Running For Weight Loss: Complete Guide, Training Plan + 6 Pro Tips

There are many fantastic reasons to run: improving the health of your heart and lungs, getting outside and breathing in the fresh air, decreasing stress and boosting your mood, setting and accomplishing goals, meeting new friends and having meaningful discussions mile after mile, and so on.  

Another major reason that many people take up the sport of running is to lose weight. Running is a very efficient form of exercise when it comes to burning calories because it’s a high-intensity, total-body activity.

Although it can be more comfortable to cite the other benefits of running as the motivation behind becoming a runner, there really should be no shame in wanting to run to lose weight. 

You should not feel embarrassed or self-conscious if you are mostly running to help you lose weight. Running is great for your body and a smart way to accelerate weight loss and support a healthy metabolism.

As you run your way to a healthier weight, you’re likely to fall in love with the sport as well. In this article, we will explore running for weight loss, discuss the number of calories you burn running, and provide tips for losing weight running.

We will look at: 

  • Can You Lose Weight Running?
  • Running To Lose Weight
  • How Many Calories Do You Burn Running?
  • Does Running Burn Fat?
  • Walking vs Running for Weight Loss
  • 6-Week Running To Lose Weight Plan

Let’s get started!

Can You Lose Weight Running?

One of the most common questions amongst new runners is, “Can you lose weight running?”

The answer is a resounding yes. You can absolutely lose weight running because running burns calories. 

To lose weight, you have to create a caloric deficit. This means that you consume fewer calories than you burn.

To lose one pound of stored body fat, you have to create a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories. To quantify this in terms of time, if you want to lose one pound per week, you need to burn 500 calories more per day than you eat.

The calories you burn per day depend on your basal metabolic rate (BMR), the calories you burn from exercise and activities of daily living, and the calories needed to metabolize the food you eat.

A runner on a trail.

Note that BMR refers to the calories your body burns at rest just to maintain your basic functions like breathing. 

The American Council on Exercise reports that your BMR represents about 60-75% of the total calories you burn in a day, with your physical activity and dietary-induced thermogenesis (calories burned digesting food) contributing the rest.

Running can help you lose weight if you’re using it to create a caloric deficit with your diet. 

For example, if you need to eat 2,000 calories per day to maintain your weight, and you start running and burn 500 calories per day in your workouts, you will start to lose about one pound per week with your running workouts if you still consume only 2,000 calories per day.

However, if you are eating 2,500 calories a day or more, even if you burn 500 calories per day running, you will not lose weight.

Two runners on treadmills.

Running To Lose Weight

Weight loss is “simple”, but not “easy.” In other words, while in theory, you just need to eat fewer calories than you burn in a day to lose weight (a simple concept), actually getting yourself to habitually create a caloric deficit so that you do lose weight is difficult. 

Humans aren’t robots or computers running on automatic programs. Food, eating, exercise, hunger, and stress, which can all affect your weight loss results, are muddied by a complex web of factors like our emotions, social life and culture, hormones, habits, psychology, and even chemicals and ingredients in the foods we eat.

All this is to say that running can play a key role in your weight loss journey, but in most cases, running for weight loss is most effective when your weight loss efforts include dialing in your nutrition and making the necessary dietary adjustments as well.

Moreover, running can potentially increase your appetite, so some people find that they actually gain weight after starting running because they are eating more food.

One study noted that up to 75% of exercisers engage in compensatory eating, meaning that they increase their food intake after the workout. This study found that exercise increased the amount of food eaten and shifted food choices as well to more immediately-gratifying options. 

If your goal is running for weight loss, it’s important to make sensible food choices that are nutritionally dense but not calorically dense.

In other words, foods that are healthy and filling—such as vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins—will help keep you nourished and satiated without feeling famished.

A variety of healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits and proteins.

How Many Calories Do You Burn Running?

The number of calories you burn in any workout depends not only on the type of exercise you’re doing but also on your body weight and composition and the duration and intensity of your workout. 

Unless you’re in an exercise physiology lab hooked up to metabolic testing equipment, the number of calories you burn will be an estimate.

Harvard Health Publishing reports that running for 30 minutes at 5 mph (12 min/mile pace or 8 kph) burns 240 calories for a 125-pound person, 288 calories for a 155-pound person, and 336 calories for a 185-pound person.

Running for 30 minutes at 6 mph (10 min/mile pace) burns 295 calories for a 125-pound person, 360 calories for a 155-pound person, and 420 calories for a 185-pound person. 

