Q+A: Does a faster runner burn more calories?

Our experts answer real-life questions

Posted: 9 September 2002
by Peta Bee

Q Is it true that a person will use the same amount of calories over a given distance regardless of how fast or slow they run? My theory is that two runners with an identical metabolic rate would use the same number of calories over a set course.

A The rate at which our bodies burn calories is determined by many factors, of which time and distance are only two.

First the science bit: our basal metabolic requirement (BMR), the number of calories we require over 24 hours, is dependent on age, sex, height and weight. A 64kg man, for instance, has a BMR of about 1550 calories, while a 64kg woman’s BMR is around 1400 calories.

As you lose weight, your BMR drops. This effectively means that you have to exercise harder and longer to burn the same number of calories. Lots of studies have confirmed this. Most recently, for example, researchers at Dunn Nutrition Laboratories in Cambridge found that overweight people burned more calories in a step test than the leaner participants.

So what about your theory? Well, you’re right. Even if one of your identical runners ran five miles in 30 minutes, and the other jogged the same distance in 45 minutes, there would be a negligible difference in the calories burned. In fact, this would hold true even if one walked the distance.

The difference comes once the two runners have stopped. Several studies show that there is more likely to be a prolonged rise in metabolic rate (around five per cent higher than normal) for up to eight hours after intense exercise than after moderate physical activity. This means that the faster runner in your scenario stands more chance than the slow jogger of burning some extra calories after he has finished.

Peta Bee, RW Nutrition Editor

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Discuss this article

As an overweight runner whose weight varies depending how much running I have done etc. Has anyone done any research into optimum running weights, frame size, age etc. How much quicker will I get for each pound I lose until I am too slim and the graph goes downward again. I would like to set myself a weight target.
Posted: 06/10/2002 at 09:37

Hi Philip,

Rather than trying to set a weight target based on your running, I'd be inclined to set one based on the healthy weight range for your height and build.

If you go to something like Yahoo! and search for "Body Mass Index" or BMI, you should be able to pull up some info on BMI, which is a recognised way of determining healthy weight ranges for your height.

If you can't find anything suitable, let me know and I'll send you some info.

I have personal experience of this - about 2 years ago I was *way* overweight and couldn't run upstairs without getting out of breath. I now compete, on road and track, for the local club and am having a great time with the running having lost 4-and-a-half stone to get back to my ideal weight.

One hint, though: Don't obsess on the scales! It's easy to do that.

One other thought just struck me - you could talk to your GP and they should be able to recommend a suitable weight?



Posted: 06/10/2002 at 20:50


I am a 40 year old, 5'10" man, and I used running as part of a weight loss plan. When I ran my first 10k race I weighed about 13.5 stone, and finished in a little under 44 minutes. Just over a year later, with my weight down to 10.5 stone, my 10k time was down to just under 35 minutes. Now, weight loss on its own didn't account for all of the improvement - I was training pretty seriously as well - but it certainly helped. The other point to bear in mind is that weight loss improves your ability to train hard and consistently, since it reduces the impact on joints, and therefore the risk of injury. The optimum running weight for me, by the way, is about 2lbs for every inch of height, plus 10 lbs. This calculation gives a BMI towards the bottom end of the healthy range of 20 - 25.

Posted: 07/10/2002 at 12:22

Just a note - the formula in my previous post is a useful rule of thumb for men in general, not just for me personally! Hence the target (competitive) running weight for a 5'10" man = 150 lbs (10st 10lbs). For a six footer it is 11st.
Posted: 07/10/2002 at 12:28

I think the weight at which you would run the fastest is actually way below what is medically healthy. If you look at most of the elite distance runners, they are pretty emaciated and wouldn't fill a normal pair of jeans.

Obviously, losing weight will help you run more comfortably and probably faster, but aiming for that optimum weight is probably unhealthy. I agree with Dave that BMI is a good indication of where you might want to aim for. www.realslimmers.com have an online calculator which also gives the ranges that are considered healthy. If you want to be lighter than these guidelines, you should check with your GP as to whether it would be healthy or not.
Posted: 07/10/2002 at 14:05

What I understand from these postings is the lighter you are the faster you should be able to run. I must be a real bad bad runner, a BMI of 17.3 and very slow, imagine if I would actually have some weight to carry around, I probably wouldn't be able to move at all.
Posted: 07/10/2002 at 15:25

Sorry to change the subject but I don't agree with the original article that says you use the same amount of energy whatever speed you run.

