Running and Not Losing Weight

5 Reasons Why You Aren't Shedding the Pounds

Woman running down a path with her dog
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Many people start running to lose weight. It's a smart strategy since running can burn as many as 100 calories per mile. You would assume, therefore, by running regularly, you would naturally start shedding the pounds.

Unfortunately, things don't always work out that way. In some cases, you might lose a few pounds and then hit a weight loss wall. Even more frustrating is the fact that some people will actually gain weight despite putting in the time and effort.

If this is the situation you are faced with, there are 5 explanations you may want to consider:

Excessive Calorie Intake

Losing weight is ultimately about burning more calories than you consume. Even if training for a marathon, if you eat more than your body can metabolize, you will almost invariably gain weight.

You may not even be aware of how much you are actually eating once you first start running. The very act of exercise will increase your appetite as your body demands more calories to keep it running. If you are not careful and eat too much of the wrong foods, you may end up exceeding your energy demands.

Moreover, we often fool ourselves into thinking that we've "earned a treat" after a run and will order a big piece of cake and a double latté with cream as a reward. In doing so, you have not only erased your calorie deficit, you have gorged yourself on carbs, trigger an increase in both blood sugar and weight.

To put yourself right:

  • Keep a food journal. Start by keeping an accurate record your food intake for a week and work out exactly how many calories you are eating per day. If the number exceeds your energy output, you need to cut back. Use an online calculator to determine your actual need based on your activity level.
  • Eat smaller meals. Spread your calories over five or six smaller meals instead of the usual three. This can help stabilize your metabolism and prevent the hunger pangs that may drive you to overeat.
  • Watch the liquid calories. Though you may be running a lot, you don't need to constantly drink sports drinks to hydrate yourself. The same applies to fruit juices, coffee drinks, and soda. Plain water is enough to stay well hydrated.
  • Trim the carbs. Generally speaking, the average adult should consume no more than 130 grams of carbs per day (or roughly 45 percent to 65 percent of the total daily calories). If you are exceeding this—or are within the range but are still unable to lose weight—trim the carbs slightly and replace with lean protein.

    As a rule of thumb, one pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. To lose a pound per week, you would need to reduce your intake by 500 calories per day if you maintaining your weight or more if you are gaining weight.

    Increased Muscle Mass

    Another reason that you're not losing weight is that you're building more muscle mass. This is especially true if you suddenly reach a weight plateau and stop shedding the pounds like you used to.

    In the end, muscle is denser than fat. As your body fat decreases with regular exercise, your lean muscle mass will invariably grow as you build strength and stamina. So, while you may not be actively losing weight, your body fat percentage will have dropped and you'll be more toned than ever before. And that's a good thing.

    So, instead of worrying about it, pay attention to how you are feeling overall, and use measurements rather than weight—such as the size of your waistline or how your clothes fit—to track your progress.

    Increased Water Weight

    The pounds you are gaining are sometimes neither fat nor muscle, but rather water weight. This often occurs while you are preparing for a big race and place extreme stress on your muscles. In response, your body will start to retain water to repair damaged fibers and deliver fuel (in the form of glycogen) more effectively to muscles.

    In the same vein, intense workouts may spur you to drink more water than usual. As such, you may be putting on excess water weight that will later be shed with urination.

    Avoid weighing yourself after drinking a lot of water or immediately following a training run. A half-liter of plain water alone weighs 2.2 pounds. By contrast, a 30-minute run may strip you of as much as a half pound in water weight.

    Other causes of water retention include excess dietary salt, premenstrual water retention, the use of anabolic steroids, and certain medications such as estrogen-based birth control, beta-blockers, and high doses of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen).

    Water weight gain will usually reverse itself once you stop training heavily. Avoid the use of diuretics ("water pills") to trim down quickly as this can cause the depletion of electrolytes needed for training, leading to dizziness, headaches, reduced energy, and muscle cramps.

    Steady State Cardio

    There is one thing that can undermine the best of training programs: doing the same thing over and over again. Simply put, the more that you that you do the same exercise, the easier it will become. Rather than challenging your body, your body adapts to what has now become routine.

    Steady state cardio is the term used to describe a workout that exerts continuous, steady effort, as opposed to an interval workout where you vary the energy output. The problem with steady state workout is that it will only achieve weight loss for a period of time and then stop altogether, resulting in a weight loss plateau.

    A 2017 study published in the Journal of Diabetes Research concluded that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) performed over shorter workouts achieved greater abdominal fat reduction after 12 weeks than longer steady-state workouts.

    If you have been doing the same training routine every week on end, it is time to mix things up. Incorporate speed intervals in which you alternate the intensity of a run and push yourself in and out an anaerobic state.

    You can start by warming up for a mile and then running at a faster pace for a minute (to where you can no longer speak when running) and recovering at an easy pace for a minute (to where you can speak). Continue with this pattern for two miles, then cool down for five to 10 minutes.

    If things get too easy, increase the duration of your speed intervals or do hill repeats to challenge your muscles in a whole new way.

    Overtraining

    The old adage "effort in, results out" sounds great but doesn't always apply. While you would think that training hard every day would literally peel away the pounds, current evidence suggests that overtraining can sometimes have the opposite effect. In fact, if you overtrain and cut calories at the same time, your body will respond as if you were starving.

    When you overtrain with inadequate nutrition, you will begin to lose lean muscle mass, achieving a skeletal look we often see in ultramarathon runners. To compensate, the body will "rescue" you by building fat reserves in the abdomen.

    In the end, the excessive stress placed on the body will trigger the hyperproduction of the stress hormone cortisol. Excessive cortisol slows the production of thyroid and sex hormones, which, in turn, promotes weight gain and fat storage.

    To remedy this, pull back on the weight loss efforts. Instead of severely cutting the calories, maintain a 250-calorie deficit per day, which will yield a loss of around 1/2 pound per week. By doing so, you will still have plenty of the energy reserves to fuel your workouts.

    It is also important to recognize the signs and symptoms of overtraining and to adjust your workouts accordingly, achieving the right balance of exertion, rest, and recovery.

    One way to do so is by altering the intensity of your training in preplanned stages, known as periodization. This can help prevent overtraining by allowing your body to recover and your muscles to heal during less intense periods. You can do the same at the gym with pyramid intensity workouts.

    Oftentimes, by taking your foot off the accelerator, you can achieve far better and lasting results.

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