Why You Might Not Lose Weight While Running

While training for optimal performance on race day is the main focus for our coaches here at RunnersConnect, many of the athletes we coach set secondary goals to lose weight and generally desire to be healthier overall.

Certainly, sometimes these two goals – setting a new pr and losing weight – go hand-in-hand, but as coaches we tend to focus on letting weight loss come naturally as the body adapts to training and new levels of fitness.

However, we can appreciate that runners might want to speedup the weight loss aspect of training, which is why I wrote this earlier post on losing weight while running.

Unfortunately, sometimes when a runner first begins serious training, the needle on the scale doesn’t immediately go down, and sometimes it can even head in the wrong direction.

This trend can be frustrating and demoralizing to many runners. However, if you understand the science behind initial weight loss and the practical reasons for why this occurs, you can temper yourself from getting discouraged and make positive and long-term gains both to your overall fitness and to your race times.

So, here are some reasons why you might actually gain weight when training hard.

The Scale is a Trickster

If the scale were a human, he/she would be considered a deceptive trickster. A scale only provides one number, your absolute weight, which isn’t always an accurate measurement of what is happening in your body. Drink a gallon of water and you’ve instantly gained 8.3 pounds. Remove a kidney and you’ve lost 2 pounds.

Extreme examples, I know, but I think it proves that your absolute weight on a scale isn’t always a truthful assessment of changes in your weight, or more importantly your fitness. Here are just a few reasons the numbers on the scale will lie to you:

You will store extra water

When you increase your training to gear up for your goal race, your body begins to store more water to repair damaged muscle fibers and to deliver glycogen to the working muscles. Likewise, you may even be drinking more water to supplement the miles and ensure your hydrated. All this water adds pounds to the scale, but isn’t indicative of your actually weight loss.

Muscle weighs more than fat

While you’re not going to turn into a body builder after just a few days of running, your body will slowly begin to build muscle and burn fat. While this is great news for your overall fitness and race times, you’re actually gaining weight by supplementing low density fat tissue for high density muscle tissue. While it may not look great on the scale, it’s much healthier and will help you to continue to get faster and fitter.

Looking for short-term results

It takes a deficit of 3500 calories to lose one pound. Ideally, you should target a 300-600 a day calorie deficit if you want to lose weight safely and be healthy. This means, you can expect to lose about 1-2 pounds per week. Checking the scale every morning is going to revel very little about your long-term progress or the actual state of your weight loss.

If you weigh yourself everyday, you’re simply measuring day-to-day fluctuations in your hydration levels  and other non-essential weight metrics. Just like you wouldn’t expect a 1 minute drop in your 5k PR after a week of training, don’t expect a 5 pound weight loss after your first week of running.

Eating Too Much to Compensate

You burn more calories while running than almost any other activity you can do. Unfortunately, while the energy demands of running are high, this does not mean that you can eat a big mac and a donut guilt-free and still lose weight.

I often hear runners rationalize their dessert intake by saying, “hey, I ran 5 miles today, I deserve it”. Likewise, I see many running groups meet-up at Starbucks or the local coffee shop after a weekend run. Unfortunately, an iced latté and a small scone will quickly eliminate any caloric deficit from the run and negate possible weight loss.

While running does burn calories, you have to be careful not to quickly or inadvertently eat them back with non nutrient dense foods.

Likewise, as mentioned in my article on how to lose weight and still run well, you should be providing your muscles with the necessary carbohydrates and protein to recover. This is a delicate balance, and probably the most difficult element to losing weight while running.

As a coach, I think it is more important to focus on recovery and ensure that your muscles have the nutrients they need to rebuild. The harder you train, the more often you will get hungry and the real secret is to refuel with nutrient dense and high quality foods.

Sacrificing recovery for a few less calories is not a good long-term plan. The numbers on the scale are arbitrary and focusing on them can be detrimental to your long-term progression. If you can continue to build your fitness and training levels, you’ll be running farther, faster, and be much healthier overall.

Calculating how may calories you burn while running

On average, a runner will burn 100 calories per mile. You can determine how many calories you burn while running with our running calorie calculator. This is a great resource and will help give you a better picture of how many calories you’ve burned so you can adequately refuel, but not overcompensate.

Hidden Calories

Many marathon runners automatically assume they are going shed pounds with all the extra mileage they are putting in. However, not only should you ensure that you’re recovering properly after your hard workouts and long runs by eating the right foods, you also need to account for what I call “hidden calories”. Primarily, hidden calories come in the form of sports drinks and energy gels, which have a high caloric content.

