How to Create a Running Plan to Lose Weight

running plan to lose weight
Photo by Julia Larson

Running is a great component to a weight loss program. But, there are two parts to losing weight – calories consumed and calories burned. Running, obviously, is particularly relevant to the burning of calories. In order to effectively lose weight, you need to watch out for challenges that can hold you back from shedding those extra pounds, including overtraining, over-fueling, and failing to track calories. Learn how to create a running plan to lose weight, feel great, and work towards your goal.

Understanding the Basics of Weight Loss

Weight loss requires consuming less calories than you use in a day, otherwise known as a calorie deficit. Your body uses food consumed as available energy first. Only after those calories are used will it begin using fat reserves as energy. While running can help you dip into those fat stores, the most important component of weight loss is nutrition.

When on a weight loss plan, your goal is to consume fewer calories than you burn in a day. The amount of calories your body requires daily is different for everyone. Calories required per day to maintain your weight is a combination of height, weight, body composition, gender, age and other genetic factors. Some runners struggle assuming that running burns far more calories than it does.

The more active you are, the faster your metabolic rate is likely to be. Don’t overestimate that number, or you may never make it into fat-burning mode.

Calories In vs. Calories Out

Daily caloric needs vary as you age, but on average, a woman needs 1,600-2,000 calories and a man needs 2,000-2,400 calories per day. That number differs based on how active you are during daily activities and age. But those are helpful starting points for calculating how many calories you should consume to maintain your current weight.

To lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit, which means consuming fewer calories than what your body requires for energy. Cutting 500 calories from your recommended daily total could help you lose half a pound to a pound per week. 

Eating any fewer than 1,200 calories in a day may negatively affect your body’s ability to get the nutrients to function well. 

All calories are not equal. Removing high-calorie, low-nutrition foods from your diet regularly will help you lose weight. Focus your diet on nutritionally dense foods with healthy fats, ample protein, and high fiber. Lean proteins like chicken and salmon and fruits and cruciferous vegetables will provide your body with vitamins and minerals to perform its best. 

Is Running Good for Weight Loss?

Running is good for weight loss because it is an intense cardio activity that requires increased calorie requirements. If you change nothing about your current diet but add running for 30 minutes per day, you should see progressive weight loss. Many runners end up compensating for their physical exertion by consuming more calories assuming that running is burning far more calories than it is.

If you’re already running and not losing weight, you’ll need to add more mileage into your weekly routine before you start seeing additional weight loss. 

Changing your runs to keep them challenging. Add in speedwork, hill training or new terrains. These adjustments may boost your calorie burn and transition your running from routine to weight losing.

Why Running Helps You Lose Weight

Running is a full-body workout as it requires multiple muscle groups to work together simultaneously. The more physically dynamic and taxing an exercise, the more likely it can help you lose weight. 

One study reviewed the difference in calorie burn between walking and running a mile. It found that running burns 33 more calories when done on a treadmill and 35 more calories when done on a track. If you’re running just 3 miles per day, that’s 100 more calories burnt than you would if you were walking 3 miles.

Another reason why running is good for weight loss is that you’ll continue to burn calories after you complete the workout. High-intensity exercise sustains an elevated metabolism up to 48 hours after your workout. The exercise calls on so many muscles and those muscles need time to recover, which creates what is called “the afterburn effect.” 

Additionally, running may have an impact on suppressing your appetite. High-intensity exercise suppresses the hormone ghrelin and helps your body produce peptide YY, which aids in making you feel satiated longer after eating. 

How to Optimize Losing Weight From Running

Armed with the knowledge of the benefits of running for weight loss and what to watch out for when starting a new plan, here’s a look at nutrition and training insights that will help you shed a few pounds.

Fueling Up for Runs

How you fuel before, during and after a run will dictate whether it aids in you reaching a calorie deficit or it becomes a part of your normal nutrition routine. Here’s a look at how to fuel your runs when working to lose weight.

