For some people, running is like breathing – they don’t really feel alive unless they are running. Other people run for a number of different reasons: as part of training for another sport, for good overall health or to lose weight. While running can be a great way to lose weight, there are a number of misconceptions people have about running as it pertains to weight loss.
Here are 5 common mistakes people make when they are trying to lose weight by running.
1. If you don’t love it, you shouldn’t do it
There is an old anecdote which says “What’s the best exercise? Whatever you will do”. It really doesn’t matter what exercise or form of physical fitness burns the most calories or gets your heart rate the highest, if you hate it, you’re not going to do it for long. If you keep trying to push yourself to do something you hate, over time you will start to find more and more excuses to not do it.
On the other hand, if you push yourself to do something you love, then over time you will start to find more and more excuses to get out and do it and make it a priority. If you love swimming but hate running, find a way to swim regularly rather than trying to push yourself to run. It’s fine to push yourself to run once in a while in order to enhance your overall health plan, but if you hate running, you should not try to make it the foundation of your exercise routine.
2. Walk first, then run
Running is hard enough on the joints and ligaments of people who exercise regularly, but can be particularly brutal on people who do not already exercise on a regular basis. Joints and ligaments are supported by muscles, so the more muscle tone you have supporting the right joints and ligaments, the less harm running is likely to do.
Even if you are severely overweight, you can still run without significant injury if you ease into it first. Spend about 6-8 weeks just walking. When you can walk briskly for an hour, you’re likely ready to add in some running without straining your joints or cardiovascular system.
3. Running won’t help you lose weight all by itself
Running can actually cause an increase in weight for a number of reasons – and not just because it’s turning muscle to fat. Sometimes all it leads to is more fat. In some cases we aren’t really being honest about the actual amount of time we spend exercising and the genuine impact that has on calories. Other times we use the fact that we run as an excuse to consume more calories.
If you are only jogging for 20 minutes a few times a week, then you aren’t really burning significant calories in the first place. If you use those jogs as an excuse to consume more calories, however, then “running” will most likely cause you to gain weight, not lose it. Running is only going to be an effective weight loss tool when paired with a healthy diet.
4. Don’t skimp on fat
It is a common misconception that fat makes you fat. Part of a healthy diet is not just cutting out calories, but making sure that you are using the calories you do consume to meet some important nutritional needs – and fat is definitely one of those needs. Now, I’m not talking about a giant sized order of french fries and fried chicken, I’m talking about healthy fats, like those found in nuts, avocados and fish.
Your body needs fat to absorb vitamins like A, D, E, and K, and to regulate hunger. Fats are digested more slowly than carbs and protein and new research is liking fats with appetite-regulation hormones like leptin and ghrelin, which helps keep hunger under control. For runners in particular, fats should account for as much as 20 – 30% of your daily calories.
5. Running on empty
Running sometimes creates an interesting conundrum for those trying to lose weight. “Conventional wisdom” tells us that the less calories you consume the more weight you lose – but this is not always the case. In fact it is rarely the case, since simply drastically cutting calories tends to send your body into “starvation mode” where it actually hoards all the calories you consume, regardless of how much you weigh. Weight loss, then, is dependent on a tricky balance of consuming the right kinds of calories at the right times.
Two times you should definitely be eating is just before a run (well, about 30 minutes beforehand) and just after (within an hour). This is not a good time to get a daily dose of fat, however. How much you eat is also dependent on how long/ hard you will run. If you are just going out for a light half hour jog, it’s not important to eat before you run. If you are going out for a hard, hour long run including hills and speed running, then you definitely want to prep nutritionally.
Running can be an excellent way to not only lose weight but keep it off – for the long haul. A study conducted in Berkeley, CA showed that runners over age 55 who weren’t running that often or expending more calories than walkers of the same age, still showed body mass indexes and waist circumferences significantly lower than those of walkers. Running is a great way to lose weight – if it’s something you love. If you don’t, find something you do love and stick with it!