The most energy efficient mode of gait is walking because the body's centre of gravity follows an almost straight path. As we run, we incorporate a flight phase into our gait which becomes longer as we increase stride length. (running speed is a product of stride lenth and stride frequency)

The longer the flight phase, the greater vertical distance travelled by the centre of gravity each step and thus the greater energy cost. This is independant of the energy used in braking and propulsion at each step.

In my opinion, the reduction in biomechanical efficiency coupled with the increased energy cost of respiration means that the amount of energy used per unit distance run increases with speed and does not remain constant.

I also know it certainly feels more tiring to run a set distance at a fast rather than slow pace.
Posted: 07/10/2002 at 16:26


Possibly (in other words I'm not clever enough to know for sure) the rule stands because the losses due to mechanical (in)efficiency are insignificant in comparison to the overall energy used in moving the mass of your body from A to B.

It feels more tiring running faster because you have to expend a similar amount of energy in a shorter time bringing all sorts of complex energy systems variables into play.

Posted: 07/10/2002 at 16:48

I was 15 stone, I now weigh 13 after starting running a year ago.

Don't run to lose weight, run to get fit and eat a healthy diet and you'll see vast improvements all round.

I agree that BMI is the way to go, but use it as a rule of thumb and don't get obsessed. You can rest assured that taking up running is one of the best things you can do, and you are going in the right direction. Just don't use it for anything other than

1. Enjoyment
2. To get fitter
3. To feel good

I know this is fairly basic, but if you're lucky you'll meet loads of like minded people who are very friendly, doing the same.

To find that out all you have to do is enter a race and get involved, or join a club.

I did both and now I feel great rather than wasting away watching Reality TV Fodder and stuffing curry down my neck.

Although I have to confess I still do this now and then, just not as often

Posted: 23/04/2003 at 16:06

Hi All

I would like to add my 2 cents worth to this debate. I would not put too much faith in the BMI readings you get off different web sites, instead go to your GP and get your body fat measured and work towards lowering this figure if required.

The reason I say this is that BMI does not take into account body composition.

ie. If Arnold Swartzenegger (sp)in his prime had used a web site to measure his BMI it would have reported that he was obease which was clearly not the case as he had very low body fat % and a very high lean muscle %.

As I said, Just my 2 cents worth.
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 08:52

I like Daniel's '2lb for every inch of height + 10lb' formula - makes me spot on my ideal weight! Not that this will stop me obsessing though.
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 09:06

Being vertically challenged i don't take much notice of "official" ideal weight charts. For the majority of people the difference in build alone throws the process into oblivion. Who wants to be average/normal anyway?
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 09:11

Optimum running weight is very skinny - end of story.

Posted: 24/04/2003 at 09:18

Does the 2lb for every inch of height + 10lb formula work for women, or will it be different as women naturally have more fat in their bodies than men ?
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 09:50

I distrust any formula that only uses height and not width or muscles...
This one gives 150 lbs as my ideal weight. If I lost 15 lbs and reached that weight I would be really skinny - last time I was there people started feeding me apple pie spontaneously :)

It may be an ideal weigth for running though.

Mags2: women have more fat but usually also less muscle and smaller bones. A woman and man that are the same height, and both slim, maybe the man would be heavier?
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 10:05

I agree with Tim Weatherhead about running to enjoy it and feel fit. I started following a training programme to improve endurance and fitness. A side effect is that I've lost a bit of weight, but not as much as I would have if I was following a diet and exercise programme with the specific aim of losing weight. Yes, I'm watching what I'm eating but in the sense of eating for maximum fuel for my run, rather than "ooh, I can't have that cos it's fattening". But! Because my goal is different to simply losing weight, I'm not disappointed by the meagre loss (about 7 lbs or so in the last 2-3 months). Instead, I'm chuffed that I can run and enjoy it without feeling like an overstuffed sack of tatties. And, would you believe it, someone said to me yesterday that I look like I'm much thinner and have lost a lot of weight. Definition, definition, definition!

