immediately after exercise, however, only consume low-carb meals during the rest of the day. This enables you to maintain good energy levels during the run by ensuring that you have a good supply of energy for the run itself and then burn the excess fat at rest. You do require energy even at rest, which is why a low-carb diet during the resting period of the day works similarly well to burn fat.
Carb-Loading and Weight Loss
What about carb-loading? Will carb-loading help with weight loss? Can you consider carb-loading on a low-carb diet or will carb-loading lead to weight gain as opposed to weight loss?
Carb-loading involves eating lots of complex carbohydrates a few days before a run or race. It only mostly applies to pre-race preparation and doesn’t necessarily form a part of training. However, if you are partaking in an especially long run as a part of training, you may consider carb-loading and treat the training session as a race itself. Regardless of when or whether you choose to carb-load, the question on your mind is the implications of carb-loading on weight loss.
Firstly, as mentioned, we asked you to consider weight loss ambitions well ahead of the race day. You don’t want to worry about losing weight on the day before the race or wonder whether what you are eating is going to lead to weight gain. On the day before the race, you should be eating everything that is recommended to help boost performance, not consider weight loss, since that is not the ultimate goal; with the ultimate goal being to boost performance and win.
Though you may be inclined to think that carb-loading will probably lead to weight gain, research has led us to believe that carb-loading actually works to temporarily raise metabolism and increase levels of leptin which is a hormone that blunts hunger. The combination of these two factors leads us to believe that it actually promotes weight loss.
Now, you can’t really be on a low-carb diet and still consider carb-loading. This is why, we either recommend a timed low-carb diet or better yet, leave the weight loss to an earlier stage of training, further away from race day. That way, you should be able to carb-load without a worry in your mind, because you won’t be focusing on weight loss, instead would be looking to carb-loading as a means to boost performance.
What Runners Should Eat to Lose Weight
With it established that you require a low-carb diet, what foods, in particular, should you be eating and what foods should you look to avoid to see the best results?
When you are looking to lose weight, you should most certainly include as many fruits in your diet as possible. Fruits such as avocados and bananas are great sources of potassium, which is an important electrolyte that helps you run harder and longer. It is often lost is sweat, hence it is important that you restore your potassium reserves before, during and after a run.
Further to this, fruits like avocados are loaded with mono and poly-unsaturated fatty acids which actually help with weight loss. Consumption of avocados have been linked by the British Journal of Nutrition to lead to lower body mass indexes and levels of abdominal fat.
Frozen berries are also a great source of nutrients that you should include in your meals. The antioxidants in frozen berries work to resolve the damage caused by oxidative stress which is damage caused by the use of oxygen to break down food for energy, which happens when you are running.
Almost every workout that you partake in is stress on the body, and antioxidants as those found in frozen berries work to combat oxidative damage and are rich in vitamins and minerals. They are extremely weight-loss friendly and contains plenty of polyphenols which have many benefits after a workout. Hence, frozen berries are best consumed after a run and should be in your arsenal of foods when you are trying to lose weight.
Nuts are another source of nutrients that prove especially useful when trying to lose weight as a runner. They are packed with protein, fibre and unsaturated fat which are linked to lower levels of inflammation, improved weight loss and longer life. What is great for runners is how you can eat nuts on the go. That being the case, they are high in calories, so you do not want to overconsume them. Aim for about one handful of nuts per day and you should be fine.
Greek Yoghurt is another food that is great for runners looking to lose weight. It is rich in filling fat and contains whole carbohydrates and protein. The combination of nutrients makes Greek yoghurt a great addition to a recovery meal. The protein in the yoghurt will work to boost muscle synthesis and increase metabolic rate. This will result in more fat being burnt at rest. You can also eat Greek yoghurt before bed. It contains a rich dose of casein, which is a slow to digest protein that will keep your muscles fed and will work to build and repair them all night long.
Another powerful protein source is eggs. The protein that is found in eggs is more easily absorbed and used up by the body in comparison to other protein sources. When you are trying to lose weight, you should be eating more protein than carbohydrates, which is why eggs are so useful. They work to boost metabolism and are rich in B vitamins and free-radical fighting antioxidants. As an added bonus, the bulk of the fat that is found in eggs is actually unsaturated fat, which is great when you are trying to lose weight. To better understand the importance of eggs for runners, we recommend that you read this article linked herewith.
