We’ve all been there: Despite exercising and watching what you eat, the elastic in your running shorts seems to be as tight as your hamstrings. “Ninety-five percent of the runners I work with want to lose some weight,” says Cassie Dimmick, M.S., R.D., a sports dietitian and running coach in Springfield, Missouri. “For good reason: The leaner you are, within reason, the faster you go.” Getting lean requires the same trait that makes you get up at 5 a.m. for a five-miler: discipline. You need to be vigilant about your diet and consistent with exercise so that you maximize calorie burn, increase muscle mass, and decrease body fat. Luckily, it’s easier than it sounds when you employ these tactics from dietitians and coaches. Get ready to lose!
EAT TO LOSE
“Know when you’re going to eat and what you’re going to eat,” says Suzanne Girard Eberle, M.S., R.D., author of Endurance Sports Nutrition. “Plan it out at the beginning of the day and the week so that you’re not scrambling when you’re hungry.” This helps you resist the temptation of fast-food restaurants or pastries in the break room.
Aim for three healthy meals and two small snacks a day, which means you’re eating something around every three hours. A 2010 Swedish study involving more than 3,000 people found that those who ate more than three times a day had a lower body mass index and waist circumference; consumed more fiber and less fat; and drank less alcohol than those who limited their eating sessions to three or less. “Eating more often keeps your metabolism humming, and prevents you from getting super hungry,” says Lauren Antonucci, M.S., R.D., owner of Nutrition Energy in New York City.
The National Weight Control Registry is a compendium of more than 10,000 people who have maintained a weight loss of at least 30 pounds for at least one year. These successful losers “limit their exposure to temptations,” says J. Graham Thomas, Ph.D., a co-investigator on the study, “and have a repertoire of healthy foods they pull from regularly.”
DON’T DRINK SUGAR
A study out of Tufts University in Boston looked at the association between sugar-sweetened drinks and the nutritional habits of 947 adults. Unsurprisingly, those who drank the most sugary beverages, like soda, had a higher risk of obesity and a lower intake of fiber. When you celebrate, opt for wine, beer, or a drink mixed with club soda. “Margarita mix, orange juice, and Coke often have more calories than the alcohol,” Dimmick says.
Aim to have fruits and vegetables make up half of each meal. “Your breakfast should be half fruit, and your lunch and dinner, half veggies,” says Dimmick, who adds that snacks should have the same 50/50 ratio: think carrots and a yogurt, or string cheese and an apple.
Rotate three meals, says Pamela Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D., sports nutrition expert for the Runner’s World Challenge. Ideas: “adult” cereal (high on fiber, grains; low on sugar), oatmeal, Greek yogurt, or eggs. Always include fruit.
Rotate three to five meals. Ideas: salads (go easy on high-calorie toppings), sandwiches on whole grain (hold the mayo), eggs (if you didn’t have them at breakfast), and broth-based soups. Always include fruit or a side of vegetables.
Rotate five healthy meals like chicken, fish, and whole grains. Always include vegetables. “Keep your meals interesting by changing the vegetable and fruit sides and mixing up the preparation of the entree,” Nisevich Bede says.
Go Off the Sauce
Beware of the hidden calories in sauces. Use tomato sauce instead of alfredo on pasta; substitute hummus or mustard for mayo on a sandwich; and make your own salad dressing: Add a little ranch seasoning to plain Greek yogurt, or a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Take It Easy on Nut Butter
Runners love peanut and almond butters, and for good reason: They offer protein, healthy fats, and fiber in a convenient package. But a serving size is two level tablespoons. “People often end up eating three tablespoons,” says Dimmick. “That’s an awful lot of calories.”
Make Fiber Your Friend
“Multiple studies have shown that fiber is correlated to weight loss as well as weight maintenance,” says Jennifer Vimbor, M.S., R.D., founder of Nutrition Counseling Services in Chicago. Fiber passes through your system undigested, so your body has to work harder and longer to move it out, which helps rev your metabolism and give you a feeling of fullness. Aim to eat at least 25 grams of fiber a day: beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. (But to keep your GI tract quiet during your run, don’t eat fiber two hours before you head out.)
Keep it Away
Don’t bring decadent foods into your home; it’s easier to win the battle at the grocery store than at the dinner table.
Practice Long, Slow Eating
In a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2011, researchers in New Zealand looked at the relationship 2,500 women had between their self-reported speeds of eating and their body mass indexes. For each step up in speed (on a five-step scale from very slow to very fast), BMI increased by 2.8 percent. By slowing down, you give your mind a chance to process that your body is full. Increase your meal splits by eschewing distraction: no computer, no television, no newspaper. “You’ll become aware of every bite,” Eberle says.