(Hmmm... methinks my wee rant is off the subject of the original question!)
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 10:19

my optimium running wieght is always going to be about 15lbs lower than whatever weight I currently am
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 10:19


i think that runners like paula radcliff - although i admire her etc etc - are just too skinny - its just not natural. theres a couple of girls at my gym whom are sooooo skinny, i want to feed them up!
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 10:31

Chopping off a piece of leg is a fast way of losing 15 lbs. Not sure what it will do for the running though.
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 10:31

As part of my marathon training this year I lost about a stone in weight, and now fit perfectly with the 2lbs for every inch + 10 (I am 5' 10")
My running and training intensity have significantly improved this year also. IMHO the two factors (ability to train intensively and the lighter body weight) are interlinked, i.e. it is difficult to train intensively when you are heavier/overwieght without getting injured, but training intensively will also help you lose weight/keep it off.
I guess this might be one of the reasons why you should only increase you mileage by 10% a week..
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 10:39

I'm just in a permanent sulk because I love running and I train hard to improve my endurance, speed etc - BUT -

I'll never run as fast as the world's natural skinnies, given that I have the build of a miniature Chieftain tank - definitely a pit-pony rather than a thoroughbred.

My BMI of 23 is "healthy" but the impedance scales show 31% fat. According to all the calculators in sports nutrition books, an "ideal" running weight is around 20lb lighter than my current 9st 4lb.

I give up. Even the fitness instructor at the gym took one look at my muscly little frame and said "give up running, take up rowing"!
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 10:46

Do all GPs offer a body fat analysis?

I definitely feel I have that extra edge when racing or training if I am 10st 6 rather than 10st 11 which I can get up to after a few days unhealthy eating. (I am 5ft 10).

One reason I run in the morning as well as the evening is to burn extra calories so I can enjoy my food and drink.

Why is Paula `not natural'? Is there an ideal look we should all aspire to. To me she looks like a throroughbred racehorse. If she was a coal miner no doubt she would have to look different but she has the ideal bodyweight for what she does.
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 10:56

Most GPs who offer body fat analysis use bioelectrical impedance, which is less accurate than the Wobble Test (jumping up and down in front of a mirror).

Peak Performance has an article on the optimum body weight for runners. For women, the formula they give is 100lb for the first 60 inches in height, add 5lb for every additions inch, then deduct 5-15% from the total. That would mean that my weight (I'm 5'1") may need to be as low as 6st 6lb, which sounsd freaky - at the moment I'm a little under 8st and my ribs stick out.
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 11:05

going by that 2lb per inch +10lb form, i would be a couple of pound overweight. i am pretty muscly though. I would like to get a bit more lithe and will be starting some pilates plus a diet after my hols...

Posted: 24/04/2003 at 11:22

There is a useful article, including formulas from the Peak Performance website at link.
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 11:25

Using the PP formula I'd need to be 8stone 1lb. I was 14 the last time I was that weight.

2lb/inch + 10lb would give just under 10stone, which is more realistic, but I feel best at 9stone8lb.

Just have to get there now..........
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 11:44

<<jumps up and down in front of the mirror>>

Rap, breasts (of the non-silicon type) are *supposed* to wobble, aren't they? None of these formula's have an additional couple of lbs for this. I suppose I could make them go away if I tried hard enough and got myself stick thin...

<<puts sports bra back on >>
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 11:50

Then there is always a breast-reduction operation - I have actually thought about this, but not in a serious way - however, research published in the British Medical Journal did show that it was the plastic surgery operation with the best customer satisfaction rating afterwards...

Posted: 24/04/2003 at 11:59

oowch! LynneW dont do it...i have largish boobs but the thought of any one cutting them makes me feel nauseas!
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 12:17

No, don't worry, my weight-loss plan doesn't include a reduction mammoplasty - just the tried and tested regime: RUN MORE and EAT LESS. Sigh.

