How to Balance Weight Loss Without Sacrificing Running Performance
Can you lose weight without sacrificing performance? The answer to this question of weight loss and performance comes with good and bad news. The good news: YES, you can lose weight without forfeiting your PR! The bad news: It is not an easy thing to accomplish. However, a runner who is willing to face distances like 13.1 miles, 26.2 miles, or beyond is not afraid to face challenges.
With that in mind, here are some guidelines to help you lose weight and keep working towards your PR.
First step, answer these weight loss and running performance questions
First, take an extremely honest evaluation of where your body is today and ask yourself the following questions.
- Am I currently at a healthy weight for my height and bone structure? (You can use this RunnersWorld BMI calculator for a good estimate)
- Is my ideal race weight/weight goal realistic? (dropping your BMI to less than 18.5 is detrimental to performance)
- Is my race weight/weight goal simply vanity weight? (Vanity weight is typically about 5-7 pounds that you desire to lose, but to be healthy and run well, it is not necessary to lose.)
- Do I have the time to invest in food preparation and planning?
- Am I emotionally ready to commit to the challenge?
Asking yourself these questions before you start your training and weight loss plan is extremely important. Often runners assume weighing less = faster, but this is not always true. Your body has a healthy weight range where it will perform at its maximum level. This healthy weight range for your body may or may not match what you believe should be your ideal race weight or the weight you would like to be for vanity’s sake.Your healthy weight range is typically your weight +/- 3 pounds when you are eating healthy, working out, and not focusing on your weight. For your body to gain or lose weight, you would have to experience some fairly significant diet and lifestyle changes.
Along with helping you establish realistic goals, these questions will also help you understand and embrace your race day results. When race day comes, you may experience a number of different results. The first and most ideal result is that you hit your weight goal, as well as your PR. Great. Your ideal weight was realistic for your body!
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The second result you may experience is when you did everything right during your training and you ran your PR, but you didn’t lose weight. There is a good chance you are at a healthy weight and your ideal race weight was not realistic. Or finally, if you hit your weight goal, but didn’t run well due to fatigue, there is a good chance you dropped below your body’s ideal performance weight.
Your body and your race weight are extremely unique, and it may take a couple of races before you find the weight you race best at.
Invest time if you want to lose weight and still run well
Once you have established realistic goals, you need to be ready and willing to invest time into your food preparation and planning, just like you are willing to invest time into running the miles. We live in a society the moves a hundred miles an hour, so taking the time to prepare healthy, homemade meals will feel out of place and like a burden, but this could make or break your weight loss success.
Increasing your training miles and intensity, which is critical to running a PR, is almost guaranteed to increase your appetite. One extremely important key to losing weight while you are training is avoiding a scenario where you are starving without healthy food options available.
At the beginning of each week create a healthy meal plan and stick to it. Also, take time to plan pre- and post-run snacks and emergency snacks for those days you just can’t seem to fill the hole. Many runners don’t take the time to have healthy snacks and meals planned, so when the 3 o’clock snack attack comes around, they make poor snack choices.
I suggest being prepared with something that is healthy and filling, such as an apple with almond butter, instead of making a trip to the vending machine that you will regret later.
DON’T cut carbs too low
Carbohydrates are crucial for quality running, and cutting your consumption of carbohydrates too low will also cut your energy and performance.
To keep energy levels up but also lose weight, you need to replace about 1/3 to 1/2 of the traditional carbohydrates/grains you eat, like bagels and pasta, with healthier lower calorie options. Replacing 1/3 to 1/2 of the carbohydrates you eat is merely a general recommendation; be sure to listen to your body. If your energy levels seem low and runs haven’t been going well, add a few more traditional carbohydrates back into your diet. If your energy levels feel great, experiment with adding a few more vegetables to your daily routine where you would normally eat grains to help promote greater weight loss.
Vegetables are the perfect replacement for traditional carbohydrates because you still get carbohydrates and energy from them, but you also get more water and fiber, making them lower in calories and more filling. The beauty of vegetables is you can eat as many as you want. Here are a few examples where you can replace your traditional carbohydrates with vegetables.
Traditional breakfast: Eggs + Bagel w/jelly
- Try: Eggs + heaping plate of sauteed vegetables + piece of fruit
Traditional lunch: Turkey Sandwich + Potato Chips
- Try: Turkey Sandwich, loaded with lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, avocado + huge salad
Traditional snack: Pretzels, Peanut butter + Banana
- Try: 1/2 the pretzels, carrot & celery sticks w/ peanut butter + banana
Traditional dinner: Spaghetti & Meatballs w/ dinner rolls (How many of us actually only eat one?)
- Try: 1/2 a serving of whole wheat spaghetti mixed with spaghetti squash + steamed vegetables and one dinner roll
Keep Your Focus!
Ultimately, from the start of your training schedule you need to know your main priority. If performance is your main priority, then let that be your focus and weight loss be secondary or vice versa. Often people lose sight of their main goal mid-training and emotionally get frustrated or stressed, which can affect both your running and your weight.
Losing weight and maintaining or increasing performance at the same time is a tricky balance, but it is possible with diligent planning. Use these guidelines during your next training schedule to increase your weight loss success and determine at what weight your body is strongest and performs best.