Before I start this post I want to make a couple of things clear. Firstly I know that not everyone runs to lose weight or fat. There are many different reasons why people take up running. It’s definitely not the only reason that I started or continue to run. But if one of your main reasons for running is fat loss then this post might be of interest to you.
I also want to make it clear that I’m not a trained fitness professional. This post is based on advice that I’ve been given and my own experience of following that advice. You might well have a different experience and disagree with some of the things that I write in this post. That’s absolutely fine and actually I’d love to hear about that. I’m just sharing the things that I’ve learned over the last year or so.
Let’s start by turning the clock back to 2012. I’d completed the London Marathon after months of training and had lost around half a stone in the process. I’d followed Hal Higdon’s Novice programme – running 4 x a week at the same steady pace. The programme didn’t advocate much cross training but I’d added in some yoga and a bit of Powerplates into the mix as well.
One of my reasons for wanting to run a marathon was weight/fat loss so I was pretty pleased with the half a stone loss. But as my training went back to ‘normal’ and my mileage decreased my weight plateaued. By the end of 2012 I’d regained that half a stone despite running regularly. Very frustrating.
Then in January 2013 I started training in a completely different way – lifting weights and incorporating high intensity interval training while following Julia Buckley’s Fat Burn Revolution programme. Following Julia’s advice I cut out almost all of my long slow runs. When I did run it was hard and fast for short intense intervals. A completely different approach to training for me. And my body responded well. I lost nearly a stone in 12 weeks and shed around 6% of my body fat.
So based on this experience what have I learned about long distance running and fat loss?
1. Long slow running is not a very effective form of exercise for fat loss
I’m not saying that running makes you fat or that it’s impossible to lose some fat through long distance running. However, there are other forms of exercise that give much greater bang for the buck in terms of torching fat. So if fat loss is your top priority then in my experience your time would be better spent on lifting weights or exercising at high intensity for short bursts.
2. Long slow running makes me tired
Which means that I have less energy to spend on the more effective forms of fat burning exercise. So if fat loss is my priority then I’m better off skipping the long runs and focussing all my energy on the more effective forms of fat burning exercise
3. Running makes me really hungry
And when I was training for my first marathon I ate ALL the carbs. I fuelled my runs on pasta, rice, bread, porridge, pizza, sweets, chocolate, cake. Hm. None of those foods are particularly well known for being great for fat loss because – well they’re not.
It’s so easy to reward yourself with a carby sugary treat after a long run. Go on, have that slice of cake, you’ve run x miles – you deserve it. All fine, except that if fat loss is your priority then rewarding yourself with cake and chocolate probably isn’t going to help your progress too much in the long run.
Harsh but sadly true. Changing up my diet so it’s mostly based on lean protein and vegetables has been something of a revelation for me. These days my carbs are mostly clean and I eat them in moderation.
4. There’s is a balance
Since completing the first round of Julia’s programme I’ve added running back into my training mix. I love taking part in races and as I said at the start of this post, fat loss isn’t the only reason that I run. I’ve managed to find the happy medium where I still run but also have enough time and energy to devote to the weights and HIIT which have allowed me to continue my fat loss.
The leaner, stronger me is also better at running. My PBs have all fallen and I think there’s more to come.
And that’s just as well – because I’m training for the London Marathon again. And for the next three months completing that marathon in my target time is my number 1 priority. My number 2 priority is doing no damage to my current fat levels and hopefully reducing them if I can.
That’s going to be a challenge which requires focus and I’ll talk more about my marathon training plan in another post. It’s slightly unconventional but I believe in it.