It’s critical that you practice your fueling strategy during your long runs and hard workouts for optimal performance on race day. Likewise, to sustain high levels of training and to complete long and arduous marathon workouts, you need to fuel during your training sessions with sports drinks and energy gels.

However, this also means that the total number of calories you will burn from these long runs and hard workouts will be less than you might realize. Again, for optimal performance and training progression, you need these extra calories. Unfortunately, they can also be the reason you might not see the weight loss on a scale.

Focus On The Right Metrics

The bottom line is this: running will not automatically result in an immediate weight loss. Yes, running burns more calories than any other form of exercise, but the scale should not be the primary metric by which you gauge your fitness level and training progression.

While I understand weight loss is an important goal for many runners, don’t become a slave to the numbers on the scale. Pay attention to how you feel – do you have more energy, feel stronger, starting to fit into your clothes better? While not absolute measurements, these emotions are a much more accurate measurement of your progression.

If you have questions about weight loss and running, post them in the comments section and we’ll be sure to help you out.

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45 Responses on “Why You Might Not Lose Weight While Running

  1. I recently started training, and I’ve gained 3 pounds since before. Is this normal? Does the weight keep coming on or does it start to come off after a while?

  2. Hi, so I’m really writing because I’m in need of a little reassurance. I have a background of running competitively in high school as well as some in college, and I just love to run. The longer and harder the better. I started training for my first marathon a few months ago, it was a turning point for me because after freshman year of college I had really let myself go, something so many people do. Running was one of my greatest joys and thanks to a few months of focused training I’m finally back in that mindset. The thing I have a question about is that admittedly when I started a few months ago I wanted to lose weight, and on a 1200 calorie vegan diet I did, but I got quite the wake up call as my mileage increased., that being I was being ridiculous. I count every calorie, log every food I eat and mile I run. But since eating more, and still keeping a deficit I have yet to lose any pounds. I’m trying to be patient because I have been having incredibly strong runs, definitely feeling like a college athlete again but in the back of my mind it does bother me a bit that this last 15 lbs is so tough to shake. Any thoughts?

  3. I am in the same boat as the previous two posters. Three weeks ago I began counting calories and jogging to lose weight. I use myfitnesspal and I count every calorie, eating between 1400-1600 a day, and I jog for at least 30 min. five to six days a week. The last two Wednesdays i have run 5k, and I have been doing two days of weight training a week as well. I have gained a pound! It is so disconcerting, especially since I am dieting (yet again) after gaining 15 pounds in the last three months from getting a Depo shot. I have noticed an increase in energy and stamina, and my legs and hips have slimmed down some I think, but I would think after three weeks I’d see something!

  4. Desperate to slim down and have taken up running. Been eating really healthy and have ran 38k since Monday and now since Monday I have out on 5 pound. Yes my clothes for better but how on earth have I out on 5 pounds!? Help!!

  5. I’m very frustrated and hoping for help. After being injured I stop watching what I ate and gained 15 pounds. For about a month now I have been eating 1410 calories a day and running about 30 miles a week. The scale dropped about 6 pounds but sometimes shows 10 pounds since it fluctuates. My pants aren’t really fitting much better and I don’t know what I am doing wrong. I fluctuated 6 pounds in 2 days.

  6. Since I’ve started training hard, for 2-3 weeks, I’ve been watching the scale creep up, about 4-5 pounds! So weird, I expected to start losing weight and have to eat more to maintain. I seem to look about the same in the mirror… How long before my body adjusts to the new training and goes back to normal?

  7. You mentioned eating the right foods. What is considered the “right foods” for someone that runs 20-25 miles per week on avg? Can you be more specific? I am careful about the foods that I eat before & after I run, but fear I may not be eating the right foods. I have only lost about 5 lbs. this year & have been running consistently all year. Weight loss is a secondary goal for me, however one that I would like to see more results with. Any advice?

  8. Hi!
    Thanks for the article. I’m quite unsure with pounds/lbs so I’m originally 60kg and 168cm tall female. Recently I drank a large amount of water and gained 4kg as a result. I need to lose water weight and more weight from m original weight. I don’t exercise much but I seem to be born with a lot of muscle mass’ I’ve did a test and only have 7kg of fats, the rest are my organs, muscles and bones etc.
    Any advice?
    Thank you

  9. Hi,

    Thanks for article. I’ve been running for the last 4 years. Until about 3 months ago my runs were limited to 4 miles and I’d do 15 – 20 miles a week. I lost about 12 lbs. And then it plateaued. These past 3months I’ve upped my mileage significantly and training for half marathons. I run 25 miles a week now and inspite of that I haven’t seen any weight loss these past 2-3 months. As far as I can tell, I’m eating about the same as before, maybe even slightly lesser. I’m not sure what else I need to do. I’m some 10 lbs from my ideal weight. Any pointers?

