There’s no escaping the truth: the more you run, the more you have to eat.
A difficult reality for those of us who want to lose weight.
After a long run or hard workout, you may feel like you could literally eat everything in the fridge. The ravenous hunger that accompanies strenuous running makes weight loss seem impossible when you’re training – even though it seems counter-intuitive.
But it’s not: Matt Fitzgerald calls this phenomenon the “compensation effect” in his book
As running volume and intensity increase, your appetite triggers will become more sensitive because of hormonal changes in the body. In other words, exercise makes you feel hungrier and want to eat more.
So if that’s what happens when you run a lot, how can you accomplish both your weight loss and running goals?
Admittedly, it can be difficult for some runners. Especially because the compensation effect is stronger for some, actually causing weight gain during periods of heavy training.
But there are ways to control your Cookie Monster cravings, get all the nutrition and fuel you need to run well, and lose weight.
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Why It’s Hard to Lose Weight While Running
Recently Anne emailed me an excellent question:
“How can I lose weight and run a lot at the same time? I have 9 months before my marathon and I’m scared that I won’t be able to make it because of my weight. I don’t want to stop running to go on a strict diet but I’m unclear as to how I can lose weight and run at the same time.”
Anne’s question echoes many sentiments that I’ve heard from runners who struggle with weight loss and running. Have you ever wondered how you can keep losing weight while eating all of the carbs necessary for running? Or how to control your appetite after a long run?
These are all great questions. And to answer them, we have to stop thinking about “diets” and cutting calories because those strategies simply don’t work for runners.
If you cut calories or carbs while running a lot (like during marathon training), you’ll feel sluggish, have poor post-workout recovery, and may not be able to finish your most challenging workouts. Your ability to tolerate high training levels will be dramatically reduced.
So you can’t “diet” by cutting calories if you’re training because you’ll run poorly. And to lose weight (and keep it off), you have to run smart.
Train Smart to Lose More Weight
There’s comforting news for competitive runners: smart training can help you lose more weight than “just” running. When your training is designed properly with a time goal in mind, you’ll shed pounds faster than if you were just running for fun.
I’ve asked a lot of runners “what fast workouts have you done recently?” And the responses are often a variation of the same answer:
“45 minute – 1hr runs at the same pace a few times per week”
“Once a week I finish a run a little faster than usual and try to get a negative split.”
“Random intervals when I remember… about once per month.”
No wonder why many runners find it difficult to lose weight. Their training isn’t structured to promote weight loss.
And it’s not just fast workouts, either. The progression of workouts, “extras, ” long runs, and even frequency of running all work together to help you lose weight.
Ongoing exercise is also critical for weight management. People who have successfully lost weight and kept it off almost always exercise regularly. That’s why smart training is an integral piece to permanent weight loss.
To see how you can train smarter, check out the PR Race Plan or the full Injury Prevention for Runners program.
But in addition to training correctly, your food choices make a vital contribution to your weight loss goals as well.
Curb Your Appetite and Lose Weight (No Dieting Required)
I despise diets. I really detest them. They’re unsustainable and gimmicky – whether you’re following Zone, Jenny Craig, or Atkins, you’re ultimately doing one thing: eating a low-calorie diet. And we’ve learned that low-calorie diets won’t allow you to run to your full potential.
But with better food choices, we can control weight gain and prevent it from coming back once it’s (finally) lost. While I’m not a nutritionist – nor do I play one on the internet – there are several tried and true methods of controlling your hunger and shedding unwanted pounds.