If you’ve ever thought—I’m a runner. Why do I still struggle to shed pounds? It’s not fair!—we’re right there with you, sister. Get the body you want without the headache by avoiding these common weight-loss traps.
Wonder why you can run 13 miles but can’t lose those 13 pounds? You’re not alone! Many runners have trouble getting down to a healthy weight and are naturally frustrated. Visit the finish line of any marathon and you’ll see runners of all shapes and sizes—and hundreds of people who can complete the grueling race but are still struggling with their weight.
Running is unequivocally awesome, but sometimes our beloved exercise falls short when it comes to fat loss. Every year, women decide to train for a big race as a means to drop pounds. But believe it or not, training for fat loss and training for a long-distance event are (almost) mutually exclusive objectives. To successfully train for a marathon, you need to make your body extremely efficient at running, so you can complete 26.2 miles using the least amount of energy possible.
To train for fat loss, you must avoid efficiency by constantly putting new demands on your body to burn the most amount of energy possible. Keep in mind, another word for “energy” is “calories.”
That doesn’t mean runners can’t lose weight. We just have to steer clear of common traps. If you are struggling with your size, never fear! Here’s how to overcome every obstacle . . .
You run long, thinking that you need to keep going for at least an hour to burn fat.
Forget everything you learned in the 90s about the “fat-burning zone.” The latest research shows that running for less time is actually more effective for fat loss than running long and slow. A recent study published in the American Journal of Physiology discovered that regular 30-minute workouts resulted in more weight loss than regular 60-minute workouts. At the end of the 13-week study, the half hour workout group lost 8.8 pounds, while the one hour workout group lost 8.4 pounds. Scientists hypothesize that our bodies compensate as the exercise session drags on, thereby dampening the results.
In addition, a number of studies have revealed that high-intensity interval training is much more effective for fat loss than steady-state cardio. One study had a group of women perform 20 minutes of interval training on a stationary bike three days per week. Over 15 weeks, these women lost an average of 5.5 pounds (although some lost nearly 20!) without dieting. Those in a separate group who performed 40 minutes of steady-state cycling three days per week actually gained a pound of fat over the same time period.
Solution: Cut your workout time in half and step up your intensity. Try performing each of these workouts once per week:
* Using a treadmill, warm up by jogging for 5 minutes, then ramp the incline up (5 to 10 percent) and increase the speed to a pace that feels fast but not impossible (4 to 9 mph). Run for 8 seconds then place your feet on the sides for 12 seconds. Repeat this for 10 to 15 minutes.
* Find a route near your home with clear markers (e.g., telephone poles, short blocks, tightly-packed houses). Sprint to the first marker and walk or jog to the next. Continue repeating this pattern for 20 minutes.
* For more interval workout ideas, check out “No Time? No Problem!” on page 20.
You skip your post-run snack.
Many women avoid eating post-run in an effort to cut calories. Big mistake. After you work out, your body is crying out for fuel. Research shows that ingesting both carbs and protein in a 2-to-1 ratio post-workout will help replenish glycogen stores and shuttle protein into your muscles to help you recover.
If you skip this snack, your muscles can’t repair properly. This means the next time you work out, you won’t be able to go faster or work harder because you never recovered from your previous session. Remember, your body needs to be challenged in new ways in order to lose fat. If you can’t push yourself progressively harder, your weight won’t change.
Solution: Eat a 200-calorie snack with both carbs and protein 30 minutes to one hour post-workout. Good options include:
* A smoothie made with almond milk, one banana and a scoop of whey protein powder.
* One apple with two cubes of cheddar cheese.
* Two slices of deli turkey and a handful of blueberries.
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You never take days off.
Do you run day after day without giving your body a break? Keep in mind that you gain results while recovering from your workouts (as your body repairs itself), not from the workout itself (when your body breaks down). Whether you’re running for fun or training for a marathon, you must prioritize recovery as part of your plan. If you never allow your body to rest, it can’t become stronger and faster. Your workouts will turn into time spent going through the motions, and you won’t be able to push yourself hard enough to lose fat.
Solution: Take at least one day off per week to let your body recuperate. Get the most out of your recovery:
* Do nothing more strenuous than gentle stretching on your day off.
* Eat foods with antioxidants. Think: bell peppers, beans, berries and leafy greens.
* Sleep for seven and a half hours or longer every single night.
You’ve been running for years, hoping that you’ll finally shed the pounds.
A longtime commitment to running is something to take pride in. Unfortunately, when it comes to weight loss, your body may have adapted. This is why women often see significant weight loss when they initially start running, but notice that these results wane over time. The first time you ever ran a mile, you may have burned 100 calories. Now that number is likely significantly lower because your body has become a finely tuned running machine. If you want to lose weight, you need to change up your program and start cross training.
Solution: Trade two to three days of running per week for cross training. The best cross-training workouts include:
* Weight lifting and strength training.
* Interval training on a bike.
* Sports-specific training. Join a soccer, basketball or Ultimate Frisbee team!
You never lift weights.
Muscle is metabolically active and helps to burn calories and fat. When you are trying to lose fat, muscle is your best friend. If you have been putting in a lot of mileage, you may be burning muscle and slowing your metabolism. One study from West Virginia University compared aerobic training with strength training for weight loss. The aerobic group performed four hours of aerobics a week while the resistance-training group completed a few sets of 10 strength exercises three times a week. The resistance-training group boosted metabolism compared with the aerobic group, which decreased metabolism because of lean muscle loss.
Besides building muscle, strength-training workouts also increase your metabolism for 24 to 48 hours post-exercise, which will help you burn calories even when you’re not in the gym.
Solution: Schedule two to three strength-training sessions every week to build lean muscle and give your metabolism a boost. ■