Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Running and Still Gaining Weight?

Running is supposed to help you lose weight right? Right. But....... There's always a "but" isn't there. And this time you're trying to avoid the "big butt." I know, it's not a laughing matter. You're determined to get fit and lose weight and you're out there every day running, but each time you get on the scale you're not seeing any weight loss or even worse you may be seeing some weight gain.

Well, there's a few things that need to be discussed first. Basically, your body is like a machine and food is the source of the fuel you need for that machine to run. Your body has something called a BMR or basal metabolic rate. Your BMR is the number of calories needed for all your body systems to function when you're at rest. The number of calories beyond your BMR is determined by your activity level. So, if you're a sedentary person, you'll need very few extra calories, if you're lightly active, you'll need a little more. If you're moderately active you'll need still more, and so on and so on. Basically it's a calories in calories out type of system.

To figure out your BMR use the following formula:
Women's BMR Formula:
655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) - ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men's BMR Formula:
66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) - ( 6.8 x age in year )

Remember, once you've found your BMR, this is the number of calories you need just for your body to function at rest. To determine the additional calories you'll need based on your activity level, use the following information:

sedentary (little or no exercise) = BMR x 1.2
lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) = BMR x 1.375
moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) = BMR x 1.55
very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) = BMR x 1.725
extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) = BMR x 1.9

So for example, my BMR is 1470 calories. That's the number of calories I need just to lay in the bed. Right now, I'm in training for the Marine Corps Marathon and I'm running 4 days a week plus doing cross-training two days a week, so I'd fall into the Very Active category. My daily caloric needs while in training are 2535.75 calories (1470 x 1.725 very active level). If I have a lighter week where maybe I didn't get in the cross-training, I'd need to lower my calorie intake.

Now, I'm not a numbers person, and counting calories is not my thinking of fun, so basically I know that when I'm training, I need to eat more and when I'm not training or when I'm training less, I need to eat less.

In general , the problem is that many times we take in more calories than we burn off and so we end up with a calorie surplus. When those calories aren't used as fuel, then they end up becoming fat which is stored all over you body. So becoming more active should help take care of the problem, right? Right....in theory.

Newbies to fitness, be it running or resistance training, will see big gains in their fitness levels the first few months and they'll probably see significant weight loss too. That's because all of the sudden they've jacked up their metabolism and they're burning off more calories than normal. As long as they don't over eat during this period of new fitness, the weight loss usually happens.

The thing is that your body will eventually acclimate to the new level of fitness and even though you may be burning the same number of calories as before, you may see a stall in your weight loss or even some gain.

There can also be something else at play. Have you ever heard someone say, I run 5 miles a day, but I can't seem to lose any weight? Not only will your body acclimate, if you're doing only slow steady runs, your body will release something called cortisol. Cortisol is a nasty hormone that eats muscle mass. Muscle is what burns those calories. So, less muscle means less calorie burn. Less calorie burn means stalled weight loss or weight gain.

So, now you probably have the clinched-up perplexed look on your face. You're wondering, "Well, what in the heck can I do, if running every day causes me to release stuff that makes me gain weight?" That's a logical response. But have no fear! There actually is something you can do and it doesn't involve buying something for $19.95 from an infomercial that comes with a complete set of Ginsu knives.

So, how do you do it? It's simple. Speed work and resistance training are the two best ways to get you over that hump. Both speed work and resistance training (weight training) will up your metabolism as well as increase the release of testosterone (men) human growth hormone (women) which counteracts the effects of the cortisol.

Okay, now you're probably thinking...."Well, I don't have access to a track and I can't afford a gym membership." Well, guess what? You don't need either. Speed work can be done in the form of intervals on a track, but you can also do something called tempo runs and fartleks.

Tempo runs are when you up the pace/intensity in the middle of a run. For example in a 4-miler, you begin with a 1-mile easy warm-up, followed by 2 miles at just below your 10K race-pace, followed by a 1-mile easy cool-down. Fartleks are informal intervals thrown into a regular run. During a five-miler you may throw in 3 or 4 fast segments. These segments can be time-based or distance-based. For example, you begin a five-miler at a slow easy pace for 5 minutes, then ramp it up to a 10K pace for 5-minutes, followed by 5-minutes back at the original slow steady pace. This is repeated throughout the course of the run. The segments can be any time-frame you want or it could be based on distance such as 1-mile slow, 1-mile fast, etc.

Hill workouts are great too. Find a hill with with a 5-7% incline and run up it as fast as you can. Then jog or walk back down the hill. Then back up the hill again fast. Repeat this 3-5 times. Hill workouts create a great calorie burn as well as strengthen your hamstrings and glutes.

Resistance training is weight training, but you don't need a lot of fancy equipment or gym memberships to see great effects. Body-weight exercises or exercises using dumbbells will work fine. Don't have dumbbells? Do what famous marathon coach/trainer Hal Hidgon does—fill gallon-sized plastic detergent jugs with sand and uses those as weights.