Though chicken and beef are great sources of protein too, lean beef has to be awarded the crown. They are rich in iron and without which, you simply would not be able to effectively transport oxygen to the muscles in your body. With a higher amount of protein being required for weight loss, lean beef works as a great source of nutrition to add to your meals to provide bulk. You are more likely to find yourself full and satisfied after a meal and is less likely to find yourself craving snacks.
Hydration is important, so ensure that you get plenty of water. If you are trying to lose weight, you have to ensure that your body has plenty of water to break down fat. A 1% decrease in hydration can actually hamper performance and reduce your body’s ability to burn calories and build muscles. Hence, do not sidestep the importance of water and make sure to stay well hydrated.
Carbohydrate sources are important too. You have to be extra careful about the types of carbohydrates that you eat to faciltate weight loss and prevent weight gain.
Choosing Carbohydrates to Help Runners Lose Weight
When on a low-carb diet, you have to be smart about your carbohydrate choices and ensure the carbohydrates that you do eat will help you lose weight.
Whole grains are one of the most over-consumed carbs that people eat. That being the case, for runners, whole grains are considered a wiser option in comparison to white bread, processed pasta and sugary cereals, all of which could lead to weight gain. You should work to stick with whole grains such as quinoa, bulgur, oats, amaranth and whole wheats which provide great sources of energy with the least risk of weight gain.
When on a low-carb diet, you don’t want to be consuming carbs that will lead to weight gain as opposed to weight loss. If you consume the wrong type of carbohydrates, it is more likely that you will notice weight gain as opposed to weight loss, even when on a low carb diet.
Whole grains provide you with the fuel for your runs and will work to aid recovery. They also contain plenty of fibre which prevents you from overeating and promotes healthy digestion. This leads to easier weight loss and when combined with a good amount of exercise as with running, you are sure to notice results.
Foods to Avoid to Prevent Weight Gain for Runners
When it comes to weight loss, you want to be sure that you don’t consume the wrong types of food. In general, all foods that lead to weight gain in normal people will lead to weight gain in runners too.
This means you shouldn’t consume foods that are high in sugar or are high in the glycemic index. Here is a list of foods that you should look to avoid to prevent weight gain and hamper the success that you see on your weight loss journey as a runner.
- White Bread
- Sugary Cereal
- Processed Pasta
- Diet Soda
- Cookies and Candy
- Full-Fat Dairy
- Saturated and Trans Fats
- Fried Foods
- Caffeinated Beverages
- High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
- White Grains
- White Chocolate
- Processed Red Meat
It is best that you keep the bad stuff away and only eat what your body requires. Aim for a low-carb nutritious diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and protein and you should have a working diet that will undoubtedly lead to results for you as a runner.
For an extensive list of foods that runners should avoid, read this article, linked herewith.
Weight loss for runners can be an important part of the equation. At the end of the day, you don’t want excess weight slowing you down and hampering performance. We hope after reading this word to word, you have a good idea of how and what you should be eating to help you lose weight as a runner.
Remember, the low-carb diet isn’t the best diet to help boost performance. If you are too close to the day of the race, we recommend that you try the timed low-carb diet. Otherwise, ensure that you provide yourself plenty of time during training, a stage well ahead of the race to concentrate on weight loss. Once you have completed your month in training in pursuing weight loss, tweak your diet again to better suit performance.
Remember, you cannot rely on stored fat reserves to boost performance when it comes to running. You need the glucose and glycogen reserves, hence you will have to eat carbohydrates to help you perform better. The trick is understanding the role of carbohydrates in weight loss and using this to your advantage to create an energy deficit on a low-carb diet, that will undoubtedly lead to the burning of fat. A diet recommended for weight loss will not similarly be recommended for performance.
We hope that this article has proved useful in your training and that the information we have gathered herewith helps you on your journey to lose those extra pounds that have been slowing you down.