Before a Run

If you’ll only be running for 30-45 minutes, you don’t need to fuel for your run beforehand. You can wake up and run first thing without eating breakfast first or midday without grabbing a snack. On days you’ll be running for an hour or more, you should fuel yourself with a light, healthy breakfast or snack. The longer the run, the more important it will be to consume calories before going out. The meal immediately before your run is not nearly as important for performance as the meal prior. The dinner before your longer run should  

During a Run

Fueling during a run is really only necessary when training for long distances, such as a marathon or ultramarathon. You shouldn’t need to consume anything during a run unless you’ll be running longer than 2 hours. You can carry something small with you in case you start feeling hungry but try to avoid manufactured sports nutrition products. Take half of a banana or a handful of raisins for a more natural on-the-run fuel.

After a Run

Right after a run, focus on rehydration. Start with a large glass of water to prevent you from rummaging through the pantry for fast and easy snacks after running. Once you’ve rehydrated, stretch, and take a shower before eating. After your run, try to eat something that requires silverware to consume as it will slow down your rate of intake. One great food post-run snack is Greek yogurt. The yogurt is packed with healthy fats, protein and naturally occurring carbs to help your body repair itself after running and it offers a dose of fiber.

Related: 20+ Snacks for Runners & When to Eat Them

What Type of Run is Best for Weight Loss?

Different types of running can help you lose weight. Creating a run training plan that combines sprints, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and steady-state long distance running is the best combination for putting your body into fat-burning mode. 

Sprints

Sprints push your body past your regular running speed to raise your heart rate higher and challenge your muscles in a different way from distance running. Sprint routines often involve running with all-out effort for 30 seconds followed by a  4-minute recovery jogging or walking before repeating. Sprints are good for weight loss because they elevate metabolism and induce more cardiovascular strain, which may be more effective for weight loss than steady-state running the same amount of time. 

HIIT

HIIT is excellent for weight loss because it requires all-out effort, which helps increase your metabolism to support weight loss. When engaging in a HIIT workout, run at 80% or more of your max heart rate for 4 minutes at a time. You’ll take a 3-minute recovery before repeating the process. This process pushes your body to its limits to engage more muscles and put them to the ultimate test. HIIT is the best form of running for weight loss, and you can combine it with sprints and steady-state running to avoid having your runs become routine.

Steady State Running

Steady-state running is going out for a casual run at a conversational pace or, the pace you would still be able to sustain a conversation some might call this a recovery run. You shouldn’t do HIIT runs or sprints every day of the week. While these runs burn calories and offer aerobic conditioning benefits, they aren’t quite as good for weight loss as sprints or HIIT because they don’t have the same long-lasting metabolic benefits. With time, your body will get used to this form of exercise and your metabolism will adapt to it. Steady-state running is good to do between sprints and HIIT because intense running deplete glycogen stores 

Putting Together Your Running Training Plan

Now it’s time to put it all together to begin experiencing weight loss from running. Start by creating a nutrition plan based on your gender and age. You might not want to subtract 500 calories from your suggested caloric intake as adding in running will burn approximately 300 calories per hour of activity. It’s best to start by subtracting 200-300 calories from your suggested intake to avoid burnout or extreme hunger that can lead to binge eating at the end of the day.

Download an app or start a food journal to track your calories. Be honest with yourself about everything you eat to ensure you’re tracking all calories. Don’t forget things like the cream in your coffee or the handful of chips you snagged from your friend’s lunch.

Build out your running plan with a mix of sprints, HIIT and steady-state running. Follow this sample and customize it based on your needs.

Dropping the Pounds While Pounding the Pavement

While some people might say that it’s challenging to lose weight by running, this belief likely stems from the fact that some runners overestimate how many calories they burn while running or run just so that they can consume more calories. With the right plan and discipline, you can experience improved wellness and weight loss from a run training plan that balances calories in and calories out.

FAQ

Is running good for weight loss?

Running is excellent for weight loss because it engages many muscle groups at once, which helps you burn more calories while increasing muscle for an improved metabolic rate even after you stop running.

Will running 30 minutes a day help lose weight?

Yes, starting to run 30 minutes per day can help you lose weight as long as you do not consume the added calories that you’re burning. Weight loss is all about a calorie deficit, which means you must burn more calories than you consume each day.

Can you lose belly fat from running?

Running is one of the best exercises for reducing belly fat because it is a highly aerobic exercise, which targets belly fat.

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