Running, like any form of exercise, burns calories, so it can be an effective way to generate the caloric deficit you need to burn body fat and lose weight.
However, when you are running for weight loss, it’s often not as simple as just lacing up your running shoes, heading out for a run, and watching the pounds fall off from one week to the next.
To optimize your ability to lose weight running, you have to know how many calories you are burning in your workouts so that you can appropriately adjust the number of calories you are eating while simultaneously ensuring you are fueling your body well enough to support your training and overall health.
In this article, we will discuss running for weight loss, including how to lose weight running, and tips for running to lose weight.
We will look at:
- Does Running Help You Lose Weight?
- Is Running Enough for Weight Loss?
- How Many Calories Do You Burn Running?
- How Much Should You Run to Lose Weight?
- 6 Tips for Running To Lose Weight
Let’s get started!
Does Running Help You Lose Weight?
The most important first question to address when you are looking at the option of running to lose weight is, “Does running help you lose weight?”
You can absolutely lose weight running because running burns calories and increases your metabolic rate.
For example, one study found that running was a more effective means of losing weight and reducing BMI than walking, especially over time.
Running can accelerate weight loss by increasing your energy expenditure, making it easier to consistently maintain a modest caloric deficit.
However, it’s also possible that you will not lose weight running, and some people even gain weight running.
Is Running Enough for Weight Loss?
Running can play a key role in your weight loss journey, but in most cases, running is most effective for weight loss when you also dial in your nutrition and make the necessary dietary adjustments as well.
When running to lose weight, the key to success is also making sensible food choices that are nutritionally dense but not calorically dense. To keep you nourished and satiated without feeling famished, focus on foods that are healthy and filling—such as vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins.
Weight loss is a complex process that involves the interplay of numerous factors, but the largest determinant of whether you gain weight, maintain your weight, or lose weight, is the relationship between the number of calories you are consuming and the number of calories you are burning in a day.
Running can both be a successful avenue for weight loss provided that it takes place in the context of a calorie-controlled diet, such that you are using running to help you generate the caloric deficit necessary for weight loss.
In other words, you can lose weight by running as long as you are still eating fewer calories than you’re burning in a day.
How Many Calories Do You Burn Running?
When you are running to lose weight, arguably the most helpful piece of information to know is how many calories you burn running.
The number of calories you burn in any workout depends not just on the type of exercise you’re doing (running, in this case) but also on your body weight and composition and the duration and intensity of your workout, among other less significant factors.
Unless you have access to an exercise physiology lab where you can do actual metabolic testing, the number of calories you burn running will be an estimate.
However, most of these estimates are good enough to give you a ballpark idea of your energy expenditure.
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.
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 the Metabolic Equivalents (METs) of running at different speeds 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. The higher the METS, the more calories you will burn per minute.
The table below shows the METS for running at different speeds and paces:
|Speed(mph) and Pace (min/mile)
|4 mph (15 min/mile)
|5 mph (12 min/mile)
|5.2 mph (11.5 min/mile)
|6 mph (10 min/mile)
|6.7 mph (9 min/mile)
|7 mph (8.5 min/mile)
|7.5 mph (8 min/mile)
|8 mph (7.5 min/mile)
|8.6 mph (7 min/mile)
|9 mph (6.5 min/mile)
|10 mph (6 min/mile)
|11 mph (5.5 min/mile)
|12 mph (5 min/mile)
|13 mph (4.6 min/mile)
You can calculate the number of calories burned running based on your body weight and duration of your workout using this equation to determine energy expenditure with the METS for your average running speed:
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.
Ultimately, the faster you run, the longer you run, and the more you weigh, the more calories you will burn running.
Finally, you will also burn significantly more calories if you run up an incline. Therefore, if you are running on a treadmill or live in a hilly area, don’t shy away from the hills.
How Much Should I Run to Lose Weight?
Runners with the primary goal of weight loss from running frequently ask, “How much should I run to lose weight?”
How much you need to run to lose weight depends on a multitude of factors, such as:
- Your current weight and goal weight
- Your desired rate of weight loss (how much weight you’re trying to lose per week)
- What other types of exercise you do
- Your general physical activity level
- How many calories you’re eating and/or how much you’re wanting to also restrict your caloric intake via your diet
Keep in mind that you need to generate a caloric deficit of 3500 calories in order to lose one pound of fat.
If you are only running to lose weight and not manipulating your diet, you will need to burn 500 calories per day running to lose one pound of fat per week. Depending on your body size, this might be approximately 5 miles per day.