Finally, running at a vigorous 10 mph (6 min/mile pace) burns 453 calories for a 125-pound person, 562 calories for a 155-pound person, and 671 calories for a 185-pound person.

A pair of dumbbells, an apple, a scale, and a measuring tape.

The best way to estimate the number of calories you burn running for your own personal workout is to wear a heart rate monitor or fitness tracker. The estimated caloric expenditure will be more accurate if your heart rate is measured.

You can also use your heart rate data to gauge your effort level and then use the formula for Metabolic Equivalents (METs) to calculate the number of calories you burn running.

The Compendium of Physical Activities reports that running can be the equivalent of approximately 6-20 METS or so, depending on the stroke and intensity or effort level. For example, running 5 miles per hour, or 8 kilometers per hour, has a METs value of 8.3.

You can see the various METS for running at different paces in the table below:

METSPace (mph)Pace (kph)
6.04 mph (15 min/mile) 6.4 kph
8.35 mph (12 min/mile) 8 kph
9.05.2 mph (11.5 min/mile) 8.37 kph
9.86 mph (10 min/mile) 9.66 kph
10.56.7 mph (9 min/mile) 10.78 kph
11.07 mph (8.5 min/mile)  11.27 kph
11.57.5 mph (8 min/mile) 12.1 kph
11.88 mph (7.5 min/mile)12.87 kph
12.38.6 mph (7 min/mile)  13.84 kph
12.89 mph (6.5 min/mile)  14.48 kph
14.510 mph (6 min/mile)  16.1 kph
16.011 mph (5.5 min/mile) 17.7 kph
19.012 mph (5 min/mile) 13.3 kph
19.813 mph (4.6 min/mile)20.92 kph

Using these METs values, you can calculate the number of calories burned running based on your body weight and duration of your workout using the equation to determine energy expenditure:

Calories Burned Per Minute = METs x 3.5 x (your body weight in kilograms) / 200 

For example, if you weigh 165 pounds (75 kg) and run 6 miles per hour or 9.66 kph, which is estimated to be 9.8 METS: 9.8 METS x 3.5 x 75 / 200 = 12.86 calories per minute.

Then, if you run for 30 minutes, you multiply the number of calories burned per minute by 30 minutes = 12.86 x 30 = 386 calories. 

In another example, if the same runner increases the pace to 8 mph (12.87 kph), which is estimated to be 11.8 METS: 11.8 METS x 3.5 x 75 / 200 = 15.5 calories per minute.

Then, if you run for 30 minutes, you multiply the number of calories burned per minute by 30 minutes = 15.5 x 30 = 465 calories. 

It can be seen that the calories burned running depends on the pace you run, the duration of your run, and your weight.

A person holding his large pair of jeans open and giving a thumbs up.

Does Running Burn Fat?

When most people set out to “lose weight,” what they are really striving for is losing body fat. “Weight” can refer to any part of your overall body weight, including lean tissue like muscle and bone.

Excess body fat, referred to as adipose tissue, is what is associated with a higher risk of diseases such as heart disease, type two diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, certain cancers, and all-cause mortality.

The answer to the question of “Does running burn fat?” is not as straightforward as you may think.

Running burns fat in two ways. While you run, your body burns stored fat for fuel and consistent running can help you lose fat tissue if you’re in a caloric deficit.

During any type of physical activity, the muscles have to create energy to perform work, so you oxidize, or burn, stored fuel for energy. 

A person standing on a scale.

Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in muscles and the liver, fat is stored as triglycerides in fat tissue, and protein is what forms the structural proteins in muscle tissue.

Interestingly, when you run faster or harder, although you burn a greater number of calories overall, the relative percentage of these calories from fat decreases.

At pretty much any given exercise intensity, you’re burning some of every type of fuel, although carbohydrates and fat are the primary fuel sources for muscles during exercise.

The relative percentage of each fuel source your body oxidizes for energy depends on the intensity and duration of the workout.

Although somewhat of a gross simplification, at lower intensities, fat is the primary fuel. As the exercise intensity increases, the relative percentage of carbohydrates increases significantly. 

For example, if you think about heart rate zones, workouts done in zone 1 or zone 2 are predominantly fueled by burning fat, whereas more vigorous workouts in zones 3, 4, or 5, are primarily fueled by oxidizing carbohydrates, or glycogen, for energy.

A person running on a trail.

