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Does Running Burn Fat? 8 Tips To Lose Weight Running

Turn your runs into effective fat-burning sessions.

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Among the many physical and mental health benefits of running, plenty of runners lace up their running shoes and put in the miles with the goal of running to burn fat.

But, does running burn fat? Does jogging burn fat?

Running is a high intensity exercise, so it can be an effective way to burn calories and support weight loss as opposed to other lower intensity forms of exercise.

In this guide, we will discuss how to capitalize on the fat burning benefits of running so that you can enjoy the sport while reaching your health and body composition goals.

A person measuring their waist with a tape measure.

Does Running Burn Fat?

Before discussing whether running burns fat and aids weight loss, let’s discuss how fat loss occurs.

How Do You Burn Fat?

The general principle of losing weight is that you have to create a calorie deficit

Body fat—known as adipose tissue—is essentially a reserve of stored energy that accumulates when you have a caloric surplus. 

This means that you will gain fat when you eat more calories than your body burns daily.

To lose weight, you have to create a calorie deficit, which involves the opposite: burning more calories than you are consuming. 

When you are in a caloric deficit, your body turns to sources of stored energy—namely glycogen, which is the storage form of carbohydrates found primarily in the liver and skeletal muscles, and adipose tissue, which is your subcutaneous fat and visceral fat storage.

A person looking at their calorie count on their phone.

To lose one pound of stored body fat, you have to create a calorie deficit of approximately 3500 calories. 

This means that if you want to lose one pound of fat per week, you should aim to generate an average calorie deficit of 500 calories per day.

An important side note here is that people often use the term “weight loss“ when “fat loss“ is what they are actually seeking. 

Body weight refers to the entire weight of your body including fat tissue, muscle, bone, nerves, blood, organs, water, etc. 

You can lose weight from one day to the next simply by drinking less fluid and dehydrating yourself, but this is not true fat loss

Similarly, when you are on a weight loss diet with the goal of reducing your body fat percentage, you actually want to preserve lean body mass at all costs because losing muscle mass will slow down your metabolic rate

Muscle tissue is significantly more metabolically active than fat tissue, so when you lose muscle mass, the number of calories you burn at rest per day, quantified by your basal metabolic rate (BMR), will decrease. 

This will make it harder to sustain long-term weight loss because you will have to continually eat less food and consume fewer calories to remain in a calorie deficit. 

Plus, muscle tissue contributes to your functional and athletic strength. Thus, when you lose muscle mass, you will not be able to work out as vigorously, which will further reduce your caloric expenditure and functional strength and performance.

Therefore, while it may be more of a matter of using the correct verbiage than an improper fitness goal, the true goal should be to lose fat rather than lose weight.

A sign that says fat burning and a variety of food surrounding it such as fish.

How Do You Lose Fat?

We have just discussed that you have to create a calorie deficit to lose fat, but how do you generate this calorie deficit necessary for fat loss?

As mentioned, there are two sides to the equation for fat loss—calories in versus calories out.

To be in a calorie deficit, the “calories in“ side of this relationship needs to be lower than the “calories out” side. In other words, we need to burn more total calories than we take in.

The “calories in” refers to your diet: the number of calories you are getting through the foods and beverages you consume in a day. This is why your diet plays a significant role in your weight loss efforts.

“Calories out“ or your calorie expenditure is more complicated as there are four primary constituent components to your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE):

  • BMR: Basal metabolic rate, or how many calories you burn in 24 hours at rest just to sustain your life.
  • Exercise: Known as “exercise adaptive thermogenesis” (EAT), this is the number of calories you burn per day running or doing distinct workouts.
  • Daily Life Physical Activity: Known as “non-exercise adaptive thermogenesis” (NEAT), this is the number of calories you burn per day doing any type of physical activity above resting conditions aside from planned workouts. Examples include standing at your job, cooking, grocery shopping, playing with your kids, climbing the stairs, vacuuming your house, etc.
  • Digesting Food: Known as the “thermic effect of food,“ this refers to the number of calories your body spends digesting and absorbing the nutrients in the food that you eat.
Food items with their caloroie count on them.

Is Running Good For Weight Loss?

Running, like any form of exercise, factors into the exercise portion of your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).

