Long distance running and fat loss – my experience

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

15 thoughts

  1. I suspect that you are right about the high intensity and fat loss. When I started ‘running’ with couch to 5k all the running bits were anaerobic because I was so unfit, I looked like I was going to die! But I did lose weight without trying. Now I can run at a steady pace for miles but if I want to lose weight I have to run further than I can eat, ie about 10 miles/ 1000 calories and like you say that makes you quite tired! So I have plateued with my weight but I’m ok so long as I’m not gaining! And there are other reasons to run! But it’s worth bearing in mind about the weights/ hit programme.

    1. Running definitely helped me lose weight to begin with, but I reached a plateau as you say. It was then that I needed to mix things up to keep losing the fat. It depends on what your goals are but I’d say try the weights and HIIT if you want to shed some more fat.

  2. You are spot on Becca. Long slow runs train you to do a long slow run but very little of what you burn is fat…..unless they are really long. I also think that running to lose weight is difficult. When you are training for a long distance event, calories are your friend!! I like your idea of clean carbs….as you know I am trying that. I woudn’t say the weight is dropping off, but it is certainly coming off.

    1. Glad to hear the clean eating is helping out. It’s not always easy to stick to – especially when you’re training for a long distance event but it’s definitely been a big factor in my fat loss over the last year.

  3. Great post Becca, but I think the long runs are really important, especially for marathon training, as they increase your aerobic threshold and endurance, which is pretty integral to running a marathon. My training plan has two shorter/harder runs in the week (threshold/hills), plus an easy Saturday plod and a long run on Sunday, and it’s working pretty good for me at the mo. The hard sessions are bloody hard though, and I guess it’s those that will make me a stronger runner in the end. What plan are you following this year?

    1. Hi Tess – yes of course long runs are important if you’re marathon training. I wrote the post as lot of people take up long distance running thinking that they’re going to lose a tonne of weight and then get frustrated when they don’t. But obviously if you want to run a marathon then you’re going to have to do some long runs! I’m running 3 times a week at the moment and a long run every fortnight. It’s working well so far – there’s a way to go yet but I’m feeling confident that it will see me through.

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