In general, most people find that a good running plan to lose weight involves 4-6 days a week for 45-60 minutes per run.
6 Tips for Running To Lose Weight
Here are some tips that can help with running for weight loss:
#1: Focus On Your Diet
No matter how much you run, if you are eating more calories than you are burning in your workouts, particularly if you are eating processed, unhealthy foods, you will not lose weight running.
Quality and composition of your diet, along with the overall energy intake, isn’t just important for helping drop the number you see when you step on the scale. The more nutritious your diet, the better you will feel on your runs and throughout the day.
Focus on eating whole, natural foods like vegetables, fruit, lean proteins, whole grains, legumes, eggs, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and low-fat dairy.
Avoid processed foods, hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, any chemical ingredients, and excessive sugar and salt.
#2: Time Your Nutrition
When you are running to lose weight, there’s a good chance that you are also paring back your diet and restricting your caloric intake.
Although this is a necessary component in the weight loss process unless you’re only going to boost your energy expenditure through running, it also can mean that there may be times in the day that you’re somewhat hungry or don’t feel like you can eat more even if your appetite increases or your energy dips.
Therefore, it’s helpful to time your runs strategically around your food intake. Try not to skimp on calories before or after your runs; it’s usually better to go lighter on calories during other windows of time in your day away from your workout.
You need to be well-fueled before a run so that you have the strength and energy to maximize your workout intensity.
Equally important is refueling well after your run. Aim to have at least a nutritious snack, if not a larger meal, within 30 minutes after your run.
Most nutritionists recommend a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein in your post-workout meal or snack; striving for at least 75 grams of carbohydrates and 20 grams of protein is ideal.
#3: Befriend Intervals
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great way to increase your caloric expenditure both during and after a workout. In fact, HIIT can boost your metabolic rate for up to 14 hours after your workout, which means you’ll be burning more calories even at rest.
Plus, the high-intensity nature of HIIT makes your runs that much more efficient in terms of the number of calories burned per minute, so if you’re short on time, you can escalate your weight loss with interval runs in place of steady-state distance runs of the same duration.
In other words, you will burn more calories doing a 30-minute fartlek run with fast intervals or a speed workout on the track with 400m repeats for 30 minutes rather than just running at a steady, constant pace for 30 minutes.
Hill workouts, track workouts, and fartlek runs (intervals of fast running interspersed with intervals of easy running during a distance run) are great HIIT workouts for runners.
#4: Gradually Increase Your Distance
The number of calories you burn running is largely dependent on the distance that you run. The further you run during your workouts, the more calories you will burn, which will accelerate your weight loss that much more.
Beginners may only be able to run a matter of seconds at first without stopping, and then slowly, you may progress to several minutes or more.
Although it is important to progress gradually to decrease the risk of injuries, if you can gradually bump up the distance you are running, you will drive up your energy expenditure that much more.
#5: Incorporate Cross Training
The majority of runners prefer running over any other activity, but incorporating other forms of exercise can be really beneficial when you are trying to lose weight.
Running is a high-impact activity, so the risk of injuries is much higher than for activities like cycling, swimming, rowing, stair climbing, and the elliptical trainer, which are all excellent forms of low-impact, cross-training exercise for runners.
Cross-training a couple of times per week can increase your caloric expenditure and improve your aerobic fitness while simultaneously decreasing the risk of injuries. This will allow you to run more consistently.
Additionally, not only does cross-training present your muscles, joints, bones, and connective tissues with different stresses and forces than running, which can make you a more well-rounded, injury-resilient runner, but the differing demands of any type of cross-training exercise presents a different stimulus, or a new challenge, to your body.
This, in turn, helps prevent plateaus and keeps your body from becoming metabolically comfortable with the same workout day in and day out. This can help ensure that you continue to burn as many calories as possible during every workout, whether running or otherwise.
#6: Hit the Weights
A good mantra to subscribe to is, “Lift weights to lose weight.”
Strength training increases your lean body mass, which is the primary determinant of your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or the number of calories you burn in a day at rest.
Essentially, because muscle is more metabolically active than fat, if you build muscle through strength training, your body cranks through more calories. This will then help you burn body fat and optimize your body composition for running.
Strive for at least two total-body strength training workouts per week.
Remember: losing weight is just one of the many benefits of running, so enjoy the changes in your body even if the numbers on the scale aren’t changing as quickly as you’d like.
If you would like to crank up your running intervals, we have some great HIIT running workouts just for you.