Posted: 24/04/2003 at 12:25

know what you mean! mind u, i prefer to put it the other way - that i exercise so that i can eat the foods that i like!!
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 12:26

Can we stick to dieting and weight loss please ?!?! Is it just me or is it hot in here ?!?!

Posted: 24/04/2003 at 12:49

Good grief, the PP formula would have me between 8st2lb and 9st2lb. I was probably at those weights when still growing in height (now 5'7"). Also, I had my body fat measured a few months ago using calipers and I think these weights would see me with negative body fat which is an interesting concept. And why can't people work in kg these days?
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 12:50

help...I should be just under 7 stone if Im going to win a marathon... bugger that, I was about 14 last time i was anywhere near 7 stone...Id be happy to get to 9 stone. Problem is since Ive been running Ive put on half a stone and no its not muscle as my fat% is still the same....
Posted: 24/04/2003 at 12:54

I think it all goes to show that there is a large range to be in the 'healthy' category.

I'm not sure I agree with too many of the formulae around. At my fittest, training 6-8 months for the ADT London Marathon (anyone remember those..!?) in 1991, I lost just half a stone to get to 12.5 stone. At just over 5'11" that would still mean I was outside some of the ideal weight ranges, but I actually looked too gaunt! Maybe something to do with my natural 'big bones'!!??

Posted: 24/04/2003 at 13:38

2lb for every inch + 10 = 147



THUD >>>BBB falls of the chair laughing<<<

Only just under 3 stone to go to my ideal running weight!

Give me a break! I definately think we should have weight catergories instead of age catergories when running.

I know that according to the BMI range the top of 'normal' for someone of my height should be just over 11stone 11lb's. About two years ago I tried really really really hard to get there. I got down to 12. Everyone said how skinny I looked but most commented on how much skinnier my arms where....muscle wastage! I eventually made myself ill trying.
Back to about 13-6 now. Yes I am trying to loose a stone but no more! I aim to get down to about 12-6. This time with lots of work in the gym maintaining my upper body strength....

I don't think these calculations are made for someone who is 5-8 (and a half - its important) who takes a size 17 collar.

I would much rather be a bit chunkier than really skinny so I'm not that worried.

Wouldn't mind having my body fat chaecked though (properlly not on those dodgy scales) that would be aproper target to work on instead of weight....Do I need to go to a fancy gym or just smile nicely at my GP (although if it takes more than 2 mins he will not put himself out to do it I bet!)

Posted: 24/04/2003 at 14:27

Stop obsessing about weight! What's important is feeling good about yourself. Most scales make you feel bad - my advice is, throw them away. I have recently started running and my goal is to feel fitter and healthier. I don't need a pair of scales to tell me that, I can feel it.

Posted: 08/05/2003 at 09:53

I've not had time to read the whole thread (sorry) but I saw BMI being used earlier. I personally think that BMI is hogswash and only useful for sedentry people. Not people who use these forums.

I've had a couple of full fitness tests done in a lab including body fat tests etc. On the first one I came out with a BMI over 25 but the guy had a laugh as my body fat was only 8.1% Muscle mass has a lot to account for. I could never get my weight below 13st5 and when i have I've just looked so gaunt and thin. The second one was prety much the same but i came in at 24.9 something.

Plain Old - You can get a simple body fat test done at any local gym. They should do it for free if you're a member, i think they'll use calipers and a chart for that type of test.

Posted: 08/05/2003 at 10:09


This is a calculator to estimate body fat % from a skinfold test. It is based on using the proper calipers, but you can probably have a rough guess using your fingers.

Posted: 08/05/2003 at 10:17

For those of you worried about your breasts I may have a solution. I've been trying to patent an idea for a new running bra. For the duration of the run it is similar to the Berlei Shockabsorber (but it has wider straps with some padding for extra comfort). The novelty is that it has an easy quick release mechanism which you apply just before the finishing line. I estimate that the well proportioned woman can knock 0.25 secs off their time in this way. Obviously this will be marketed at competitive sprinters but it may be of benefit to anything up to 1500m runners. My point is that rather than having these items surgically reduced you can actually use them to gain an advantage.
Posted: 08/05/2003 at 10:21

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