There might be affiliate links on this page, which means we get a small commission on anything you buy. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
When exercising to lose weight you have a lot of workout options. One of the most common ones is running, is it good for weight loss?
The human body uses energy in the form of calories day in, day out. By increasing the amount and intensity of your movements you raise the amount of energy you use.
If you use more energy than you absorb from food, your body turns to body fat to supply that extra energy. This is known as a calorie deficit.
Running can certainly help you burn extra calories, which can lead to body fat burning. But just how good is running for weight loss?
Cardio versus HIIT versus Weight Lifting
All forms of exercise can be divided into 3 main categories. These 3 categories are cardio, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and weight lifting. In terms of what parts of your body they impact you can bucket cardio and HIIT together.
Each workout will inevitably use both your cardiovascular system and muscles. However, usually one of the two really stands out.
The way cardio and HIIT help you lose weight is slightly different from how more muscle helps you lose weight. One or the other can be better depending on the situation.
Running is a typical cardio and/or HIIT workout.
Weight lifting helps you burn more calories by increasing muscle mass. How much you weigh is an important factor of how many calories you burn each day. That’s how many weight loss plateaus happen, you lose some weight and you start burning less calories with the same habits.
Building more muscle helps you add healthy weight. A certain amount of muscle also burns slightly more calories than the same amount of fat.
This means that by spending a little time building muscle you can increase the amount of calories you burn 24/7.
Cardio and HIIT
Cardio and HIIT help you burn more calories by increasing the intensity and quantity of movement right now.
This makes those kinds of exercise great for short term energy usage. The flip side of the coin is that once you stop doing these kinds of exercise the extra calorie burning will stop fast.
HIIT is basically cardio but faster. So depending on your running tempo you are doing one or the other. The higher the intensity of the exercise you are doing, the more calories you burn.
Do this for long term weight loss
So cardio and HIIT are good for fat loss in the next hour or so. For long term weight loss weight lifting can be a lot more time and effort efficient.
You can also do both. The extra muscle will help you get more out of your cardio workout.
Often people forget that your choice of exercise isn’t only about how efficient the calorie burning is. If you really don’t like doing weight lifting, chances are you won’t stick to it.
Some people just like going for a run on the treadmill or outside.
This can help a lot with sticking with it. Feeling this way about working out can make cardio, and running in particular, a better choice for weight loss.
Is running good cardio for weight loss?
If you’re more a fan of cardio exercise you still have a lot of different options. One of them is running.
Keep in mind that the amount of calories burned by exercising depends from person to person. Things like age, weight, activity levels,… influence it. The following numbers are an estimation for a 155-pound person doing the exercises for 30 minutes (4).
- Running 5.2 mph: 335 calories
- Running 6.7 mph: 409 calories
- Running 10 mph: 614 calories
- Water Aerobics: 149 calories
- Stretching (Hatha Yoga): 186 calories
- Dancing (Fast, ballet, twist): 223 calories
- Stair Step Machine (general): 223 calories
- Rowing, Stationary (moderate): 260 calories
- Bicycling, Stationary (moderate): 260 calories
- Elliptical Trainer (general): 335 calories
- Swimming (crawl): 409 calories
- Bicycling 16-19 mph: 446 calories
The thing with these numbers is also that the more intense and the longer you do your exercise, the more calories you will burn. These measurements are great to get an estimation but you can’t rely on them being the exact same for you.
How fast you run obviously influences these numbers. Overall, running is certainly one of the best cardio workouts you can do.
You can check out the specific article on how many calories running burns for different time intervals, distances, steps, and bodyweights.
How much should you run to lose weight?
One pound of body fat is about 3500 calories (one kg +-8000). How much you should run to lose weight will also depend on the amount of calories in your diet.
One person might eat more than the other. This might make it so they need to exercise longer or more intense to see the same weight loss results. You can even lose weight without exercising so there are many factors that influence it.