Therefore, when you do a hard run or really push the pace, a greater percentage of the calories you are burning are coming from stored carbohydrates rather than fat. 

However, as mentioned, while stored fat will be serving as a smaller percentage of the calories burned, the total number of calories burned will be higher. In this way, you still might burn more calories from fat during a vigorous run.

Consider the following scenario:

If you do an easy jog for 30 minutes in zone 2, you might burn 300 calories, of which 60% come from fat and 40% come from carbohydrates.

In this fictitious scenario, you would therefore burn 180 calories from fat and 120 from carbohydrates. 

Note that protein usually provides less than 10% of the total energy needed for exercise except in extreme situations such as starvation, ketosis, or very long and intense workouts.

A scale, a pair of sneakers, and a measuring tape.

Then, imagine you do a hard workout with mostly zone 3 and zone 4 work. You again run 30 minutes, but this time, because you ran much faster, you ran further and burned 500 calories.

Because the intensity was higher, carbohydrates supplied 60% of the energy and fat contributed 40%.

This means that you burned 300 calories from carbohydrates and 200 calories from fat. 

Therefore, even though fat comprised a lower percentage of fuel you burned, you still burned more calories from fat than you did during the easy run.

Finally, as previously discussed, you will lose body fat when you are in a sustained caloric deficit at the rate of one pound per 3,500 calories.

The calories you burn running can generate this deficit and help you burn fat.

A woman drinking water.

6 Tips for Running for Weight Loss

If your primary goal of running is to lose weight, here are some tips that can help with running for weight loss:

#1: Refuel As Soon As You Can

Even if you are running for weight loss, it’s important to not starve yourself or withhold calories after running.

Refueling as soon as possible, with at least a snack, ideally within 30 minutes of finishing your run or workout is ideal. It will give your body nutrients to start recovering.

Most nutritionists recommend a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein in your post-workout meal or snack. Aiming for at least 75 grams of carbohydrates and 20 grams of protein is ideal. 

#2: Eat a High-Quality Diet

The more nutritious your overall diet, the healthier you’ll feel whether you’re running or not.

Focus on whole, natural foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean proteins, eggs, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and low-fat dairy.

Limit processed foods, excessive sugar and salt, artificial sweeteners, and hydrogenated oils.

A person running.

#3: Do Intervals

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great way to increase your exercise intensity and your caloric expenditure.

Try alternating sprints or fast running with jogging or easy recovery periods for a metabolically-demanding workout.

#4: Gradually Increase Duration

The further you run, the more calories you will burn. When you first start running, you might only be able to run for a few seconds at time before you need a walk break, but over time, gradually increase the overall time of your walk/runs and start increasing the percentage of time spent running. 

For example, if you start with 10 minutes of walking for 1 minute and running for 30 seconds, progress to 15 minutes at the same pattern. As you get fitter, advance to 1 minute of jogging and 1 minute of walking, and then 1 minute of jogging followed by 30 seconds of walking.

A person's feet, a scale, and a measuring tape.

#5: Befriend Cross Training

Because running is a high-impact activity, it’s not a good idea to run every day, especially if you are just starting out. You need to take at least one full rest day per week to give your muscles and bones time to recover and adapt.

However, you can add low-impact cross-training like cycling, swimming, rowing, or elliptical to stay active and improve your aerobic fitness while using different muscles and reducing the impact on your bones and joints. 

#6: Add Strength Training

Our 6-week running for weight loss training plan includes two total-body strength training workouts per week.

Strength training not only can help prevent running injuries, but it can also support weight loss.

Strength training increases your lean body mass, the primary determinant of your metabolic rate, or the number of calories you burn in a day.

By putting on more muscle mass, your body cranks through more calories, which helps you burn body fat and optimize your body composition for running.

A tablet that says weight loss, a measuring tape, and orange slices.

Walking vs Running for Weight Loss

You can absolutely use both walking and running for weight loss. Either form of exercise will burn calories and help you create the caloric deficit you need to lose weight.

With that said, running is a more efficient way to lose weight because you burn more calories per minute running than walking since the intensity is higher.

One study found that running was a more effective means at losing weight and reducing BMI than walking, especially over time.

Although you can lose weight walking, you’ll have to spend much more time walking to torch the same number of calories you might burn during a 30-minute run.

Harvard Health Publishing reports that 30 minutes of walking at a moderate pace of 3.5 miles per hour (17 minutes per mile) burns about 107 calories for a 125-pound person, 133 calories for a 155-pound person, and 159 calories for an 185-pound person. 