  10. Hi.

    I am a runner age 43 and 165. best pr being 5k in 25.38. Cooper VO2max places me in ballpark of 43.

    However since last 4 years i have been running I see a tendency to quit and increase my walks more..Is it normal..Also i have seen that my weight affects my 5k times most. Dropping 5 pounds to 150 will shift my 5k times ..
    does weight have maximum contribution in 5k times once a perosn has built up a good aerobic base..

    Thanks

  11. Hi. Based on my personal experience, most estimates of caloric burning without a heart rate monitor are grossly exagerated. So the first advice I would give is to get one and get accurate estimates.

    Make sure you have a diverse training plan, including interval training, long runs, recovery runs, changing distances, times and paces, so that the body doesn’t become over efficient on a specific type of effort type and lenght and you force him to adjust. Many people I know who complain about hitting a plateau do not have a progressive training plan, they get stuck in the same routine. The more you train, the harder you have to train to shake those extra pounds you want to. Just make sure you do it very gradualy. Ideally, you shoud forget weight and focus on performance, improving your times, paces etc. and take satisfaction for it. Losing weight will happen.

    combining other sports also helps. My main sport is cycling (and I commute on bike) and I started running to improve my cardio and lose weight. The amount of calories I burn through cycling doesn’t compare to running. I can burn over 2500 kcal in a single 3h 60km MTB ride and my daily biking commute, wich is short (11km) burns about 400kcal. In a litle over two months I lost 3kg (almost 7 pounds) and I was already average fit when I started running. So fitting some new sports in your running schedule might also help. Cycling has the advantage of not being agressive on joints and muscles you need to run.
    I also use a body scan scale (tanita bc-1000) and my muscle mass was unafected, while my %body feat decreased 3% and keeps droping. I’m actually getting to the point where I must change my diet the other way arround: getting more carbs after training. Just my 2cents :)

  12. I agree cycling is much better way to lose weight, if that’s your intent. It’s more fun to do than running. Running is best to maintain a very strong cardio function and weight maintenance – I have been at the same weight for years and I enjoy some major junk food whereby people wonder how I can eat it without gaining. I have no desire to lose anything since I’m optimal but don’t want to gain of course.

    Downside to cycling is that it’s much more expensive than running, can be a lot more dangerous, and on a time/effort basis, it consumes more time. Since I often work 10 hour days, time management makes it better for me to do a 45 minute run than to get on the bike to achieve the same burn.

  13. hi. I’ve been jogging on my treadmill for 4 weeks and have had no change in weight. is this normal. I have diabetes and I take psychiatric medication and I am 46 years old and I weight 170 pound at 5 feet 3 inchs. I absolutely love running. I quit smoking a year ago and I know that the meds i’m on make you gain weight but I am wondering why after running for a month I haven’t budged on the scale?

  14. Hi there – I just started lifting heavy weights (arms, abdominals and legs), and I’m curious how many inches I may increase by lifting. I am not eating on a deficit because I WANT to gain muscle (I love the look so much better than skinny). Essentially I’m wondering how I will know if it’s muscle increase or fat increase? Any tips? I know my weight will shoot up, but what about inches?

  15. Hello, I just started running about 2 weeks ago.. of course I have gained about 2 1/2 pds.. not too happy, but your article helped me realize why. I do have a question though, I never know if I should before or after a run? I’ve heard to eat something right after running (in that 20 min right after) but I’ve also heard to eat something before your run to give you energy. The times that I run are different every day since I have kids…so I do’nt know if I need to set certain times where I should eat something to keep track of everything better? Also, I LOVE to eat… (even though I only weigh 120lbs and am 5’3”), but I usually eat what I want. that has led to cellulite. I am looking for some really quick snacks/lunches to eat throughout the day so I’m not starving when it comes to dinner, or have eaten a lot of not so healthy things at the end of the day. And should those snacks be right after I run? thanks so much!!!

  16. Good article, but one thing is wrong: muscle does NOT weigh more than fat. It just takes up less space. Two people who weigh the same can appear very different if one of them is in good physical shape. They will appear to be thinner.

    • You’re correct, a pound is a pound. The point is that if training is going well, you’ll also be burning fat and building muscle. The more miles you put on your legs, the stronger they will become. In essence, you’ll be trading low density fat tissue for high density muscle tissue. Great for your performance, but not for the scale since muscle tissue is roughly 20 percent heavier than fat.