Exercises that target the larger muscles groups such as the hamstrings, glutes, and quads will help you get the largest calorie burn. Remember that muscle is what burns the calories, so if you're working more muscle mass, you'll burn more calories. Squats and lunges are some of the best lower-body exercises that will help up your metabolism. Plyometric exercises (hopping, bounding, jumping) will also get a great calorie burn. Jumpsquats, mountain climbers, burpees, ice-skaters, and lateral hops are simple and effective plyometrics exercises that are great for upping the metabolism. (Look on the blog later this week for a video posting of these exercises.)

So, if you're running the same-ole same-ole and feel like you've stagnated, even gained some weight, give speed work and/or resistance training a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

36 comments:

David said...

Great post. I usually head into training mode knowing that my body weight probably isn't going to change all that much. Simply put, I try to get a few pounds off before "officially" training. I'm doing a few things differently for my next marathon this time around, so we'll see. Good tips here to definitely look into.

abbi said...

Thanks for the great post!

Jesse said...

Very timely post, with a lot of good information.
The other day I weighed out every single gram of food entering my mouth to get an accurate calorie count for the day. The results, to put it mildly, were shocking. 3761 Calories, all on a vegan diet. I'm in marathon training, and I know I'm needing more Calories than usual, but 3700+ is insane for someone only 5'8". I'm not gaining weight, but not losing either (I blogged about it here).

RunnerDude said...

Hi David! Thanks man. That's a great idea of losing a little before training. I read where by losing 10 lbs you can decrease a PR by something crazy like a minute or so. That's pretty cool. Good luck with the training! Which race are you training for?

RunnerDude said...

Thanks Abbi!!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Jesse! That's a great idea to take an actual calorie count to see what your baseline is. I bet lots of people would be surprised. If you're training is real intense, you may need all of those calories. If you're not gaining, that's probably so. Which marathon are you training for?
Great post on your blog, btw!!

Jesse said...

I'm training for the Kansas City Marathon. Ran it last year as my first, and hope to get my BQ time this year. Not gaining weight, but definitely not losing those last 10 that I would like to get rid of. Figured I must be eating more than I thought - obviously significantly more! My workouts are varied (as you suggested in your post), but actually counting my calorie intake was shocking!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Jesse, Good luck with Kansas! To lose a pound a week you need to reduce the calorie intake by 3500 calories. That's 500 calories a day. So try bringing it down to 3200 a day may help you begin to see a difference. Keep me posted on how it goes!

AshleyR said...

Great post! Thanks for the formula. I'm not a calorie counter, more of a guesser, but it helps. I'm not trying to lose weight right now but maybe it will help later when I'm dying for a serious PR in something.

Talitha said...

Oh thank goodness! I gained almost 20 lbs in the last six months while training for my first marathon. I only started running six months ago, so I should have been in that happy honeymoon stage of exercising where I actually lose weight. I knew I wasn't eating the right diet for an athlete (weird to call myself an athlete) but gaining so much was surprising. It's nice to finally have some scientific advice instead of platitudes about "muscle weighs more than fat" which, by the way, is quite possibly the most useless statement in the world.

RunnerDude said...

Thanks Ashely! I'm not a strick counter either, but getting a baseline really helps me mentally judge, especially during training.

RunnerDude said...

Hi Talitha! LOL! yep, the muscle/fat thing isn't really helpful. Mix it up some and let me know how it goes. By the way....you definitely are an athlete.

Cynthia O'H said...

Good post. I'm not trying to lose weight but I get so frustrated when I see the difference between calorie expenditure between my husband and me; we run the same distance, I run faster, yet he burns more because he's male, taller and bigger.

It makes you wonder about shows like "Biggest Loser", which I have never watched. Do they account for the gender differences? They should.

Emz said...

sweet post.

Thanks for this.

RunnerDude said...

Hi Cynthia! Yep, the big boys do lose quicker. On The Biggest Loser they go by the % of weight lost each week to make it fair. So a lady could actualy lose less weight in pounds than one of the guys but she might have a bigger percentage of weight loss for that week.

RunnerDude said...

Thanks Emz!

Founder of Jog for Joubert Syndrome said...

my friend and i were just talking about this this morning. she has been doing the same ol thing for 2 years now and gaining a little weight here and there. i keep telling her to mix it up, so i forwarded this to her. thanks for explaining it so well!!!

Becky said...

Love this post! I am currently training for my first marathon and I've been struggling to figure out how much to eat.

It's the first time I visit your blog and love it! I will be checking back often for your tips and tricks.

RunnerDude said...

Hi Becky! Welcome to the blog! Thanks for the awesome feedback! I look forward to your comments!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Founder of Jog 4JS! Thanks! Glad I could help!!

Rachel said...

great post! quick question - when in training should the increased calories only be consumed on the days of a workout, and then scale back on rest days? thanks!

