5 Running Mistakes That Could Lead to Weight Gain

5 Running Mistakes That Could Lead to Weight Gain


Sure, running burns a ton of calories and can be a helpful tool with weight loss. But some runners find that, despite their best efforts, they don’t lose weight with running and some discover that they even put on a few extra pounds.

If you’re running to lose weight or you’re just hoping to maintain your weight, try to avoid these mistakes so you don’t see that number on the scale creeping up.

Mistake #1: Eating more calories than you need.

Runners overeating
Greg Ceo

Even if you’re running a few times a week, if you aren’t burning more calories than you’re consuming, you’re not going to see a difference on the scale. You may be hungrier than you were before you started running, and you’re eating more calories than you realize.

One strategy that many runners find helpful is to spread their calories throughout the day. Try eating 5 or 6 small meals, so you don’t get ravenous and overeat. And make sure you’re snacking on healthy foods, like fruits and veggies, not junk food, which often contain more calories, don't fill you up, and can trigger hunger.

Also, avoid the temptation to "treat yourself" with high-calorie or high-fat food after a long run. Choose a non-food reward, such as a massage or new running gear, to celebrate your progress. 

Try planning out your meals so your meal and snack choices are more deliberate and therefore healthier. Some runners also find it helpful to track their food in a journal so they know how exactly how many calories they're consuming. Knowing that you have to write down everything you're eating and drinking may also make you think twice before putting something in your mouth.

You should also make sure you know exactly how many calories you need each day, since the USDA 2000 calorie diet is only a recommendation. Use this Daily Caloric Expenditure calculator to determine how many calories you actually need each day.

Knowing how many calories you need will help you figure out how much you need to create a deficit of 3500 calories, which is equal to one pound. So, if you’re running 15 miles a week, that means you’re burning about 1500 calories a week (assuming you’re not doing other exercise). To get to a 3500 calorie deficit, you would need to cut 2000 calories a week, or about 280 calories per day, to lose a pound a week. If you’ve been getting your recommended amount of calories, or even going over, that would explain why you’re not seeing weight loss.

Mistake #2: Not running enough miles.


If you've been running for a while and you haven't lost any weight or you've even gained a pound or two, you'd probably have more success if you increased your overall weekly mileage. There's really no magic number of miles per week when you start losing weight. However, the bigger calorie deficit you can create, the more likely you are to lose weight (or at least maintain your weight).

The Weight Loss Control Registry, a research group that studies people who have successfully lost weight and maintained their weight loss, points to the need to consistently burn 2,800 calories through exercise each week in order to successfully lose weight.  In terms of running, 2,800 calories would be equivalent to about 28 miles per week, for the average runner. So, that doesn't mean that you must run 20+ miles per week to lose weight, but you'll probably be more successful if you do so (or do other exercise to supplement your running).

Mistake #3: Drinking too many calories during your runs.

Erik Isakson/Getty

Another area where runners, especially those training for a distance event such as a half marathon or marathon, get into trouble is drinking too many calories. Unless you're doing a long run where you'll be running more than 90 minutes, you don't need to drink a sports drink during or after your runs. If you're running longer than that, sports drinks such as Gatorade can be used to replace electrolytes. Plain water is fine to stay hydrated during shorter runs and to re-hydrate after runs. 

In general, when you're not running, try to limit sports drinks, fruit juices and regular soda since they also add a lot of calories to your diet, but don't make you feel full. 

Mistake #4: Not varying your runs.

close-up of runners' sneakers
gradyreese/E+/Getty Images

If you're always running the same distance at the same pace, your body might start to get a little too used to it. Your muscles are always adapting to the demands you're placing on them, so if you're not changing it up a little, you won't make as much progress. With practice, your body becomes more efficient at running, so you may start to burn fewer calories doing the same old run. This is why some beginner runners initially see some progress with weight loss and then eventually hit a plateau (and may even gain back a few pounds).  

If you always run the same pace, try incorporating speed intervals into at least one run per week. You can start adding speed by warming up for a mile and then running at a faster pace (breathing heavy but still in control) for a minute and then recovering at an easy pace for a minute. Continue with this pattern for two miles, then cool down for 5-10 minutes. When that gets too easy, you could always increase the time of your speed intervals or do hill repeats instead.

Remember, it's not just about the number on the scale. If you've been avoiding these mistakes, eating well, and you still find that you're gaining weight, try not to focus too much on that number. It could be inaccurate since our weight does fluctuate depending on what time of the day or month we weigh ourselves. Also, you may be adding more lean muscle mass, which weighs more than fat.

Pay attention to other measurements such how your clothes are fitting, how toned you feel, body fat percentage, or inches lost. And if you really want to lose weight, try to be patient and remember that healthy weight loss takes time. Even if you're running a lot, you shouldn't try to lose more than a pound a week.

Also see: How to Avoid Post-Marathon Weight Gain

Mistake #5: Getting Injured

ankle injury
Science Photo Library

When some runners are injured and can't run, they maintain the same eating habits they have when they're training. Some runners even end up eating more than they do when they're training because they spend their free time socializing and doing more activities that involve relaxing and eating. Inevitably, taking in more calories than you're burning leads to weight gain. 

Here are some ways to prevent injuries so you can avoid putting on a few extra pounds during a rehab period:

  • Incorporate strength-training in your training routine. Core and lower body exercises are particularly important when it comes to preventing injuries. Many running injuries, especially knee and hip-related problems, develop because of muscle weaknesses or imbalances.
  • Don't ignore warning signs of injuries. If you push through pain, you could end up making your injury much worse.  Taking a day or two of rest will not really affect your training.
  • Avoid doing too much too soon, running in old or improper shoes, and other running mistakes that could lead to injury.

If you do your best to avoid injuries and still end up being sidelined, talk to your doctor or physical therapist about safe cross-training activities you can do during your recovery period. It's still possible to be active (and burning calories!) while you're taking a break from running.

Also see:  7 Ways to Cope With Not Being Able to Run

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