30 minutes of running a day at 5.2 mph could help you burn an extra 3350 calories in 10 days which is almost a pound of body fat. 30 days 10.050 calories and so on…
Keep in mind that losing weight too fast can be harmful. In general a 500 calorie deficit per day is considered to be a healthy weight loss rate.
If you want to lose weight more quickly than the 335 calories per 30 minutes from running 5.2 mph you can increase the intensity and/or duration of your runs.
Can you lose belly fat by running?
Losing belly fat is mostly not about what specific exercise you do but about the total amount of calories it helps you burn in the long term.
Since running helps you burn a nice amount of calories it can help you lose belly fat.
Is it better to run in the morning or evening for weight loss?
Running right before bed can mess with your sleep quality. This means that you preferably want to go for a run before dinner. If you really don’t have an other choice it’s probably still better to go for a run anyway.
There is some theoretical weight loss advantage of going for a run in the morning before you eat anything, in a fasted state. There is not (yet?) any research that shows this lead to more weight loss.
In terms of longevity running in a fasted state is probably the best option. This increases processes like autophagy.
Morning runs are also less likely to be interrupted by unpredictable events in your life. Not a lot of plans are scheduled in the morning.
Diet guidelines when running for weight loss
How much weight you will lose with running depends a lot on your other lifestyle habits like your diet. It’s fairly easy to out-eat any exercise plan. Let’s say a 155-pound person goes running at 5.2mph for 30 minutes. That’s about 335 calories or 80 grams of chocolate chip cookies.
If you’ve never paid any attention to calories burned with exercise and calories in foods this is easy to forget. Often people “reward” themselves with food when they start running. This can actually lead to weight gain in some cases.
In terms of things you do want to eat, running is not very strict. Most people have enough energy stored for the distances they run. You do have to drink enough water before and after your run. If you really sweat a lot you might also need to make sure you’re consuming enough salt.
What to eat before a run
Most people don’t necessarily need to eat something before a run. They have plenty of energy and nutrients stored.
If a lot of your calories come from carbohydrates and you plan on doing a long run (about 45 minutes+) you might want to consume some food with energy anyway.
If your body is already used to running on fat you likely have plenty of fuel in the form of body fat.
What to eat during a run
Again most people don’t need to consume anything for shorter runs up to about 45 minutes. Once you go over that it might be beneficial to have some water with you.
If you go on a very long run or you run in hot temperatures you might need to supplement salt. However this doesn’t apply to most people trying to lose weight.
What to eat after a run
The first thing you should consume after a run is water. Besides that there are no real must-eat foods. You could even wait another few hours before eating. Foods with some protein and salt can benefit you.
Eating on non-workout days
The more you get into an eating routine the easier it becomes to eat the same things. This can both benefit and hinder your weight loss.
If you want to stick to the same calorie deficit everyday you would have to consume less on days you don’t work out.
Important tips for running for weight loss
Running can be a great workout for weight loss and change your body in amazing ways in the right circumstances. Here are some tips to make sure you’re using running to lose weight the right way.
Running might not be right for you
Running very hard for very long can burn a lot of calories. For that to happen you have to be able to keep doing this exercise.
Running is fairly heavy on body parts like your knees, hips and back. By overdoing it you risk short and long-term injuries. It can also increase the levels of stress hormones to levels that can disrupt your fat loss.
If you’re not used to exercising or moving a lot you might want to build up slow with something like walking. If you’re a beginner your cardiovascular system also might not yet be able to deal with intense exercises like sprinting.
If you are injury-sensitive you might want to go for other workouts like cycling, rowing, using the elliptical trainer, and other alternatives to running. These have a lower risk of being harmful to your body.
Make your running workout more fun
Some people dread the thought of doing the same run over and over. Luckily there are a few ways you can make your workout more fun.
The first way is to change up your workout. You can change the distance you run, the intensity, the location,… All these variations can make your weight loss exercising more interesting.
The second way is to get yourself an exercise buddy. You can catch up with a friend or have some quality time with a family member. This also offers both of you some accountability.
You can also listen to your favorite podcast or music.
Finally you can sign up for an upcoming race. Wanting to perform well can motivate you to stick to your workout schedule.