Go All DIY
“Throwing something together for yourself at home is almost always going to involve fewer calories than dining out,” Dimmick says. “You can control the ingredients and the portion sizes.” For nights you’re too rushed to cook, stock your pantry and freezer ahead of time with these staples: vegetable and bean soups, a frozen vegetable pizza, brown rice you can microwave, a can of black beans and salsa (a combo of the latter three make an easy, healthy meal). In order to make a brown-bag lunch as easy as possible, double dinner recipes so that you’ll have leftovers. Chili and lasagna—make them both heavy on the vegetables—are especially tasty the day after you make them.
Eat real Food
“The more packaged and processed foods you eat, the less satisfied you feel,” says Antonucci. “A half of a sandwich is a better snack than a handful of pretzels; nuts are more filling than animal crackers.” Pack an apple for emergencies.
“Before you reach for a snack, make sure you’re really hungry,” says Eberle, who explains we often eat when we really need sleep, play, or downtime. ‘You may just need to step away from your desk for 15 minutes and chill out.”
What’s Your Intake?
Count your calories, if only for a few days. “Most people hate doing it,” Dimmick says. “But it’s the only way to actually see the mindless eating over the keyboard or steering wheel or in front of the television.” You can carry a small notebook and log everything or use an app: Loselt, MyFitnessPal, and MyPlate are three popular apps to track calories.
DOWNSIZE YOUR SETTINGS
Bigger utensils and dishes promote bigger meals, so keep your dishes appropriately sized—a salad plate can easily hold a sandwich and a piece of fruit, which is a perfect lunch—and your serving dishes off the table.
After a long run, set a limit of “reward calories,” Nisevich Bede says. “A safe number is 200 reward calories, and if you went for a really, really long run, 400 calories.” Good choices include: low-fat ice cream; bite-size cookies; single-serving-size chips; high-quality dark chocolate.
LOST 80 POUNDS
Ken Smith 51, Starting weight: 250
Marathon PR: 3:08 in the 2011 Boston Marathon
“I’m a nurse practitioner, and when I was doing a dictation after seeing a patient, my back went out. You can hear me scream in the recorder. I gave myself seven months to get in shape, and I signed up for the ING Miami Half-Marathon.”
“I used to never eat breakfast and didn’t have time for lunch, so then I’d eat anything I could get my hands on. Two Whoppers for $4 was a favorite. I changed almost overnight. Steel-cut oats for breakfast; a salad, protein bar, and sandwich for lunch; salmon and pasta for dinner; I eat every two hours.”
“I schedule my races a year in advance. That way, I have a race every two or three months, and it keeps me on track.”
LOST 85 POUNDS
Darren Mah 37, Starting weight: 215
Marathon PR: 3:38 in the 2010 Portland Marathon in Oregon
“I knew I was heavy—my double chin hit my collar when I was typing, and all I wanted to do was lie on the couch after work—but once I saw a picture of myself at my sister’s wedding, something had to change. Heart disease runs in my family; I was going to have a heart attack at age 40 if I didn’t lose weight. When I saw that picture, I got on my treadmill that day and walked for 30 minutes.”
“I used to eat really late at night, and now I try not to eat past 7 p.m. If I am really hungry, I’ll have some carrots or a bowl of cereal—something that makes me feel full but not stuffed.”
“I tracked my weight loss on an Excel spreadsheet, and still weigh myself every morning. I’m at my goal weight, but I still like knowing where I am.”
Best & Worst Foods for Diets
After following about 121,000 men and women for 20 years, researchers at Harvard University published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011 that documented the foods and drinks most and least associated with gaining weight. Nutrition Energy’s Lauren Antonucci gives the benefits or drawbacks of each.
NUTS Great combination of unsaturated fat and *lling *ber.
YOGURT A good source of calcium, plus probiotics for gut health.
FRUITS High water content and key antioxidants and vitamins.
WHOLE GRAINS Packed with B vitamins and fiber.
VEGGIES Low calorie, lots of vitamins and nutrients, and high fiber.
FRENCH FRIES Deep-frying makes them high in calories and saturated fat.
POTATOES Often fried or covered with butter, sour cream, or sugary ketchup.
SWEETENED BEVERAGES Skip soda to save calories for when you need sports drink.
RED MEATS Avoid fatty cuts, such as T-bone, New York strip, and rib-eye steaks.
PROCESSED MEATS Most contain nitrates and are very high in saturated fat.
ROADBLOCK: You’re famished
Eat something with protein, carbs, and fiber like plain, fat-free Greek yogurt with a cup of berries. “Don’t let yourself get too hungry, as it’s hard to stop eating,” Eberle says.
ROADBLOCK It’s a special occasion!
Celebrate. Moderately. Have a (small) piece of cake. No good comes of trying to “save up” calories. Eat your normal meals and snacks so you’re not starving.
ROADBLOCK Gaining back lost weight
“Trying to stay at your lowest weight is like trying to stay at your peak fitness year round,” Fitzgerald says. “When you dial back training, expect to put on a few pounds.”
RUN TO LOSE
DON’T BELIEVE WHAT YOU SEE
While pace and incline numbers on the treadmill are accurate, one number likely isn’t: the calorie count. “The number doesn’t take into account your metabolic rate or current condition, which make a big difference in the rate of calories you burn,” says Gregory Florez, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise.