Walking at a brisk pace of 4.0 miles per hour (15 minutes per mile) for 30 minutes burns about 135 calories for a 125-pound person, 175 calories for a 155-pound person, and 189 calories for an 185-pound person.

A person running on the road.

6-Week Running To Lose Weight Plan

The following 6-week running for weight loss training plan is designed to serve as a starting place for beginners looking to lose weight running. You can modify the workouts as needed, and above all, listen to your body.

Warm up: Brisk walk for 5 min

Workout:
10 x 30 seconds run/1 min walk

5 min cool down walk
(20 min total)
20 minutes cross training

15 minutes of total-body strength training
RestWarm up: Brisk walk for 5 min

Workout:
10 x 1 min run/1 min walk
(20 min total)
20 minutes cross trainingWarm up: Brisk walk for 5 min

Workout:
11 x 1 min run/1 min walk
(22 min total)
15-20 minutes of total-body strength training and optional 20 minute walk
Warm up: 5 min brisk walk

Workout:
10 x 90 sec run/1 min walk
(30 min total)
20-30 min cross training

15-20 minutes of total-body strength training
RestWarm up: Brisk walk for 5 min

Workout:
10 x 2 min run/1 min walk
(30 min total)
30-40 minutes cross trainingWarm up:
5 min brisk walk

Workout:10 x 90 sec run/30 sec walk
(25 min total)
20 minutes of total-body strength training and optional 20 minute walk
Warm up: 5 min brisk walk

Workout:
8 x 2:30 min run/1 min walk
(30 min total)
30 minutes cross training

20 minutes of total-body strength training 
RestWarm up:
5 min brisk walk

Workout:
8 x 3 min run/1 min walk
(32 min total)
35-40 minutes cross trainingWarm up: 5 min brisk walk

Workout:
6 x 4 min run/1 min walk
(29 min total)
20 minutes of total-body strength training and 20 minute walk
Warm up: 5 min brisk walk

Workout:
5 x 5 min run/1 min walk
(30 min total)
30 minutes cross training

20 minutes of total-body strength training 
RestWarm up:
5 min brisk walk

Workout:2 x 10 min run/2 min walk
(27 min total)
40 minutes cross trainingWarm up:
5 min brisk walk

Workout:
2 x 10 min run/30 sec walk
(22 min total)
20 minutes of total-body strength training and 30 minute walk
Warm up: 5 min brisk walk

Workout:
20-25 min run non stop
(25-30 min total)
30 minutes cross training

20 minutes of total-body strength training 
RestWarm up:
5 min
brisk walk

Workout:
10 x 30-60 second hill sprints

Cool down: Jog 10 minutes
40-45 minutes cross trainingWarm up:
5 min brisk walk

Workout:
24 minute run with 1 minute fast running, 2 minutes jogging for 8 sets 
(29 min total)
20 minutes of total-body strength training and 35 minute walk
Warm up: 5 min brisk walk

Workout:
30-35 min run non stop
(35-40 min total)
30 minutes cross training

20 minutes of total-body strength training 
RestWarm up:
5 min brisk walk

Workout:
12 x 30-60 second hill sprints

Cool down: Jog 10 minutes
40-45 minutes cross trainingWarm up:
5 min brisk walk

Workout:
26 minute run with 1 minute fast running, 1 minute jogging for 13 sets 
(31 min total)
20 minutes of total-body strength training and 40 minute walk

Keep in mind that burning calories and losing weight is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of running, so lace up your shoes and enjoy your run no matter what happens to the numbers on the scale!

If you would like to put a distance goal in place as you begin running, try out our Couch to 5k training plans!

A person with a measuring tape around their waist, giving a thumbs up.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. 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.

6 thoughts on “Running For Weight Loss: Complete Guide, Training Plan + 6 Pro Tips”

    • Boni,
      I get it – starting can be the hardest part.

      Break it into small steps, and take the first one. Then see if you can take the second one.

      Whatever small progress you make is better than doing nothing.

      Thomas

      Reply
  1. Loved to try this, as I trained for my 1st ever marathon (2nd attemp!) from last November, and incorporated the S&C with suspension trainer, with 2days of strength (run base) training & 2days long run back to back at the weekend. No weight loss at all. But had to stop due to got attacked by the grates on my 19th miles (managed to get 1.55miles in before the ambulance picked me up 🤦🏻‍♀️)
    So this going to be my 3rd attempt 😬😬

    Reply

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