“Does running burn fat?” is probably the first question on your lips as you set out to lose weight.
Whether you want to trim your body to become a little leaner, or whether your goal is losing a lot of weight in a sustainable way, running can help you do that.
But to get the best results from your running, you want to be sure you’re running at the right pace, distance, and amount to maximize your weight loss.
This article explores how the body loses weight through running and how you can actually lose weight from running.
Let’s jump in!
Does Running Burn Fat?
You may be surprised to hear this, but everything you do burns fat…even sitting still. Burning fat is a method your body uses to create energy and help you do all the things your body needs to stay alive – like breathing and digesting food.
The question is, does the body burn more fat while running than it does while sitting?
When talking about weight loss, you’ll hear people mentioning two things: burning fat and burning calories. You should know that these two activities are not the same thing.
Your body uses both fat and glycogen (made from carbohydrates) to create energy. The reason you burn more fat while sitting still or moving at low intensity is that your brain uses oxygen to burn fat.
As soon as you start running, jogging, or performing at a higher intensity, you become short on oxygen (out of breath). So your brain then focuses on creating energy through carbohydrates.
So you will actually burn more fat by walking or lightly jogging, rather than running at a fast pace.
If this is not the answer you were expecting you should note: burning fat is not synonymous with weight loss. In order to lose weight, your main focus should not be burning fat, but actually burning calories. You have to burn more calories than you consume.
Related: What Does Running Do To Your Body?
Is Running Good for Weight Loss?
To answer this question, we’ve interviewed expert runners and athletes to find out how running affects weight loss, through their experience (and that of their clients).
Garret Seacat, NSCA and CSCS certified endurance coach at Absolute Endurance, coaches runners, cyclists, and triathletes on a daily basis.
“When it comes to working out, some is better than none and more is better than some. So should you put on your running shoes and hit it hard or take a relaxing walk when time is short and you only have 30 minutes?
The answer is actually quite easy to answer when you are looking to drop weight and improve your health. The average young adult will burn 26% more calories during the run (6 mph) than compared to a walk (3 mph).
While substantial, the results are increased even more dramatically when you take this into account: those who completed the run kept a higher metabolism for 15 minutes compared to the walking group whose metabolism slowed again after just 10 minutes. That makes a 43% increase in calories burned over a 30 minute period!
- Related: Does Running Give You Abs?
Aerobic exercise also shows significantly better results for weight loss compared to lifting weights. So if your goal is weight loss, aerobic exercise (walking or running) burns a statistically significant more amount of fat.
How much more? Using RER (respiratory exchange ratio) in a lab setting, they were able to show that individuals on a treadmill burned 10 times the amount of fat per minute than those who were lifting weights!
Does that mean you should put the weights away if you are trying to drop weight? Absolutely not. When combining both aerobic exercise and lifting weights for a total of 30 minutes a day 5 times a week, individuals showed the same weight loss as those who did only aerobic exercise and significantly more than those who did weights only.”
Keep in mind that muscle is heavier than fat. So while weight lifting doesn’t help you lose weight, it is an extremely beneficial addition to your running. If you’re looking to tone your body to look more fit, the best way to do that is by combining strength building with running.
Related: Weightlifting for Runners
So what type of running will help you achieve the most effective weight loss?
Joel Runyon, endurance athlete and founder of IMPOSSIBLE, a performance lifestyle brand helping people do the impossible, advises runners to think beyond just stepping out the front door and going for a jog.
“If you’re looking to just purely change your body composition or get six-pack abs – long-distance running is not the best tool to achieve that goal. You’re much better off doing a HIIT + sprint combination type workout.”
Doing high-intensity training not only helps you burn calories faster than a slow run but also boosts your metabolism – which means your body will continue burning fat long after you stop running. HIIT workouts can cause you to burn fat and calories, which spurs weight loss even more.
Related: The Incredible Benefits of Sprinting
How to Lose Weight Running
Don’t forget that, ultimately, the only way to lose weight is through a calorie deficit. You have to burn more calories than you take in.
To make sure that happens, you have to be eating foods that fuel your run . . . while being sure you don’t overeat and throw off the calorie deficit.
