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Running To Lose Weight
What Runners Need to Know About Weight Loss

Provided by Road Runner Sports

Runners are notorious for talking about, worrying about, and obsessing over their body weight. Since many people start running to lose weight (perhaps you're one of them) it's not surprising that body size is important. We are, after all, a nation of dieters, at any given time 50% of the women and close to 25% of the men in the US are watching what they eat. Those numbers are slightly higher for runners and other folks who work out regularly. Body weight is the second most talked about topic among runners - injuries are first! So with all this talking going on, what have we learned about body weight and how it affects our running (and ultimately our overall lifestyle and health?)

"Ideal" Body Weight: Fact or Fiction? Although diet "gurus" and others may try to convince you that there's an ideal body image (weight) you should maintain, the fact is: there's no ideal body weight. Women and young girls in particular are bombarded constantly with messages in the media that suggest that the perfect or ideal woman is 5'7" to 5'9", weighs 100 to 129 pounds and wears a size eight or smaller dress. Try to imagine how long you would be able to run your regular schedule if you weighed only 100 pounds and stood 5'7"!

Everyone is different: we all have our own unique skeletal structure and body type. Too often however we try to mold ourselves to look like someone else, usually someone we admire and/or look up to. Runners easily fall into this trap. Think about the last time you raced, or even the last time you were simply out on a training run and saw other people running. Did you find yourself thinking thoughts like: "How did he beat me? He's so much heavier than me?" Or: "Wow! Look how thin and athletic she looks. How come I don't look like that?"

Truth is, there are many factors that affect your weight. They include: body type; diet; exercise level (including whether you race and the distances you race); sex and age. What may be an "ideal" weight for you at the age of 27 may not be ideal when you're 54. And your ideal weight will probably be different during racing season than when you're in a specific training phase.

What Type of Body Am I? Like everyone else on the planet, you're either one of three body types or a blending of the three. You inherited your body type and it will stay the same, no matter how much you might want to, or try to, change it.

Ectomorph: You're an ectomorph if you're tall, thin, have long arms and legs (relative to the rest of your body), and have difficulty gaining weight or putting on muscle. If you race, you may find that long distances are your forte, from the half-marathon to the marathon.

Mesomorph: You're a mesomorph if you are shorter than many of your counterparts, are fairly muscular, and have stocky, short arms and legs. Sprinters usually are mesomorphs.

Endomorph: You're an endomorph if you have more body fat and your body's shaped like a pear. Shot putters and athletes who throw the javelin and discus are often endomorphs.

You may find that you have some characteristics of two different types probably mesomorph and endomorph. Although ectomorphs like four-time New York City and Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers, and many of the Kenyan runners appear to be more suited to running, don't despair if you have more fat, shorter legs, and more muscles. Joan Benoit Samuelson (winner of the first women's Olympic Marathon in 1984) is a mesomorph-her body type certainly hasn't held her back! The key to being happy with your body type is learning to live with it. If you find that your short, stocky legs prevent you from running more than 15 miles a week, so be it. Enjoy every minute of those 15 miles and pat yourself on the back for maintaining a workout schedule that's good for your heart, lungs, and mental attitude. Don't compare yourself to the tall, lanky person standing in line with you at the grocery store. For all you know, he or she may never engage in any exercise at all. Being thin doesn't necessarily equate to being fit or healthy.

Fat is In! It's difficult to develop a clear concept of the importance of body fat when we're being constantly bombarded with messages from the media (and sometimes even well meaning friends and family) telling us that fat is bad. Of course obesity is not healthful and can lead to many chronic diseases as well as premature death, but we all need some fat. The problem is-many runners think that they have to be dangerously thin to run well. Or someone who's overweight will start running to lose fat, begin dieting to take off the weight even more quickly, and will become too thin for their body type.

Body fat is very important! The average man has a body fat percentage of 8-22% if he's inactive, and 5-15% if he works out regularly. A percentage is storage fat, which lies under the skin and protects the organs. A smaller percentage is essential fat, which is stored in the liver, heart, and central nervous system. The average woman has a body fat percentage of 20-35% if she's inactive, 16-28% if she regularly works out. Women's fat is composed of not only storage and essential, but women also have what's known as sex-specific fat, which can range from 9-16%. Most of this fat is stored in a woman's breasts, hips, and thighs. Sex-specific fat is critical to a woman's normal reproductive functioning: menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and breast-feeding.

Unfortunately, runners who get too caught up in the "getting rid of fat" cycle can start to lose critical body fat and eventually they'll pay the price. Runners who attempt to lower their body fat percentages to dangerous levels run the risk of injury, illness, infertility, and at the very least, decreased performance. You may have experienced performance problems if you've been dieting religiously to lose weight. It's true up to a point that weight loss will help you become a better, faster runner. However, if you find that you're too tired to run, never seem to have any energy, or are starting to get colds or flu on a regular basis, it may very well be that you've lost too much weight. Rather than focusing on body weight and body fat, you'd be better off focusing on eating a healthful diet with adequate amounts of carbohydrates, protein, fat, calcium, and iron.

Balance in All Things Simply put, to lose weight you have to expend more calories than you consume. However, there is no easy formula for achieving such a balance. To achieve a healthful weight it's important for you to realize that numbers on your scale and numbers in your running log don't add up to a perfect solution. Keep this adage in mind: "eat to run, don't run to eat." Focus more on reaching specific goals (such as running 25 miles a week or running your first 5K), rather than worrying about how you look. If you eat a well-balanced diet and maintain a reasonable training program, you shouldn't have any trouble eventually reaching and maintaining a healthful weight. Remember that weight loss doesn't happen overnight, it may take many months before you reach a weight that falls within an optimal range for your height, weight, age, sex, and body type.

Does Body Weight and Body Type=Performance? Although some scientific literature suggests that this is true, it's similar to the chicken and the egg scenario. "Does a runner lose body weight and body fat by running, or does he or she restrict his or her diet, thereby losing weight, which causes him or her to run faster?" It appears from studying elite athletes from Africa and Asia that the first question is more accurate. During the time that those runners are training hard and racing regularly, their bodies sought their most optimal running performance weight.

But what if a runner were to restrict his or her diet, while continuing to train as usual? Unless he or she took in enough calories to maintain body weight and training weight, the runner would begin to develop problems. They could be as seemingly benign as colds and fatigue and as serious as amenorrhea (the absence of menstrual periods), osteoporosis, and chronic adrenal fatigue. The bottom line is: no weight is right if a runner is unhealthy and not able to maintain nutritional support to sustain not only their training and racing, but their everyday life activities.

Caveats to Consider

If you can't function optimally at a certain weight in all circumstances, and under all conditions, your weight isn't ideal. If you concentrate too much on low body weight and body fat percentage, your training will suffer. The focus of your training should be to achieve optimal health and perhaps performance, not a certain "look." Runners tend to have the perception that a number on the scale is a reflection of fitness. This isn't necessarily true. Don't emphasize weight as a way to improve your performance. Losing fat, particularly too much body fat, is a real danger for runners.

Ideal body weight is the weight at which a runner can train consistently and race if they choose, while maintaining a state of optimal health and fitness applicable to their own particular, unique physique.

The goal of BODi is to provide you with solutions to reach your health and fitness goals. Click here to learn more about BODi Coach Rich Dafter.

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