Running by numbers
Weight loss is a game of maths – and a very simple game at that. In order to lose weight you need to create a calorie deficit; that is, you have to expend more energy than you consume. There are two routes to this goal – cutting back the calories that you take in as food or increasing the calories that you expend as energy.
The main advice within this article relates to the former, ie modifying the type of food you take in and establishing a sensible eating plan which limits the number of empty calories in your diet. However, the cornerstone of any weight-loss strategy has to be exercise. As a committed runner you already have the basics right, but you can, however, still adapt your training programme to maximise your chance of trimming off those excess pounds. Here are a few simple but proven ways to do that:
Add weight training to your programme
Weight training builds muscle mass which pumps up your resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is required to maintain your body’s vital functions. Your RMR accounts for about 60-75 per cent of the calories you burn every day.
Add more miles to your weekly training
Running boosts your thermic effect of activity (TEA), a secondary metabolic process which accounts for 20-30 per cent of the calories you burn every day. The more you run the more you burn your TEA – it’s that simple. Or, without changing your weekly running schedule, add another activity to your training programme.
Increase the intensity of your runs
Add more tempo runs, fartlek sessions and modest speedwork into your schedule. You don’t have to commit more time, you just have to work a little harder during the week. If you don’t want to change the basic structure of your training, then even adding four to eight strides – fast but controlled pickups of about 100 metres – into your lunchtime five-miler will have an impact. Research shows that more intense training lifts your calorie-burning after the work-out is over, adding once more to your TEA. (See this introduction to speedwork.)
Don’t go on a restrictive diet
Okay, this isn’t an exercise strategy, but it is a crucial lesson for anyone who wants to trim a few pounds and keep them off. Research shows that when you lower your daily calorie consumption – particularly if you force it below 1000 calories a day – your RMR decreases. It is better to follow a modest (but not restrictive) balanced diet which keeps your RMR at a healthy level.
Although the maths for any weight-loss plan is very simple, calculating the figures which go into the equation may not be so easy. Most foods have their calorie-content printed on the packaging and there are plenty of books around to give you rough estimates for uncooked or unprocessed foods. Calculating the calories you are burning each day, the other side of the equation, is a little more tricky though. According to nutritionist Nancy Clark, you can make an educated guess at this figure by adding up three things: the calories you burn to simply stay alive; your daily activities; and the calories you burn through purposeful activity – like running.
Clark has a simple rule-of-thumb to calculate the total. First, multiply your weight in pounds by 10 to get your basic-existence calories. For daily activities, add 50 per cent of the number you just came up with. Then add 100 calories a mile for every mile you run in a day (a good approximation, although large-framed runners will burn even more).
Here’s how the maths would work out for a 160lb (around 11.5st) man who runs five miles a day: basic existence – 160 x 10 = 1600 calories; daily existence – 0.5 x 1600 = 800 calories; running – 5 x 100 = 500 calories. Add the three together and you get the total calorie burn for the day: 2900 calories.