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Can I sensibly achieve a healthy weight by running? by Peter Thomson

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In most Western countries levels of obesity and excess weight are on the rise due to a combination of eating the wrong things and taking too little exercise.

The UK Department of Health  recommend that we try to exercise at least 5 times per week for half an hour and eat more healthily.

The advice in this article is designed to point you towards a healthy body weight target rather than slavishly trying to achieve the perfect weight. It is quite possible to be fit and healthy and carry a few extra kilogrammes. This advice is particularly important if you are vulnerable to an Eating Disorder where exercise-induced weight loss can lead to unhealthy lifestyle habits and significant health risks.

Achieving a healthy weight depends on two factors: how much you take in (daily calories intake) and how much you burn up (daily exercise regime).


What is the recommended average intake of calories?

The recommended daily calorie intake from the UK Department of Health is:

Women                       1950Kcal per day


Men                            2500Kcal per day


The exact amount of calories you eat depends on your Metabolic Rate  which in turn is determined by your age, gender and activity levels.

If you are young, you will tend to have a higher Metabolic Rate than an older person. If you are female you are likely to have a lower Metabolic Rate than a male person.

“Do’s of  sensible exercise-induced weight control for Runners”



  • Be patient and don’t try to lose too much too quickly. It can take up to 3 weeks for the body to realise that you are restricting calories or burning more calories. Therefore weight loss will take time and patience.


  • Review your overall diet before you begin. Read the labels on the food items and familiarise yourself with the calorie count and refined sugar and fat content.
    • What are the good areas of your diet?
    • What areas need refining?
    • What areas need cutting out


  • Try to keep a balanced diet. This means you will lose weight more slowly than a crash diet but the results will be sustainable.
    • 60-70% Carbs – mostly low glycaemic index (GI) such as brown rice, pasta, couscous.
    • 15-20% Protein
    • 10-15% Fat
    • Fruit, fresh raw vegetables


  • Portion Sizebe honest with yourself. Base this on measuring out approximately the components of the meal beforehand.


  • Aim to lose between 0.75kg per week. Don’t rush it.


  • Start by running for 30minutes 3 times per week. Gradually increase the distance and time you run (by 10 -20% per week) until you run up to 45 minutes around 3-4 times per week.


  • When you reach a plateau and less weight is coming off don’t worry as this is a normal response. The body responds to change but eventually will readjust to the new exercise and diet regime.


  • Review your weight and BMI – honestly.  Have you reached the appropriate target weight for your height (Men BMI 21 -25. Women 19 -23)?  Consolidate by maintaining the level of exercise and become used to eating a more healthy diet. If you further increase your exercise intensity your body will respond and you will lose more weight – but it is not recommended that you continue trying to lose further weight once you are within your target zone. (see below)


Action Point: Be patient and be honest with yourself.

Monitoring your weight:    

Rather than focussing on your weight in kilograms it is more helpful to use Body Mass Index (BMI) which is the ratio of body weight to height


Body Mass Index            =                   Weight (kg)


                                                          Height x Height (metres)

The normal BMI range for men is   20  – 25

The normal BMI range for women  is   19  –  23 

High BMI

If your BMI is above 30 it is probably worth trying a combination of calorie restriction and non-load-bearing aerobic exercise such as a static bike before you start running. The exercise intensity is the same: 45 minutes on a bike 3-4 times per week.


It is unhealthy and inadvisable to reduce your BMI below the normal range. In female athletes a BMI below 19 can upset your hormone cycle and periods leading to bone loss, osteoporosis and stress fracture. These changes are primarily driven by low energy intake due to lack of food intake. They can be associated with or without a disordered eating condition.


Action Point: Use scientifically proven methods. Avoid regimes that promise a quick fix

“Don’ts of  sensible exercise-induced weight control for Runners”

  • Don’t try to exercise on a very low calorie diet or skipping meals.
  • Try to avoid “running for treats” – exercising so you can have those unhealthyfoods.
  • Don’t cut all the carbs out of your diet. This makes you sluggish and makes your body go into starvation mode where it will break down anything to make energy including muscle protein. Concentrate on slow acting carbs with a low Glycaemic Index [GI] such as brown rice, bread, pasta rather than fast acting carbs with a high GI  index such as refined sugars, glucose, cakes, energy drinks which give an instant buzz but will not satisfy your hunger for very long.
  • Don’t cut all fat out of your diet. It won’t work. Be selective about the fat rich foods you eat. Avoid too much red meat and dairy (butter and cheese). Make sure that dairy products and spreads are low fat (<15%) and that the manufacturers have not substituted sugar to maintain taste. Concentrate on mono-saturated fats in nuts, olive oil and oily fish (mackerel, sardines)
  • Don’t eat a very high protein diet >30%. Theoretically the body should be able to convert this into carbohydrate which requires energy however the evidence for weight loss by a high protein diet is marginal and the temptation may be to eat high amounts of red meat that are high in poly-saturate fat.                                                                                   
  • Don’t follow this regime if you have or have had an eating disorder – I would strongly recommend instead that you seek more in-depth advice from a Doctor and a Dietician.

Action Point: If you have a low BMI, absent periods or a history of stress fracture

Here are the recommended daily allowances:

Highlighted areas in yellow/brown are for endurance runners. Most recreational runners probably exercise up to an hour a day and will be within the yellow zone.


Daily Carbohydrate Intake


  • Carbs 5g-10g/kg Body Mass (weight) per day

Low-intensity or skill-based activities

3-5 g per kg BM


Moderate exercise programme (~1 hr / day)

5-7g per kg BM


Endurance programme (i.e. moderate-to-high intensity exercise of 1-3 hr / day)

6-10g per kg BM

Very High

Extreme commitment (i.e. moderate-to-high intensity exercise of >4-5 hr / day)

8-12g per kg BM

(1g = 0.035oz)


Daily Protein Intake

  • Protein 0.8 -1.2/kg Body Mass (weight) per day



Protein intake (g/kg/day)

Sedentary men and women


Recreational endurance athletes (a)


Moderate-intensity endurance athletes (b)


Elite male endurance athletes


Football, power sports


Resistance athletes (early training)


Resistance athletes (steady state)


Female athletes

~15% lower than male athletes


(a) Exercising four to five times per week for 30 min at <55% VO2peak

(b) Exercising approximately four to five times per week for 45-60 min

Daily Fat Intake

  • Fat 0.8g – 1.3g/kg Body Mass (weight) per day.

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