I’ve been running for over 20 years (crazy!) and I seriously love it. I love being outside, I don’t mind the treadmill, I’ll run in rain, snow, hot or cold weather. Running alone gives me time to think. And running with friends has given me some of the most quality friendships I’ve ever had. I’ve run dozens of 5Ks and multiple marathons, including the Boston Marathon in 2018 and 2019. While running has certainly kept me in shape for two decades, my motivation for running is not for fat loss or fat burning. But, I do get asked by friends, family, and instagram followers a LOT what I think about running for fat loss. So, today I’m sharing some thoughts about running for fat burning, which I hope is helpful.
However, PLEASE know that I really encourage you to find a workout or fitness routine that you LOVE. Don’t run just because you feel like it’s the best option to burn fat. Finding a workout that you enjoy is going to be the best one for fat loss since you’re more likely to stick with it! I don’t run for fat loss – I run because I love it!
Running is a popular form of exercise by people everywhere. In the United States alone, an estimated 64 million people run at least once in a year. Among the many health benefits that you get from running, fat loss is almost always at the top of the list as far as reasons why people give it go. It’s impressive that you can actually burn anywhere between 8.5 to 11 calories per minute while running, depending on your running pace. But to fully grasp how running can be a great fat burning exercise, you have to first understand what fat burning is and what happens to the body during this process.
So let’s discuss.
Fat burning is defined as our body’s way of oxidizing fat and using it as fuel. When you start running, adrenaline is released into the bloodstream. This stimulates the release of fat from the cells, which is then broken down to be used as fuel. There is a long list of fat burning exercises that you can do, such as running, swimming, rowing, cycling, and jogging. But running beats them all in my opinion for a few reasons. What makes running the best workout for fat loss is the convenience and accessibility that come with it. Unlike swimming and cycling, running does not require any special facility or equipment. All you need is a good pair of running shoes.
However, running to lose weight does not come easy. Many factors should be taken into consideration before you can finally say goodbye to your stubborn belly fat, and embrace the fat burning benefits of running.
Running is an effective way to burn fat because it requires a lot of different muscle groups to work hard together. The amount of fat that you burn depends on your body size. Your running duration and pace matter, as well. As a general estimate, an average-sized runner can burn up to 100 calories per mile. According to experts, to effectively burn fat, you should be running at a higher intensity, which is roughly 80% of your maximum heart rate. Yep, bust out the old heart rate monitor if you really want to get serious about losing fat.
Like any workout, your body can hit a plateau after doing it for a while. So as you become fitter and leaner, you have to find ways to mix things up and stay motivated in order to continue the fat burning process. To keep the pace going (pun intended), here are some tips to follow so you can keep using running to burn fat.
Running is one of the best forms of exercise because it’s easy to begin. So if you’re feeling nervous about running, just remember the most important thing is to just START. You’ll get better over time and be able to run longer and faster the more you practice running. (Make sure you sign up for my Running 101 newsletter for more tips to get started!)
You need to keep your body healthy and happy if you’re serious about running. You can avoid pulling a muscle by stretching before and after running. I don’t advise static stretches before running; you want to do dynamic stretches (like lunges, squats, hip circles, etc.) to warm up your body. Save the static stretches for post-run. Work it in to your running routine and your body will thank you! If you don’t stretch, you may end up with injuries that prevent you from running. And not running is not great for fat loss.
Your muscles and brain need water to perform properly. Make sure you drink enough water in the 24 hours before running, and the 24 hours after running. It will make all the difference in the long run, trust me! Speaking of long runs, make sure you carry water with you if you plan to run more than 45 minutes or on any run when it’s very hot outside.
For fat burning, run 3 to 4 days per week for at least 30 minutes per session. This time frame includes a 5-minute warm-up routine, a 20-minute run, and a 5-minute cooling down routine. During the days you’re not running, focus on building your lean muscle mass by doing some strength training and other cardio exercises. (Read this post about cross-training and other types of cardio!) When your body gets used to doing 30-minute runs, you can progress to running for 60 minutes or doing fewer walks in your run, then up it to 90 minutes if you want to train for long distances.
You can also add different running styles as you feel more comfortable. For example: uphill running, beach running, or hiking trails with all types of terrain. Once you’re really comfortable with long distance running, maybe you challenge yourself to a marathon! The key is to start slow. Build time and mileage up very gradually to avoid injury!
After getting used to running longer on flat surfaces, you are now ready to hit the stairs. In fact, stair running is one of the best and most effective fat-burning exercises that you can do without needing any additional equipment. Simply run up some stairs at a pace you are comfortable with, and then do a slow jog as you go back down to recover. Not only does this exercise keep your heart pumping and your metabolic rate up, but it will also give you a more perky glute! Major bonus!
It’s surprising to know that you burn more fat when you run on an empty stomach. So ditch that toast or morning smoothie until you’re done with your morning run. However keep in mind that this does not work with long-distance runs. You will need to replenish midway, so be sure to bring your water bottle if you plan to do a 90-minute run. Also, check with your doctor and make sure there isn’t any reason you shouldn’t skip breakfast before running. This isn’t a problem for me, but it might not work for you. Everyone is different!
Make your exercise more enjoyable by choosing different routes after a couple of weeks. Adding hills, trails, beaches, lakeview, city streets, or indoor runs can keep the boredom at bay. You could also join local training clubs to make you feel extra motivated and meet new people!
Whether you are new to running or you have been running for years, it is important that you stay motivated all throughout the process. Make it fun by running with a friend, who can also act as your accountability buddy. Track your progress. Then set new goals consistently to run farther, faster, or climb an extra flight of stairs each time. Find ways to keep yourself engaged so you stay in love with running forever!
Not all runs are created equal when it comes to fat loss. You can choose to run at a slow and steady pace. Or you can do a faster, more intense run. While both types effectively burn calories, the total number of calorie loss from fat depends on the kind of run that you choose.
With low-intensity running, the body burns more calories from fat than from carbohydrates. But a high-intensity run tends to consume a lot of calories from carbohydrates and fat overall. Plus, it keeps burning fat even after you exercise. Thanks to the process called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC.
Studies show that the after-burn effect of high intensity interval running significantly helps lose more calories in the long run. Your body can actually burn fat up to 24 hours after a high-intensity, interval run. Incredible!
I think it’s best to do both and keep things mixed up. You can do both high-intensity, interval runs and long-distance runs to get the best possible result. I suggest alternating. Do intervals 1-3x a week and run slow and steady a few days a week.
Whatever type of running plan you choose, one thing remains true. The journey to long term fat loss is not easy. But the good news is, it is doable. All you need to do is to stick to a plan that you are comfortable with. And don’t forget to throw in a healthy whole-food, nutrient dense diet because as the old saying goes, “You can never out-exercise a bad diet.” So just follow these tips and you’re well on your way to your weight and body fat goals. And don’t forget to carb up if you’re serious about your increasing your training load. Read this post for more info.