A debate has been ‘running’ (please excuse the pun) in the fitness media about the effectiveness of running as a means of losing weight.

The arguments have ranged from those who consider it the best fat-reducing activity on the planet, to those who claim that running is totally ineffective as a weight loss regime.  The credentials of the arguers on both sides is frequently impressive and their scientific reasoning seemingly unassailable.  How can the poor layman or laywoman be expected to make any sense of it?

In this blog, we won’t enter the ‘Is running good or bad for slimming?’ debate, but will merely consider what can be done to maximise its effectiveness for those who wish to lose weight.

The principal arguments in favour of running cite such factors as:

  • The high level of ‘afterburn’ – as a high-intensity activity, running produces a greater degree of ‘afterburn’ than low-intensity exercise.  In other words it can continue to work while you’re at rest
  • Efficiency – running offers the potential to burn calories quickly, thereby reducing the need for mega-length workouts
  • Convenience – little in the way of equipment or expense is needed besides a pair of running shoes, making it a convenient and cheap form of exercise.

By contrast, the arguments against can go something like the following:

  • ‘Steady-state’ running can prove disappointing as a long-term weight-loss regime because, in effect, the workout becomes easier rather progressive
  • Increasing endurance at the expense of intensity can limit the fat-burning potential of the exercise
  • Burning lots of calories through a high-intensity exercise like running can produce a famished feeling afterwards.  Re-fuelling with junk food can undo much of the good work you’ve just done
  • You can run too little or too much!  A single 45-minute run or two 20-minute runs a week is unlikely to burn sufficient calories for weight reduction.  By contrast, exercising too much can reduce recovery and stunt fat loss – an hour of cardio work a day is more than sufficient to lose weight.

But, I want to lose weight by running – what should I do?

  •  Make sure you re-fuel wisely.  Post-run snacks should be protein and carbohydrate-rich and should not exceed 150 calories.  Meal portions should be kept to a sensible size
  • For maximum effectiveness, run three to four times per week and incorporate other forms of calorie-burning cardio or strength training on ‘non-run’ days
  • Track your workouts accurately to make sure you are really burning the amount of calories off that you think.  Heart rate monitors or mobile phone apps can be used for this
  • Don’t rely solely on the scales to determine your progress.  You may well be losing fat, but you could also be building muscle.  The scales may not show a decrease, but other body measurements might reveal that you are, in fact, making progress
  • Above all else, try to enjoy it!  Any form of exercise which is utterly unenjoyable is unlikely to be sustained for long.