The number of calories that you burn running will depend on numerous factors, primarily your body weight, the duration of your run, the intensity/speed, and whether or not you are running up an incline. 

The more you weigh, the more calories you will burn doing any type of exercise because it is more work to move a heavier body mass.

To fuel this “work,” your body has to oxidize more stored glycogen and body fat to generate the ATP (energy) necessary for your muscles to contract and produce force.

In general, based on your body weight, your body will burn a certain number of calories per mile. 

Therefore, the further you run, the more calories you will burn. 

An overweight person running to burn fat.

Although there is a slight difference in the number of calories you will burn at different running speeds if the same person runs 5 miles at 8 mph or 5 miles at 5 mph, the caloric expenditure will be roughly equivalent. 

Where you will see major differences in the calories burned running between any two workouts is when you are looking at time rather than distance. 

Here, your running speed will have a significant impact on the calories burned in your running workout.

Consider our above example with someone running 5 miles at 8 mph or 5 miles at 5 mph. 

If, instead of using distance as a guide for how long the workout would be, the same person decided to run for time, we would see large differences in the number of calories burned running at these different paces.

Let’s imagine that the runner trains for 30 minutes. 

When he or she runs 30 minutes at 8 mph, the total distance of the run is 4 miles. 

On the other hand, a 30 minute run when you are running 5 mph will equate to only 2.5 miles.

This difference of 1.5 miles will result in significantly more calories burned during the faster run because more distance has been covered.

Studies have found that aerobic exercise, such as running, can help decrease visceral fat (and thus the dangerous belly fat).1Ismail, I., Keating, S. E., Baker, M. K., & Johnson, N. A. (2011). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of aerobic vs. resistance exercise training on visceral fat. Obesity Reviews13(1), 68–91. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-789x.2011.00931.x

One final note about running for weight loss is that running has the potential to increase appetite for some people. 

When this occurs, the runner may engage in something called “compensatory eating,“ which means that after the workout is over, the appetite increase is such that the person ends up eating back all of the calories (if not more). 

While it is very important to refuel after your workouts to support recovery, if you are overeating the rest of the day because you have become ravenous, you will negate the caloric deficit you try to create by running.

Interestingly, not everyone seems to respond the same in terms of appetite after exercise.2Beaulieu, K., Hopkins, M., Blundell, J., & Finlayson, G. (2018). Homeostatic and non-homeostatic appetite control along the spectrum of physical activity levels: An updated perspective. Physiology and Behavior192, 23–29. https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/126090/

‌You will need to see whether running increases or decreases your appetite. 

You can also play around with the timing of your runs relative to your meals to see how to schedule best running and eating to control appetite while still feeling well-fueled for your running workouts.

An overweight person jogging.

How Do I Lose Fat Running?

Here are a few tips for incorporating running into your fat loss routine:

#1: Start Out Slow

Beginners should start slowly by taking a walk/run approach3WILLIAMS, P. T. (2013). Walking and Running are Associated with Similar Reductions in Cataract Risk. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise45(6), 1089–1096. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e31828121d0 with intervals of running and walking during your workouts.

Gradually increase the duration of the running intervals and decrease the duration and frequency of the walking breaks as your fitness level improves.

#2: Follow a Training Plan

Particularly if you are a beginner runner, using a running plan can help ensure that you are progressing gradually enough to help prevent injuries while still building cardio endurance for long-distance running. 

#3: Keep Your Running Workouts Varied

The best running plans will include more than one type of running workout.

Low intensity longer runs burn calories and provide the cardiovascular health benefits of running without taxing the body as much.

Higher intensity workouts such as interval running improve performance and accelerate weight loss due to the higher heart rate and oxygen consumption.

The type of running workout that you do will also provide different aerobic fitness and/or anaerobic fitness benefits.

By improving your fitness level, you will be able to run longer and faster without stopping. This will help you burn calories running more efficiently and significantly.

A person cycling.

#4: Cross Train

Add low-impact cross training exercises to your cardio workout routine to supplement running.