Was that really a six-miler, or was it four? Did you take an extra, unscheduled rest day? “Many runners believe they’re consistent when they’re not,” says Tony Williams, a coach in Seattle. A surefire way to stay consistent: Follow a training plan and sign up for races. “When you have a plan, you have a way to set and reach goals so you taste success,” says Briana Boehmer, a personal trainer and coach in Delafield, Wisconsin.
Run, Run, Run…
“The total amount of time you spend running is going to have the biggest influence on your calorie burn,” says Matt Fitzgerald, author of Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance and a coach in San Diego. Start by adding easy miles, no more than a 10 percent increase a week. If you run in the morning, go for another two-miler after work. Increasing the distance of your long runs should be your last priority, because they require more recovery.
…Cross-Train If You Can’t
A stress fracture or a case of plantar fasciitis takes you off your feet, so be smart about your training. If you’re a beginner or an injury-prone runner, don’t run every day; instead, get in at least three days of cross-training a week, says Williams, so you don’t bring on overuse injuries. “Bike, swim, get on the elliptical, whatever doesn’t aggravate your body,” says Williams.
Then Crank the Intensity
If your volume is nearing maximum capacity or you’re crunched for time, then add more challenging workouts like speedwork or hill repeats that strengthen your anaerobic system. Running a hill with a five-percent grade burns about three to five additional calories a minute, according to Liz Neporent, an ACE-certified personal trainer. But the key is to do these workouts prudently—no more than once or twice a week—and to pay attention to your form so that you don’t strain a muscle or otherwise get injured. Follow a training plan appropriate for your level of running.
Run or cross-train? Boehmer offers up this easy quiz to gauge what to do today Circle the number that best relates to your situation:
How hard was your run yesterday?
3 Unusually hard or long: speedwork or longest run of the week
How are you feeling today?
2 Not too bad
3 I hurt more than I’d like to admit
How many days in a row have you run?
1 2 3
ADD YOUR NUMBERS: If your score is 7 or higher, nonimpact cross-training—swimming, cycling, strength training-is a good call for a recovery day.
Pump the Iron
In order to maximize lean mass, stick with simple strength-training exercises for your major muscles, like squats, lunges, bench presses, and triceps dips. “You want to move big loads to build muscle,” says Fitzgerald, who recommends lifting a weight that you can handle for eight to 10 reps.
Manage the Marathon
“The long-distance runs required for marathon training rev your appetite,” says Eberle, “which makes it more challenging to take in fewer calories than you burn.” Plus, it’s easy to fall into the I-ran-20-miles-so-I-can-eat-whatever-I-want mentality. If you do go the distance, be conscious about your intake. Eat a meal filled with wholesome carbs and protein, like eggs and a whole-wheat English muffin, immediately after your run so you aren’t tempted to snack.
LOST 190 POUNDS
Brian McCarthy 31, Starting weight: 230 & Liz Tierney 29, Starting weight: 240
5-K PRs: 20:16 (McCarthy) and 25:00 (Tierney)
TURNING POINT (Brian): “When we met six years ago, we weren’t fat. We gained weight together. I’m 5’6″, and I realized extra-large shirts didn’t fit me anymore. I shouldn’t be wearing XL to begin with.”
SUCCESS IN NUMBERS (Liz): “It’s a team effort. We hold each other accountable and get each other out the door to exercise.”
NO “NO” FOODS (Brian): “We didn’t cut any foods out of our diet because we knew that wouldn’t be sustainable over the long term; we just introduced moderation. Instead of eating an extra-large pepperoni pizza, I’d have a slice.”
A Winning Weight-Loss Combo
Approach eating and training with the same mind-set
1 You have to be consistent. Just like you can’t only do a long run and expect to finish a race well, you can’t focus on your diet just a few days of the week.
2 One bad run doesn’t ruin your training, and one bad meal (or day of bad eating) doesn’t derail your weight-loss quest. Lace back up and get out there.
3 Get to the starting line by setting small goals, like running for a half-mile beyond your current limit, or choosing a granola bar instead of candy.
4 There are days you don’t want to run and days you want to raid Dunkin’ Donuts. Tell yourself you’ll just go two miles; chances are you’ll pass up the DD.
CROSS-TRAIN TO BLAST CALORIES
Bicycling [14 to 16 mph]: 682 calories
StairMaster [no hands]: 614 calories
Swimming [50 yards/min]: 545 calories
Elliptical: 491 calories
Walking [15-minute mile]: 341 calories
ROADBLOCK You’re injured
An injury doesn’t give you a pass. Successful members of the National Weight Control Registry average one hour of brisk walking daily. “Consistency is key,” Thomas says.
ROADBLOCK You’re unmotivated
Surround yourself, either virtually or in person, with like-minded people. Join a running group or a charity organization training for a race; accountability is motivating.