Can You Run to Lose Weight While Also Training for a Race?

Just keep running. Just keep running. Just keep running (I’m starting to feel like the human version of Dory from Finding Nemo). My heart is racing while my lungs beg for air as I round out the end of this run. I turn the final corner, narrowly avoid a group of three tourists, and sprint out the remaining three blocks. I finally slow to a halt while sweat drips from my head onto the sidewalk. Hands on my knees and breathing heavily, I reflect on this last go. Usually, it’s not that difficult once I get into my groove, but this time was hard, really hard. Maybe it was something I ate? Actually, that could be it.

Last time I ran a marathon I was trying to lose weight and train at the same time and, well, it proved difficult. Although it seems like the two may go hand-in-hand, the fact is they outright contradict each other. While you’re supposed to cut calories when dieting, you’re supposed to be carb-loading when training (I realize carbs and calories are different things, for the record). So when you diet appropriately, your run suffers, which is obviously the exact opposite of what you want when you’re trying to increase your performance.

It essentially boils down to what Anne Mauney said, “If you diet while training, you won’t perform at your best because you won’t be able to adequately repair your muscles after workouts.” Yet, although it seems impossible, and certainly felt like it when I tried, it is apparently plausible to both lose weight and train for a race. Actually, it seems like a fairly obvious solution now that I’ve heard it. You just need to focus on weight loss before you start training. Take 4-8 weeks before beginning intense training and use that time to lose the weight. Then, by the time you start buckling down, you’ll be “be in good shape” to start preparing for the race! For those interested in not making the same mistake I did, here are a few tips:

Stuff Your Body With Protein

There’s are a number of studies extolling the benefits of using protein when dieting. Protein makes you feel full, curbs your appetite, and builds your muscles. Apparently, runners should try to eat about a gram of protein for every pound of bodyweight in order to optimize muscle-building efficiency. Many types of meat and plant-based foods like legumes are rich in protein, so you don’t need to look far to bulk up.

Eat Your Calories. Don’t Drink Them.

There’s no reason to make your life harder by slurping up soft drinks, sweet tea, and juice. Rather, substitute water. While I don’t think it is even necessary to preach the benefits of water, I will merely give you a quick recap. ZERO calories. While that should be more than enough reason to switch over, water also helps you stay full. So often when we’re running, we feel hungry and eat, when in fact, we should be drinking water because we’re dehydrated. For whatever reason, our body will sometimes indicate our thirst as hunger, but now that we know this is not the case, we can react properly, and drink water, not eat fatty food.

Nutrient Density

This fancy phrase really just means eat the food with more nutrients. Basically, nutrient density is just a way of saying you should eat foods that make you feel full. For instance, instead of frosted flakes, munch on a blueberry pancake. Other nutrient-rich foods include bright vegetables, leafy greens, lean meats, quinoa, and wild rice. If you eat these, you don’t even need to calorie count. You’ll be in the clear while the pounds just slip right off before your training regime.

It’s funny how running can completely change depending on your perspective. Usually, people run to lose weight, not run to meet goals. Yet, for a runner, losing weight is often the furthest thing from our minds. We’re focused on the run itself and improving not our appearance, but our performance. Regardless, aside from my former naïveté, I now know that if I’m going to lose weight, it better be before I train. Not during.