Cross training workouts don’t have to be low intensity, but exercises like cycling, swimming, elliptical training, hiking, and stair climbing lessen the impact stresses4NILSSON, J., & THORSTENSSON, A. (1989). Ground reaction forces at different speeds of human walking and running. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica136(2), 217–227. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1716.1989.tb08655.x on your bones, joints, and body at large.

This will help reduce the risk of injuries while still burning calories, increasing your heart rate and improving your cardiovascular fitness.

#5: Be Consistent

You will not experience appreciable decreases in belly fat from running if you are only running once or twice a week.

Although you should start with just every other day to prevent overuse injuries, as you adapt to the stresses of running, make sure that you are running or performing some type of cardio exercise at least 4 to 5 days per week so that you burn calories.

A person stepping onto a track.

#6: Try Interval Running

Incorporate intervals of high-intensity running into your running workouts once or twice a week to help stoke your metabolism and support fat loss.5Coker, R. H., Williams, R. H., Kortebein, P. M., Sullivan, D. H., & Evans, W. J. (2009). Influence of Exercise Intensity on Abdominal Fat and Adiponectin in Elderly Adults. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders7(4), 363–368. https://doi.org/10.1089/met.2008.0060

‌One study6Viana, R. B., Naves, J. P. A., Coswig, V. S., de Lira, C. A. B., Steele, J., Fisher, J. P., & Gentil, P. (2019). Is interval training the magic bullet for fat loss? A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing moderate-intensity continuous training with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). British Journal of Sports Medicine53(10), bjsports-2018-099928. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-099928 that compared body composition changes with moderate-intensity exercise at a steady pace with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) found that HIIT burned 28.5% more absolute fat mass overall over the same period of time.

#7: Run Hills

Hill sprints are a great way to do higher intensity running while building muscle to burn calories and accelerate weight loss.

Make sure to balance running with strength training to build muscle or at least maintain your muscle mass.

You should be doing 2 to 3 full-body strength training workouts per week focusing on all of the major muscle groups. Lean body mass increases metabolic rate to help you burn more calories at rest and while running.

A person doing a barbell back squat.

#8: Be Mindful Of Your Diet

Make sure that you are fueling your body before and after your workouts but also taking a nutritious, balanced, calorie-controlled approach to your eating to support fat loss.

So, can running burn fat?

Overall, running can be a great way to lose weight and burn fat. 

However, there are many other physical and mental health benefits of running aside from burning calories.

Keep in mind that even if you do not lose weight by running (if that is your goal), you are still improving your cardiovascular health and overall wellness.

Consider working with a registered dietitian, sports nutritionist, and personal trainer to help you find a diet and running plan that supports you on your weight loss journey.

You’ll have all your bases covered to run your first race! 

For a beginner training plan for your first 5k, check out this next guide:

References

  • 1
    Ismail, I., Keating, S. E., Baker, M. K., & Johnson, N. A. (2011). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of aerobic vs. resistance exercise training on visceral fat. Obesity Reviews13(1), 68–91. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-789x.2011.00931.x
  • 2
    Beaulieu, K., Hopkins, M., Blundell, J., & Finlayson, G. (2018). Homeostatic and non-homeostatic appetite control along the spectrum of physical activity levels: An updated perspective. Physiology and Behavior192, 23–29. https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/126090/
  • 3
    WILLIAMS, P. T. (2013). Walking and Running are Associated with Similar Reductions in Cataract Risk. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise45(6), 1089–1096. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e31828121d0
  • 4
    NILSSON, J., & THORSTENSSON, A. (1989). Ground reaction forces at different speeds of human walking and running. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica136(2), 217–227. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1716.1989.tb08655.x
  • 5
    Coker, R. H., Williams, R. H., Kortebein, P. M., Sullivan, D. H., & Evans, W. J. (2009). Influence of Exercise Intensity on Abdominal Fat and Adiponectin in Elderly Adults. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders7(4), 363–368. https://doi.org/10.1089/met.2008.0060
  • 6
    Viana, R. B., Naves, J. P. A., Coswig, V. S., de Lira, C. A. B., Steele, J., Fisher, J. P., & Gentil, P. (2019). Is interval training the magic bullet for fat loss? A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing moderate-intensity continuous training with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). British Journal of Sports Medicine53(10), bjsports-2018-099928. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-099928
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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