The best way to do that is this: learn how many calories are in each type of food you eat. Download a calorie counter on your phone and start tracking everything you eat to find out your daily calorie intake.
Then, match that to the number of calories you burn (most running gadgets will automatically track that for you).
3 Running Workouts for Weight Loss
These 3 workouts are all effective methods to help you lose weight while running.
1. HIIT Running
Runyan offers up his recommendation for the easiest, simplest HIIT workout.
“The easiest running workout in the world (for fat loss) is 20 minutes of interval sprints:
- Run hard for 30 seconds (aim for 9 out of 10 in Rate of Perceived Exertion)
- Then rest for 60 seconds (2 out of 10 RPE)
- Then run again for 30 seconds
- Repeat for 15 or 20 minutes
It’s much faster and more effective for improving body composition than running long distances (and that’s coming from someone who runs ultramarathons for fun!).”
- Related: How Much Walking for Weight Loss?
2. 6-Day Workout Plan
Jordan Hardin is a certified ACE Personal Trainer and Institute for Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She started her own weight loss journey in 2018 weighing 30 pounds more than she currently weighs. As the owner of Jordi B Health and Fitness, she shares the running plan that helped her lose (for good) her own extra weight.
Monday: Sprints and Intervals (1.5 to 2 miles)
Tuesday: Lower Body Strength Workout (40 minutes)
Wednesday: Other cardio training, such as hiking, bike, rowing machine, elliptical
Thursday: Upper Body Strength Workout (40 mins)
Friday: Rest (Read about recovery workouts here)
Saturday: Long Distance Run (6 miles)
“I use this to help my current clients as well, and adjust the distances and time based on their fitness levels!”
3. Multi-Training Workout
Joy Puleo, M.A., PMA-CPT, and Education Program Manager for the pilates studio, Balanced Body, incorporates other training workouts as a complement to running.
How to Burn Fat
If you’re wondering, “Does running burn stomach fat?” Puleo answers your question here:
“Fat needs oxygen to burn. Cardio and rhythmic whole-body exercise are excellent ways to tap into fat stores. If you are doing cardio with the intention of tapping into fat stores, you want your pace to be fast enough that your body requires more oxygen; hence, your breathing rate increases, but not too fast that you exhaust.
When your oxygen need meets your muscle need, you are in what is often called ‘the zone’ and it is a place you can sustain for a period of time. If your muscles are crying out for more and your heart rate rises too high in order to try to meet the demand, your original smart device, your body, will shut down the fat burn and burn readily available fuels, such as carbohydrates.
Not the intention at all!
- Cycling, running/jogging moderate, longer duration with periods of higher intensity spikes
- HIIT training can work here, provided you build up to the high intensity then back off to more sustainable levels of intensity.
Body weight training and resistance training are excellent ways to trigger long-term fat burning. Again, your body is brilliant. When you train against resistance, you are building muscle mass. As you train against a resistance, be it a weight or gravity, you are often training anaerobically, which is a fancy way of saying ‘not in the presence of oxygen.’
However, as the muscles repair and gain in strength, the metabolism changes such that at rest, fat is being used as energy. This is exactly what we are looking for, to rev the engines so that when we are not exercising you are still burning fat for fuel.
My favorite 3 exercises for this purpose are:
- Rhythmic whole-body exercises like Mountain Climbers, Jumping Squats and Burpees
- Whole body static exercises such as Plank holds, Wall Squats – nothing says burn like an isometric hold!
- Pilates series of 5 (Single Leg Stretch, Double Leg Stretch, Single Straight Leg Stretch, Double Straight Leg Stretch and Criss Cross) – When done successively they make for excellent abdominal and leg exercises, which really challenge and heat up the core and rev up the metabolism.”
Once you’ve explored the question, Does running burn fat? you may find that you’re the type of person who needs a tangible goal to work towards (like a distance goal). Check out our free 5k training plan and work towards that! Our training plan includes a walk/run plan to get you running without stopping and advice on what to eat and strength training.
You’ll have all your bases covered to run your first race!
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