There is no magic weight loss running schedule
It might feel that other people have a secret running plan that makes them burn insane amounts of calories. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Burning more calories with running comes down to running longer at higher intensity.
You have to find out what workout you can keep up and improve from there. Besides that how much weight you will lose with running depends on other lifestyle habits like for example your diet.
Change it up if you want to avoid a weight loss plateau
An important aspect of how many calories you burn with a workout is how much you weigh.
Let’s say you currently have a good weight loss routine. You keep losing a pound per week.
To keep this up you need to keep making improvements in your weight loss habits. The lighter you become the less calories your workout will burn. That means you’ll have to increase the distance or intensity of your run. You can also look at other lifestyle habits and keep your workout the same.
Other health benefits of running
Exercising is not only helpful for losing weight but also extremely good for your overall health. Here are some of the health benefits you can expect from running:
- Less heart disease
- Lower blood pressure if you have high blood pressure
- Improved sleep
- Better insulin sensitivity
- Can make you feel happier
- Benefits cognitive function
Even if you are stuck at a weight loss plateau you give yourself a big gift by keeping up your exercise routine.
How should you start with running to lose weight?
One of the benefits of running is that you don’t need much to get started.
Everyone has some workout clothes laying around. The only thing you might need to purchase is a good pair of running shoes. You will spend quite some time exercising in these. There are also other running accessories that provide benefits but they are not essential.
Once you have your gear you can start scheduling your running workout. When you are physically inactive you can start with 1-2 days of jogging for 15 minutes. If you have a bit more workout experience you can go straight to 3-4 days a week.
If you choose to do high intensity running you can benefit from jogging at a slower pace for a minute or 5 as a warm-up.
In the end these are just examples. Every person has a different background, situation and schedule. The only way to find out for sure is giving it a few tries and adapting from there.
Other running gear that can benefit you
While you don’t need this gear to successfully run to lose weight, it can offer some benefits that can help you lose more weight.
Heart rate monitor
Your heart rate is the best way to know how intense a workout routine is for you. For example an elderly lady might consider walking up the stairs high intensity exercise because of her high heart rate.
By keeping an eye on your heart rate you can make sure 2 things:
That you are not overdoing it. Exercising too hard can not only cause injuries, it can also damage your heart with very negative consequences.
That you push yourself hard enough. When you first start out a 10-minute run might be a big deal. However, sooner or later you will get used to this. You can tell by your heart rate if you are pushing yourself hard enough.
The distance you run together with how fast you run determines how many calories you burn. By having a distance tracker you know both of these things. This can help you get a better estimate of how many calories you burn during your workout.
Most of the distance tracking watches also have a heart rate monitor.
You can also get yourself a treadmill for your running workouts. They are not essential but there are many reasons you might prefer to get one.
One of the most important reasons is that you are not dependent on the outside world. It’s raining outside? No problem. There is snow and ice outside that might get you injured? No problem. No time to drive to the gym? No problem. All the treadmills are occupied? (Probably) not happening.
Having to skip your workout because things got in the way really adds up to a lot of missed exercising over time.
Treadmills can also make your workouts a lot more enjoyable. A lot of them have built-in place holders for a tablet or screen to watch your favorite shows. This again makes it easier to put on your running shoes.
How good is running for weight loss?
In general, weight lifting workouts will give you more weight loss for less effort in the long term. You can also combine cardio/HIIT workouts and weight lifting for extra results.
People who have a lot of weight to lose and people who are injury sensitive might want to look into other workouts first. Swimming, cycling and the elliptical trainer are examples of workouts that are less stressful on your body.
Potential injuries aside, running is one of the best cardio workout for weight loss. You can burn a lot of calories with it, you don’t need too much gear to do it and you don’t necessarily have to drive anywhere to start exercising.
In general, the faster, further and more frequently you run the more calories you burn. Up to a point of course, overtraining can have reverse effects on weight loss.
Do keep in mind that it’s easy to out-eat any exercise routine. Most people also need to make changes in what they eat to see great weight loss results.