Oh, that cursed scale! Isn’t distance running is supposed to work like the ultimate fat loss supplement? However, you just can’t seem to get rid of those few extra pounds, no matter how much you run. But most elite runners look like stick figures–what gives, and why doesn’t running make you as thin as they are?
Unfortunately, there is more to burning fat than just long, steady-state runs–which, in fact, may be doing more to slow your metabolism down than to speed it up. And yes, even though years of running may have left most marathoners as thin as bean poles, it has taken them just that—years upon years—to become so thin.
But why is this? Shouldn’t running be just the thing to burn off excess body fat? Not necessarily, especially if you haven’t got unlimited time to devote to running!
Why Distance Running Alone Doesn’t Cut It
Here’s the thing: unless you are running for more than 90-minutes per day, you are probably not burning fat, period. This is because your liver has a reserve of glycogen—or energy from carbohydrates–available as fuel, which usually takes around 1.5-hours at an easy pace to deplete.
It is only after this store of glycogen is used up that your body begins tapping into its reserve supply of fat, so most of the time you are merely burning off last night’s calories, NOT last week’s stored fat!
Add to this your body going into reserve mode when it is taxed for extended periods of continuous activity, which causes your metabolism to slow down during long runs. This is akin to how it is better to eat many small meals throughout the day, rather than one or two large ones, since your body converts food into energy better when it knows more is on the way soon.
When it doesn’t expect more immediate fuel—or when it expects to just “keep running” –it stores the fuel it has for now as fat, and meters it out more slowly to avoid running out.
Finally, long runs rely on slow-twitch—or endurance—muscles, which are designed to run efficiently for long periods. Unfortunately, “efficiently” means utilizing as little fuel as possible for the task–such as how a small, fuel efficient car burns less gas than a large, powerful, “muscle” car.
However, when it comes to burning body fat, efficiency is not always a good thing.
Become a Muscle Car
The opposite of slow-twitch muscle fibers are fast-twitch fibers, which are the kind used during short, powerful, anaerobic bursts.
And, just as your car burns more fuel when you bolt from stoplight-to-stoplight than it does during steady freeway miles, your muscles also burn more fuel when they are taxed hard for short periods than they do during long, low-intensity runs.
So, rather than being a small, efficient economy car steadily motoring down the interstate, you need to become more like a race car with a V-8 engine, burning rubber at every stoplight before slowing down for the next one, and then doing it again.
Not Just During, But After
By employing tougher, shorter, more intense exercises, you can use up glycogen more quickly on your way to your fat reserves—AND, you can continue to burn fat even AFTER you exercise.
Yes, you read that right—engaging your power muscles leaves your metabolism spiked and burning fat for hours after a hard workout. This is because when you lift weights, sprint or otherwise use your fast-twitch muscles at a high intensity, microscopic tears appear in the fibers which require calories to mend.
So, by “burning rubber” in your V-8 muscle car, rather than cruising steady in your 4-cylinder economy car, you are not only consuming more fuel immediately, but you are using more in the long run as well.
However, if you are merely interested in burning off X-number of calories per day with running, you are better off simply not consuming those calories in the first place!
How Do You Become a “More Efficient” Engine?
For those predisposed to spending much of their day running, the news of “long and steady” not being the best way to burn fat might not be what you want to hear.
However, for the rest of us, being able to fit a high-intensity fat-burning workout into less than an hour is a good thing, since few of us have 90-minutes plus per-day to devote to working out.
But how should you do this? By engaging in High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts, weight lifting, or sprints.
These can include:
1. Weight Training
Don’t use your gym membership to dawdle along on the treadmill when there are plenty of lean-muscle building weights all around you. No, you don’t have to end up looking like Hercules, or even “power lift” if you are not interested.
However, by incorporating as little as two weight training workouts per week, you can successfully get your body burning calories at a more efficient rate than you can through distance running alone.
2. Boxing Workouts
Want to really light up calories, and have fun doing it? Try fitness boxing! It is like the best fat loss supplement you have ever tried, only better. Just as Rocky Balboa gained power, strength and endurance through a variety of HIIT workouts designed to build stamina and burn fat, so can you. No, you won’t need to chase any chickens around the yard (unless you want to, of course), although by doing bag work and other high-intensity boxing workouts, you can get results in a variety of ways—none of which are as boring as running endless miles!
3. Hill Repeats
Short, hard sprints uphill followed by minimal recovery and then repeated can be just the thing for fitting your fat-burn workout into a short period of time. These can be done nearly anywhere there are hills, and in fact, stairs can work just as well,if not better than steep hills. Throw in a good natural fat burner like Ultra Omega Burn and watch your stubborn fat melt away.
To sum it up, this isn’t to say that running itself is a bad activity for the body. It provides other health benefits too, cardio superiority being one of them. However to solely rely on running won’t be the most efficient method of losing weight.
It can be hard on the joints if you are covering long distances on a weekly basis. Give yoga or pilates a try as well which is more joint friendly and comes with good health benefits too.
Look after your body and it will pay off in spades.
Mich is a 38-year-old semi-professional sports person who enjoys extreme ironing, drone photography and ferret racing. She is fit and disciplined, has a degree in sports science and has a severe phobia of cats.