Johann said...

Fantastic post! Thanks for sharing this info.

RunnerDude said...

Hi Rachel! Great question! I like to think of it as calories in, calories out. So on those really hard running days,I'd probably follow the Very Active guidelines, and on a rest day I'd drop it down some. But remember, that when you're in training, on those rest days you're body will be using more calores than a sedentary person would because you're body is recovering, repairing, rebuilding. Hope this helps. Thanks!

RunnerDude said...

Thanks Johann!

Laura B. Jog for Joubert Syndrome said...

this also got me to thinking about my recent workout changes. i have been running for about 1 1/2 years now and have plateaued weight wise. but now im having to add in some swimming and biking due to running injuries and i am RAVENOUSLY hungry since starting cross training. i dont think im working any harder, just different. is this principal of mixing it up what is causing this????

RunnerDude said...

Hi Laura! Awesome questions. Yep, you probably are burning more calories by mixing it up. In general swimming burns more calories than running. Biking can too, depending on the length and intensity of the ride. Here's a link to a wonderful exercise/calorie burn calculator. You enter your weight and lenght of time exercising, then select the various methods of exercise and it will compare them. Pretty cool. http://www.healthstatus.com/calculate/cbc

Mark U. said...

Good post. Ove

r recent years I tend to weight stabilize at a BMI just shy of my upper target 25 - regardless of my exertion level. I explain this by our appetites varying with hunger level - which itself varies with our blood sugar level that's tied to our metabolism, exertion level, etc. As such, in my routine ramp-up in mileage and therefore weekly calories expended in training for a marathon I don't see any weight loss UNLESS I exert the will-power to withhold somewhat upon my consumed calories. Helping me tremendously in doing so is consuming lots of low energy-density fruits and vegetables - which have the side benefit of furnishing tons of essential nutrients.

Regarding estimating calories burned while running I use the NET calories burned equation found at http://www.runnersworld.com/article/1,7124,s6-242-304-311-8402-0,00.html, i.e. 0.63 x miles run x weight in pounds. Most treadmills and on-line calorie estimators result in a false higher estimate, owing both to their improperly calculating gross calories burned, and in their using artificially motivating correlations that don't tie to reality.

You bring up a very good point in noting that our metabolism increases when we incorporate speed and tempo work into our runs.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Mark! Great info! Thanks!

Lauren said...

Thanks for this post. I am sorta a numbers person and decided today that I'm going to start counting calories. I have 15 pounds that I just can't get off (actually I don't practice good eating habits)

I understand, the calories calculated w/ the formula is the amount needed to maintain your weight. But I put in the weight I want to be (15 pounds less than my current) -- am I correct to assume that if I consume the calories using the weight I want to be that I will lose?

Also, it's got me at way too many calories in my opinion. More than 3,000! I do work out like mad, but perhaps I should go for the "moderately active" factor to get the calories down.

I'm rambling, but I really think counting calories is the only way I'm going to discipline myself to get the pounds off.

Lauren said...

oops. I just realized that I was using the men's formula. Is my theory correct though, about putting weight I want to be in calc. will lead to weight loss? Or is that too drastic of a calorie cut?

RunnerDude said...

Hey Lauren! No problem. I'm not really sure about plugging in the desired weight. I guess since it's 15 lbs, the might be okay. If someone had 60 or 70lbs to loose, I think it may end up too drastically cutting their caloric intake.

I do know that in order to lose 1 lb per week you need to reduce your calorie intake by 3500 calories. That's 500 cals per day. You may want to try that method.

You may already be doing this, but a weekly speed workout of intervals can really drop the weight. Something like a 4 x 800s or 6 x 200s at a 10K pace is a good place to start.

Good luck! Keep me posted!

Kenley said...

Great Post, as I have noticed a stall in my weight loss a few months ago. Needless to say, I have introduced weight resistance exercises to the scheme of my weekly regiment. One thing I recently started doing was a lot of core work outs, via planks, crunches, etc.. That post you did a while back on the little butt muscle was great too. Those dirty dogs are neat, though I had to work on my flexibility a bit to do the darn thing right. lol. Thanks for another great and informative post "Runner Dude"!

JunieB said...

any idea on how one would go about altering that standard/generic BMR thing for those of us who have hypothyroidism? we cannot go by that calculation... :o(

RunnerDude said...

Hi JunieB! I hesitate to make any recommendations, because each person is so different and I'm sure if you're on medication for the hypothyroidism, that may be a factor too. I suggest asking your doctor or and/or a dietition. Sorry I'm not much help.

Junie B said...

thanks anyway... :O) i am on medication and of course that has helped tremendously with so many of my symptoms, especially with metabolism, but i also know that i have to work harder to keep weight in check AND to actually lose..

David H. said...

To answer your question from a few days ago, I'm training for the Richmond Marathon in November.