Summer time is coming, and you might be thinking your running plan is perfect way to shed some extra pounds and get that “beach bod” you’ve always wanted. I mean it’s perfect, right? Running is great for fat loss. You’ve got a great plan, you’ve got the goal of a race in the fall to keep you focused, you’re super motivated, this is your chance…or is it?
Fat Loss, Exercise’s Side Effect
When you ask people why they’re exercising they’ll often say “to lose fat.” Now as we established in our first blog, about finding your why, this is not a good reason from a motivational standpoint (again, people give up on the WHY of fat loss all the time), but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Scientifically speaking when you perform exercise you receive functional benefits; a healthier heart and lungs, stronger muscles, more energy and so on. You do burn fuel during exercise, but this fuel is largely carbohydrate, and not fat. Fat loss then is exercise’s side effect, if you burn enough calories during exercise and if you do a good job of limiting your calories after you exercise, you’ll put yourself in a calorie deficit and lose fat. Those two “if’s” make fat loss the side effect of exercise.
Running Performance & Fat Loss
As suggested above, you have to consume fewer calories then what you’re burning to lose fat. Although this may sound simple it can be very problematic when training for a performance goal (like running a race) for the following reasons:
- Not having enough calories will result in a reduction in available energy for your runs, which will reduce performance.
- Failing to consume adequate calories can result in your body breaking down muscle tissue for energy when you run.
- Calorie restriction and heavy training increases stress hormone levels (like cortisol, who’s job in the body is to preserve fat and breakdown muscle), and depress fat burning/muscle preserving hormones (like growth hormone and testosterone).
- Lower total calorie intake means fewer carbs (for energy), and protein (for recovery).
The net effect of all of this is running without adequate calories can reduce performance, decrease muscle tissue/increase fat, and even result in injury.
I want to lose fat – what should I do?
All is not lost. If you’re looking to lose some fat preparing for your race, first be okay with it being a side effect of what you’re doing. Start to establish healthy eating habits. Replace “unhealthy” and highly processed foods with fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Start to increase your water intake. Begin to take a multivitamin. Eating healthy will not only allow you to perform better, you’ll naturally eat a less (and as a result lose fat). Because it’s healthier food you’ll be able to get away with eating a little less without your performance suffering. On top of that, if you develop healthy nutrition habits when preparing for your race, those same habits will remain after your race when you can start to consciously reduce your calories. The net effect of this will be accelerated weight loss once your race is done.