Running To Lose
Weight Provided by
Road Runner Sports
What Runners Need to Know About Weight Loss
Runners are notorious for talking about,
worrying about, and obsessing over their body weight. Since many people start
running to lose weight (perhaps you're one of them) it's not surprising that
body size is important. We are, after all, a nation of dieters, at any given
time 50% of the women and close to 25% of the men in the US are watching what
they eat. Those numbers are slightly higher for runners and other folks who
work out regularly. Body weight is the second most talked about topic among
runners - injuries are first! So with all this talking going on, what have we
learned about body weight and how it affects our running (and ultimately our
overall lifestyle and health?)
"Ideal" Body Weight: Fact or Fiction?
Although diet "gurus" and others may try to convince you that there's an ideal
body image (weight) you should maintain, the fact is: there's no ideal body
weight. Women and young girls in particular are bombarded constantly with
messages in the media that suggest that the perfect or ideal woman is 5'7" to
5'9", weighs 100 to 129 pounds and wears a size eight or smaller dress. Try to
imagine how long you would be able to run your regular schedule if you weighed
only 100 pounds and stood 5'7"!
Everyone is different: we all have our own
unique skeletal structure and body type. Too often however we try to mold
ourselves to look like someone else, usually someone we admire and/or look up
to. Runners easily fall into this trap. Think about the last time you raced, or
even the last time you were simply out on a training run and saw other people
running. Did you find yourself thinking thoughts like: "How did he beat me?
He's so much heavier than me?" Or: "Wow! Look how thin and athletic she looks.
How come I don't look like that?"
Truth is, there are many factors that affect
your weight. They include: body type; diet; exercise level (including whether
you race and the distances you race); sex and age. What may be an "ideal"
weight for you at the age of 27 may not be ideal when you're 54. And your ideal
weight will probably be different during racing season than when you're in a
specific training phase.
What Type of Body Am I? Like everyone else
on the planet, you're either one of three body types or a blending of the
three. You inherited your body type and it will stay the same, no matter how
much you might want to, or try to, change it.
Ectomorph: You're an ectomorph if you're
tall, thin, have long arms and legs (relative to the rest of your body), and
have difficulty gaining weight or putting on muscle. If you race, you may find
that long distances are your forte, from the half-marathon to the marathon.
Mesomorph: You're a mesomorph if you are
shorter than many of your counterparts, are fairly muscular, and have stocky,
short arms and legs. Sprinters usually are mesomorphs.
Endomorph: You're an endomorph if you have
more body fat and your body's shaped like a pear. Shot putters and athletes who
throw the javelin and discus are often endomorphs.
You may find that you have some
characteristics of two different types probably mesomorph and endomorph.
Although ectomorphs like four-time New York City and Boston Marathon winner
Bill Rodgers, and many of the Kenyan runners appear to be more suited to
running, don't despair if you have more fat, shorter legs, and more muscles.
Joan Benoit Samuelson (winner of the first women's Olympic Marathon in 1984) is
a mesomorph-her body type certainly hasn't held her back! The key to being
happy with your body type is learning to live with it. If you find that your
short, stocky legs prevent you from running more than 15 miles a week, so be
it. Enjoy every minute of those 15 miles and pat yourself on the back for
maintaining a workout schedule that's good for your heart, lungs, and mental
attitude. Don't compare yourself to the tall, lanky person standing in line
with you at the grocery store. For all you know, he or she may never engage in
any exercise at all. Being thin doesn't necessarily equate to being fit or
Fat is In! It's difficult to develop a clear
concept of the importance of body fat when we're being constantly bombarded
with messages from the media (and sometimes even well meaning friends and
family) telling us that fat is bad. Of course obesity is not healthful and can
lead to many chronic diseases as well as premature death, but we all need some
fat. The problem is-many runners think that they have to be dangerously thin to
run well. Or someone who's overweight will start running to lose fat, begin
dieting to take off the weight even more quickly, and will become too thin for
their body type.
Body fat is very important! The average man
has a body fat percentage of 8-22% if he's inactive, and 5-15% if he works out
regularly. A percentage is storage fat, which lies under the skin and protects
the organs. A smaller percentage is essential fat, which is stored in the
liver, heart, and central nervous system. The average woman has a body fat
percentage of 20-35% if she's inactive, 16-28% if she regularly works out.
Women's fat is composed of not only storage and essential, but women also have
what's known as sex-specific fat, which can range from 9-16%. Most of this fat
is stored in a woman's breasts, hips, and thighs. Sex-specific fat is critical
to a woman's normal reproductive functioning: menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and
Unfortunately, runners who get too caught up
in the "getting rid of fat" cycle can start to lose critical body fat and
eventually they'll pay the price. Runners who attempt to lower their body fat
percentages to dangerous levels run the risk of injury, illness, infertility,
and at the very least, decreased performance. You may have experienced
performance problems if you've been dieting religiously to lose weight. It's
true up to a point that weight loss will help you become a better, faster
runner. However, if you find that you're too tired to run, never seem to have
any energy, or are starting to get colds or flu on a regular basis, it may very
well be that you've lost too much weight. Rather than focusing on body weight
and body fat, you'd be better off focusing on eating a healthful diet with
adequate amounts of carbohydrates, protein, fat, calcium, and iron.
Balance in All Things Simply put, to lose
weight you have to expend more calories than you consume. However, there is no
easy formula for achieving such a balance. To achieve a healthful weight it's
important for you to realize that numbers on your scale and numbers in your
running log don't add up to a perfect solution. Keep this adage in mind: "eat
to run, don't run to eat." Focus more on reaching specific goals (such as
running 25 miles a week or running your first 5K), rather than worrying about
how you look. If you eat a well-balanced diet and maintain a reasonable
training program, you shouldn't have any trouble eventually reaching and
maintaining a healthful weight. Remember that weight loss doesn't happen
overnight, it may take many months before you reach a weight that falls within
an optimal range for your height, weight, age, sex, and body type.
Does Body Weight and Body Type=Performance?
Although some scientific literature suggests that this is true, it's similar to
the chicken and the egg scenario. "Does a runner lose body weight and body fat
by running, or does he or she restrict his or her diet, thereby losing weight,
which causes him or her to run faster?" It appears from studying elite athletes
from Africa and Asia that the first question is more accurate. During the time
that those runners are training hard and racing regularly, their bodies sought
their most optimal running performance weight.
But what if a runner were to restrict his or
her diet, while continuing to train as usual? Unless he or she took in enough
calories to maintain body weight and training weight, the runner would begin to
develop problems. They could be as seemingly benign as colds and fatigue and as
serious as amenorrhea (the absence of menstrual periods), osteoporosis, and
chronic adrenal fatigue. The bottom line is: no weight is right if a runner is
unhealthy and not able to maintain nutritional support to sustain not only
their training and racing, but their everyday life activities.
Caveats to Consider
If you can't function optimally at a certain
weight in all circumstances, and under all conditions, your weight isn't ideal.
If you concentrate too much on low body weight and body fat percentage, your
training will suffer. The focus of your training should be to achieve optimal
health and perhaps performance, not a certain "look." Runners tend to have the
perception that a number on the scale is a reflection of fitness. This isn't
necessarily true. Don't emphasize weight as a way to improve your performance.
Losing fat, particularly too much body fat, is a real danger for runners.
Ideal body weight is the weight at which a
runner can train consistently and race if they choose, while maintaining a
state of optimal health and fitness applicable to their own particular, unique