Raise your hand if you started running to lose weight and then fell in love with running? That’s how so many of us runners got our start. But, as we increase mileage, add race goals, and try to continue to lose weight – this can get tricky.

When is it appropriate to try to lose weight while running and how do we do it safely and make sure it does not impact our performance and overall health & injury risk?

The basics

In order to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you take in (calories out > calories in). This sounds simple, but there are so many other factors that make this much less simple, such as changes in resting energy expenditure, genetics, daily habits, food choices, etc. For these reasons, a weight loss journey will look different for everyone.

Set your priorities

First and foremost, ask yourself. ‘Am I trying to fuel for performance or for weight loss?’ These two goals are competitive. If we try to have it all for too long, we increase our risk of injury, burnout, and low energy availability + all the consequences that come along with it. Undercutting nutrition for weight loss is in direct competition with performance. When we consistently under fuel for weight loss, we are not supporting optimal performance in workouts and we sure as heck are not supporting recovery. Think about it – as mileage increases, we need more energy. If you do not eat to support your energy demands of training, you won’t hit paces in workouts. You won’t recover well. You will not replete glycogen stores. You will likely feel fatigued, sore, irritable and performance suffers.  So, if you are in a training cycle, do not cut your energy intake to try to lose weight. Focus on your training, fuel like a boss, and if you’d like to revisit weight loss after your race, go for it!

How to lose weight safely

The safest and most sustainable way to lose weight is to surround your runs and workouts with solid nutrition. Nail your pre-run snack, fuel runs over 70 minutes, and rock that recovery nutrition. Then, skim a small energy deficit across your day. We’re talking small tweaks across the day at each meal and snack. We are not talking about skipping meals and snacks. We do not want large energy deficits during the day. Research has shown that women who cut more than 300 calories per day can experience menstrual disturbances, amenorrhea, lower metabolism, higher cortisol, and lower hormone levels. Men who cut out more than 400 calories per day were more likely to have lower testosterone, lower metabolism, and greater muscle breakdown. 

Control your hunger

Hunger is the enemy of weight loss. Controlling hunger is key. If we skimp too much and are ravenous at 2 pm, we will face plant in all the snacks, and overeat later in the day or on the weekends. If you are starting to get hungry… eat something! The best way to stay satiated is to eat balanced meals and snacks. Protein, healthy fats, and fiber will help keep you full longer, so make sure to include one or more at all eating occasions.

Example Day for Weight Loss:

5am Pre-run snack – banana

5:30am Run

7am Recovery meal – EBTB Egg Sandwich + extra egg whites + berries.

10am Snack – Snickerdoodle blender muffin

12pm Lunch – Salad w/grilled chicken + whole grain roll (choose a light balsamic vinaigrette instead of ranch)

3pm Snack – Apples with peanut butter (choose half the peanut butter than normal – 1 Tbsp vs. 2 Tbsp)

6:30pmSpaghetti pad thai

Skimmed about 200 calories with 2 small changes

This is just one example and will not look the same for everyone. Reach out for individualized recommendations specific to your unique needs. 

Sources: PMID: 29205517, PMID: 29405793

If you want to learn more from Meghann, check out our virtual Off-Season Body Composition Series!

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.