Many people tell me they pick up running to lose weight. However, from what I have observed in myself and comments from others, the needle on the scale does not really start a drastic downward swing just from running. For me, in the beginning, it was quite frustrating, as I started to run and workout at the gym to shed some pounds, but I did not see immediate large results on the scale. If you run to lose weight, you will eventually get discouraged and quit running altogether, because it is just not going to give you the results you expect. According to Hal Higdon a great long distance runner and trainer, “ If you are running to lose weight, I encourage you to separate exercise and weight. Yes, you should run for health, fitness, stress relief, and most importantly, for enjoyment.”
When you start to run, your body begins to demand more resources. You drink more water and you want to eat more because you just went out and ran and burned some calories. Your body will crave more water because of the increase in exercise. The body uses this water to “repair damaged muscle fibers and to deliver glycogen to the working muscles”. Water adds weight (8.3 pounds per gallon). If you are strictly focused on losing weight, this is not going to help with the needle on the scale. Next you are burning more calories as your exercise increases. When you return from a run, you will want to eat. Typically a carrot or something healthy is not going to be at the top of that list. Thus, you quickly put all those calories you just burned (or more), back into your body. You do need to eat, but it needs to be the proper carbohydrates and proteins. That is what your body is screaming for! Sacrificing proper recovery by trying to limit calories will not work properly for yourself in the long run.
The above is pretty obvious, and probably makes since when you think about it. Now let’s discuss something that is good, but will not help the scale. You are running and working out more. You are now probably converting fat into muscle. If we go back to middle school health class (I know its probably been a long time for most of us), we know that muscle weighs more than fat! This is a good thing for you. You are converting fat to muscle. So, even though the scale may not provide promising results for you, you are actually doing something good for yourself.
Hal Higdon lists several myths regarding the topic of weight loss and running (you can read more details on each in the article listed below in the references):
Myth #1: You must exercise in order to lose body fat.
Myth #2: If you train for a marathon or triathlon, surely your body fat will melt away.
Myth #3: The more miles you run, the more fat you will lose.Myth #4: You should run six days a week to lose weight.
Myth #5: Couples who run together, lose fat together.
The best thing I have found to help in my weight loss is a little app on my phone called “My Fitness Pal”. It is a free app where you can track everything you eat. I used it in a Biggest Loser competition at work last year, and lost 25 pounds in 10 weeks. My running & workouts did not change during this period of time. So, when I truly saw results on a scale, it was when I started tracking every item that went into my body. After the competition, I stopped tracking for a while, and guess what, my weight increased. I have now been tracking since the Walt Disney Marathon in January and have since lost 11 pounds. This probably helped in my securing a new PR in my most recent half marathon with a 1:45:16, almost 7 minutes faster than my previous PR set in December!
I hope this has helped you understand some of the reasons why just running may not help you see the downward results you want to see on the scales. Add in some healthier eats and calorie counting, and you should start to see the results there.