  17. I’ve just started running to lose weight. I run about 800 meters 3 days a week. I read that you need to run fast to do carios. I ran really fast today and after a while, i didnt have energy to run anymore. How fast do I actually need to run?

  18. I have also started running since a brief pause of really low intensity running and some x-training (mostly rope skipping). I noticed that my body looks much better and my face is melting, but I have actually gained a few pounds. However, my legs are getting really strong! I often run 10k now.. (2-3 times a week usually) for a beginner – it’s normal. I’m really glad I found this article which confirmed my suspicion that I’m gaining muscle faster than I’m burning fat, at least for the moment.

    Thanks! Good article!

  19. Hi,

    I weigh around 47 kg / 103 pounds i guess. I am petite… i love running but i don’t wanna become thinner….my thigh is lean and i want them fuller… is running the wrong option to gain mass in thigh??? plsssss suggets .. i don’t wanna lose weight

  20. Great article. I’ve been struggling to get back into running the last four years with a new family and bad knee, after being a serious runner before. I do use a scale to chart progress on weight loss, but only very long-term. Any weight-loss run strategy for someone getting started the best advice from this article is to pay more attention to your energy levels, sense of wellness, and if your clothes begin to fit. It’s not unusual for me to lose a 1/2 inch or more from my waste and not see one pound of difference on the scale in the first month of restarting running. Just don’t let the scale be anything but a part of your weight mgnt plan long-term and don’t let it push you into shocking your system by crashing your caloric intake while starting to run again – will crash your energy and invite injury.

  21. I’ve been running for 4 months, 5 days a week. I love running but I was looking to slim down. Instead I’ve been getting bigger, I have a good diet. I’m 5’5 & 115 pounds, I use to be thinner- I don’t understand why I am getting bigger thighs?
    If you have any ideas please reply! Thank you!

  22. One correction to what is said in the article – muscle does weight more than fat, it takes up less space in your body. One pound of muscle and one pound of fat weigh the same – one pound. But you will look leaner with one pound of muscle on your bones than one pound of fat, because fat is less dense and takes up more room. So, when people start running, they might start to look leaner, but they *could* weigh more on the scale if they have replaced the same amount of fat AND also added more muscle from the running. But in the mirror, you will look leaner than before. So, it’s the mirror – and your looser clothes! – that are tricking you to think you have lost weight!

  23. In one of your replies to a comment you said that you shouldn’t eat before a short run i.e. 3-8 miles (roughly)? I have been running for the past 3 years, ran a half in the spring and I am now training for my first marathon I am on week 5 with a total of 25-30 miles per week. I have previously not eaten prior to any runs even long runs with exception of a granola bar before long runs. I recently tried eating a small meal prior to a long run and a granola bar throughout the run and found that it helped significantly. So I decided to continue to try eating a small meal (toast with peanut butter and honey and a yogurt) before my runs and feel it has helped curve my appetite throughout the rest of the day. Is this not a good idea? I’m super concerned about the weight gain because I know it will eventually come off, just want to make sure I am fueling correctly.

  24. I started running because I bought pair of jeans that I couldn’t get above my thighs. I was really upset and instead of returning them, I folded them up and put them on my dresser. I started walking/running the next day and I refused to get on the scale because I didn’t want to get discouraged. I forced myself to learn to run despite the January freezing temperatures. I did not try those jeans on until April because I was terrified that they would not fit and I would get discouraged. Well, I put them on and they practically fell off. Throw the scale away, it’s nothing but a running buzz-killer. :)

  25. I have been dieting for about 5 months and lost 45 pounds. Now I am stuck at 208 pounds for about a month now, I eat very healthy, Drink only water for the past 6 months and I run 7 miles a day. No bread, No pasta, No snacks and do not eat after 7 pm. Why am I not losing anymore weight ?

  26. Ok so I’ve just recently got into running but my body seems to be having the complete opposite effect and I’m actually losing my appetite! I LOVE food so this is not something I’m familiar with. I’ve asked around and all I hear is that I should be hungrier after running. Thoughts?? I don’t want to lose my mileage but I also know I can’t keep feeling this way!

  27. I’ve been running for 20-25 miles a week for the past month to two months and have gained weight. My average mile is 9:15. I run an easy run around 10min and then a hard mile at 7:45-8min. Then repeat. I have been told to run much slower closer to a 12 min mile to lose weight. Is this true? I eat relatively clean, with a few cheat days, but for the most part pretty clean. Please give me a better insight. I need to drop 15 pounds and love running, but I am getting very discouraged. Thanks!

