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Running and Still Gaining Weight?

Posted Jul 21 2010 8:48am
Running is supposed to help you lose weight right? Right. But....... There's always a "but" isn't there. And this time you're trying to avoid the "big butt." I know, it's not a laughing matter. You're determined to get fit and lose weight and you're out there every day running, but each time you get on the scale you're not seeing any weight loss or even worse you may be seeing some weight gain.

Well, there's a few things that need to be discussed first. Basically, your body is like a machine and food is the source of the fuel you need for that machine to run. Your body has something called a BMR or basal metabolic rate. Your BMR is the number of calories needed for all your body systems to function when you're at rest. The number of calories beyond your BMR is determined by your activity level. So, if you're a sedentary person, you'll need very few extra calories, if you're lightly active, you'll need a little more. If you're moderately active you'll need still more, and so on and so on. Basically it's a calories in calories out type of system.

To figure out your BMR use the following formula:
Women's BMR Formula:
655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) - ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men's BMR Formula:
66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) - ( 6.8 x age in year )

Remember, once you've found your BMR, this is the number of calories you need just for your body to function at rest. To determine the additional calories you'll need based on your activity level, use the following information:

sedentary (little or no exercise) = BMR x 1.2
lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) = BMR x 1.375
moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) = BMR x 1.55
very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) = BMR x 1.725
extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) = BMR x 1.9

So for example, my BMR is 1470 calories. That's the number of calories I need just to lay in the bed. Right now, I'm in training for the Marine Corps Marathon and I'm running 4 days a week plus doing cross-training two days a week, so I'd fall into the Very Active category. My daily caloric needs while in training are 2535.75 calories (1470 x 1.725 very active level). If I have a lighter week where maybe I didn't get in the cross-training, I'd need to lower my calorie intake.

Now, I'm not a numbers person, and counting calories is not my thinking of fun, so basically I know that when I'm training, I need to eat more and when I'm not training or when I'm training less, I need to eat less.

In general , the problem is that many times we take in more calories than we burn off and so we end up with a calorie surplus. When those calories aren't used as fuel, then they end up becoming fat which is stored all over you body. So becoming more active should help take care of the problem, right? Right....in theory.

Newbies to fitness, be it running or resistance training, will see big gains in their fitness levels the first few months and they'll probably see significant weight loss too. That's because all of the sudden they've jacked up their metabolism and they're burning off more calories than normal. As long as they don't over eat during this period of new fitness, the weight loss usually happens.

The thing is that your body will eventually acclimate to the new level of fitness and even though you may be burning the same number of calories as before, you may see a stall in your weight loss or even some gain.

There can also be something else at play. Have you ever heard someone say, I run 5 miles a day, but I can't seem to lose any weight? Not only will your body acclimate, if you're doing only slow steady runs, your body will release something called cortisol. Cortisol is a nasty hormone that eats muscle mass. Muscle is what burns those calories. So, less muscle means less calorie burn. Less calorie burn means stalled weight loss or weight gain.

So, now you probably have the clinched-up perplexed look on your face. You're wondering, "Well, what in the heck can I do, if running every day causes me to release stuff that makes me gain weight?" That's a logical response. But have no fear! There actually is something you can do and it doesn't involve buying something for $19.95 from an infomercial that comes with a complete set of Ginsu knives.

So, how do you do it? It's simple. Speed work and resistance training are the two best ways to get you over that hump. Both speed work and resistance training (weight training) will up your metabolism as well as increase the release of testosterone (men) human growth hormone (women) which counteracts the effects of the cortisol.

Okay, now you're probably thinking...."Well, I don't have access to a track and I can't afford a gym membership." Well, guess what? You don't need either. Speed work can be done in the form of intervals on a track, but you can also do something called tempo runs and fartleks.

Tempo runs are when you up the pace/intensity in the middle of a run. For example in a 4-miler, you begin with a 1-mile easy warm-up, followed by 2 miles at just below your 10K race-pace, followed by a 1-mile easy cool-down. Fartleks are informal intervals thrown into a regular run. During a five-miler you may throw in 3 or 4 fast segments. These segments can be time-based or distance-based. For example, you begin a five-miler at a slow easy pace for 5 minutes, then ramp it up to a 10K pace for 5-minutes, followed by 5-minutes back at the original slow steady pace. This is repeated throughout the course of the run. The segments can be any time-frame you want or it could be based on distance such as 1-mile slow, 1-mile fast, etc.

Hill workouts are great too. Find a hill with with a 5-7% incline and run up it as fast as you can. Then jog or walk back down the hill. Then back up the hill again fast. Repeat this 3-5 times. Hill workouts create a great calorie burn as well as strengthen your hamstrings and glutes.

Resistance training is weight training, but you don't need a lot of fancy equipment or gym memberships to see great effects. Body-weight exercises or exercises using dumbbells will work fine. Don't have dumbbells? Do what famous marathon coach/trainer Hal Hidgon does—fill gallon-sized plastic detergent jugs with sand and uses those as weights.

Exercises that target the larger muscles groups such as the hamstrings, glutes, and quads will help you get the largest calorie burn. Remember that muscle is what burns the calories, so if you're working more muscle mass, you'll burn more calories. Squats and lunges are some of the best lower-body exercises that will help up your metabolism. Plyometric exercises (hopping, bounding, jumping) will also get a great calorie burn. Jumpsquats, mountain climbers, burpees, ice-skaters, and lateral hops are simple and effective plyometrics exercises that are great for upping the metabolism. (Look on the blog later this week for a video posting of these exercises.)

So, if you're running the same-ole same-ole and feel like you've stagnated, even gained some weight, give speed work and/or resistance training a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!
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