  28. After doing regular running and eating a healthy diet I dropped from 94.5 kg to 77 kg. I’ve reached a weight plateau. I read up on this and will take note of my calorie intake from now on. My goal is to get to 66 kg, my natural weight. If I can do this I will be very proud of myself. I enjoy running and find it very rewarding.

  29. Its good to see that people on here are having the same problems with their weight also. But just going back to riding a bike again, i have only been riding for 2 weeks for an hour four times per week. I only eat 1000 calories a day and was losing lots of weight. But now, since i started riding, i have gained one stone. please tell me what is going on here ????

  30. I started running 3 weeks ago. I’m 190 lbs and wear a (tight) size 14 jeans. I’ve increased my water intake and dropped portion size to my meals. Now 3 weeks later I’ve tried on my jeans I’ve been dying to get into and they are tighter than before! My legs seem to have gotten tighter but thicker as well as my tush. Normal?

  31. If you want to lose weight, perhaps don’t run. Consider trying another form of excecise. Unless you love and enjoy running, from personal experience, I’ve lost more weight doing Pilates, spinning, trx and insanity. I ran daily for over a year only to gain 15 pounds. Everyone told me all the advice above so I kept going upping it to eventually running twice a day. It should also be noted, I eat clean and vegan, but have always had a hard time losing any weight. All the woman on my mom’s side are obese, so I do have to struggle harder than most to keep a normal weight range and can fall out of normal quite easily. For some people running can really mess with your hormones and cortisol. I happen to be one. My stomach, my problem area gained inches from the cortisol imabalance the stress from running caused.

    Anyways that’s my bit of advice to people in the comments saying clothes are tighter and are gaining weight, believe me I’ve been there. My clothes were so tight during my year of running. That was now 2 years ago. I got really discouraged and gained 10 more pounds after stopping running. I stopped working out for two months because I thought If I can’t lose weight running, the holy grail of weightloss, I must be destined to be obese like the women in my family. Well this past year (actually about 8 months) I have not run once. My diet and daily 1200-1400 calorie intake is the same as it was when I ran. I now do Pilates 2xs a week and insanity the other days and occasional spinning and trx lesson. I used to run for 45 mins or so morning and night. I workout an hour a day now as opposed to the 1.5 hrs of daily running I did. But, now I’m down over 30 pounds and have lost inches like crazy.

    Also this isn’t a running bash. I have friends who love it, it’s their passion! They were an amazing support system for me when I did my year of running. Ultimately I just don’t and didn’t love running. I considered it a chore and soley a weightloss tool. I just want others who struggle with their weight to know there are other options and tools. Like many, I had assumed running was best weightloss tool, but their are many tools out there, don’t give up just keep taking every class and every step until you find something that works for you and your body. Listen to your body. If your pants are not fitting, your body is letting you know soemthing is not working like it should be.

  32. OMG – 1 lb of muscle does NOT weigh more than 1 lb of fat!!!

    the muscle will take up less room, but last time i checked, a pound is a pound is a pound…

    • Thanks for your comment, but I don’t recall saying that. I said muscle weighs more than fat (I never put a measurement on it). That is completely true. If you took a handful of muscle and handful of fat, the muscle would weigh more.

  33. Sir Jeff, I run and walk daily for 45 mins covering distance of 4000-5000 meters. I run very fast and then when i cant run any more i start to walk and then again after i regain my breath i again tend to run and then again stop and start to walk. Sir is this an efficient programme which iam doing to loose weight or iam not doing it right?

  34. I’d like to point out that this works in reverse, too. I.e., if you’ve built up a decent running base and fitness level, and then suddenly stop, the scale can mislead you into thinking you’re not gaining weight or only gaining a little, or even losing. In reality, you’re slowly losing the muscle you’ve built, stored glycogen/water. This gets me every single time, no matter how much I know better.

  35. hi there, im a new runner (jogger) i find it to be better if i alternate between running and walking but while im running i have this very tight muscle in my left calf that by the time im home thinking and feeling bad (due to me not being able to go further). what is going on with me and how can i make it stop. i muscle feels as though its overworked and by the time i get home and rest it stops. then i feel bad due to me not being able to run longer with my calf bothering me

  36. great article, except the bullet point of muscle weighing more than fat is misleading. You did mention low density vs higher density which is correct. But if you take one pound of muscle and one pound of fat and weigh them both separately.. the scale will still say 1 lb for both.

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