Runner's World

September 2003, "Run Off 5 Pounds"

Three no-diet plans for getting a bit thinner, a lot healthier, and fit enough to run a marathon.
By Jane Unger Hahn

Numbers don't lie. That clock hanging above the finish line tells you exactly how your race went. Just like the numbers on your bathroom scale tell you precisely where you stand in the battle of the bulge.

And no matter what those contrived weight-loss infomercials say, losing weight itself is strictly a numbers game. "It's all about calorie deficits," says Jana Klauer, M.D., a weight-loss expert in private practice and research fellow at St. Luke's - Roosevelt Hospital in New York. That is, burn more calories than you consume, and you will lose weight. More specifically, for every 3,500 calories you burn over and above what you take in, you'll lose 1 pound. All the diet gimmicks in the world won't get you around these hard numerical truths.

This is very good news for runners, because running is one of the most efficient ways to burn calories. For every mile you log, you burn about 100 calories. (If you weigh more than 150 pounds, you'll burn a bit more per mile, and if you weigh less, you'll burn slightly less.) Which means it probably takes you less than 10 minutes to run off 100 calories - a rate that leaves most other forms of exercise in the dust. So if you've been wanting to lose a pound or 2, or even 5, look no further than your running routine. By making some incremental changes - adjusting the mileage here, boosting the intensity there - you can literally run off those extra pounds without changing anything in your diet.

Repeat: No dieting. You just need to keep your calorie intake the same. Which won't be difficult, because research shows that the fitter you become, the healthier your diet naturally becomes. So, as you hold steady with the calories coming in, the following three plans will increase your calorie-burn, creating the deficit you need to melt off the pounds.

And speaking of getting fitter, that's a done deal. Any one of our three weight-loss plans will automatically boost your fitness level. Plan 3 will get you so fit, you might as well run a marathon.

Remember: The fitter you are, the more calories you burn all day long, which leads to bigger calorie deficits and even more weight loss. Call it compound interest, exercise-style. Without a single day of dieting you'll be a lean, mean, calorie-burning machine.

The Science Behind the Numbers
To boost your weekly calorie-burn strictly through running, you need to increase your mileage or increase your intensity.
Increase mileage. This one is pretty obvious, but it's also the most effective. The more miles you run, the more calories you burn. Mathematically speaking, the relationship between miles run and calories burned remains the same whether you're adding 1 mile (100 calories) to your running plan or 20 (2,000 calories).

Of course, unless you're now logging 200-mile weeks, we wouldn't advise an immediate 20-mile increase. To stay healthy and injury-free, stick to about a 10-percent-per-week increase. This mileage increase may seem small at first, but the extra calorie-burn will accumulate faster than you think.

Increase intensity. Though we've already said that every mile you run is worth 100 calories, not all miles are created equal in terms of calorie-burn. That's because the pace you run and the terrain you cover can actually boost the number of calories you burn per mile.

"Running uses more calories than walking, so likewise, if you're running at your maximum speed, you're using more calories than when you're jogging," says Dr. Klauer. "This is because sustained high-aerobic activity creates added effort throughout the body."

Just as a faster pace increases your workload, running on an incline boosts the number of calories you burn per mile. This won't come as a surprise to anyone who's rejoiced when finally reaching the top of a hill.

There's actually an equation to compute the exact number of calories burned at varying inclines. But since you need a Ph.D. in mathematics to make sense of it, Dr. Klauer provided an easier method. "Generally, you can count on a 10-percent increase in calories burned for each degree of incline," says Dr. Klauer. "So, running at a 5-percent incline will burn 50 percent more calories than running on a flat surface, and running on a 10-percent incline actually doubles your calorie-burn."

Hills are sounding a little bit better now, aren't they?

Okay, ready to lose some weight? Any of the following schedules will boost your calorie-burn and allow you to run off the pounds. All three programs assume that you've been running 20 miles a week, and include manageable increases in mileage. But each plan maxes out at a weekly mileage depending on how high you want to go. Your options: increase from 20 to 30 miles; 20 to 35 miles; or 20 to 40 miles.

You'll lose 5 pounds on any of our three plans: It'll just take you somewhat longer on Plan 1, since the weekly mileage increases stop after week 5. As for increases in intensity, all three plans include one simple speed workout that you'll do in place of two of your regular runs, which together will boost your weekly calorie-burn by about 300.

Plan 1:
5 Pounds in 15 Weeks

Mileage: This plan will increase you weekly mileage from 20 to 30 miles. It's ideal for those who want to drop a few pounds but don't have much more time or energy to devote to their running. Following the 10-percent mileage increase rule, begin by adding 2 miles to your weekly running schedule. Simply add 1 mile to two of your easy runs. As you continue to increase your mileage each week, one of your runs should become significantly longer than the others. Most people do this longer run on the weekend, when they have more time. Your mileage increases will stop after week 5.
Intensity: Along with your incremental mileage increases, you'll want to add some intensity to two of your other weekly runs. Remember, you're not adding extra running days. You're just boosting the intensity of two runs you've already been doing.
Workout-Booster A: Add 10 x 60-second pickups in the middle of one of your regular weekly runs. These pickups shouldn't be all-out sprints. Rather, do them at about 90 percent of your maximum effort.
Workout-Booster B: Add hills to one of your regular weekly runs. To burn about 100 extra calories with this workout, do one of your regular runs on a treadmill and adjust the incline. For example, you could replace a flat 4-miler with a 4-mile treadmill workout, in which the middle 2 miles are run at a 5-percent incline. Or run the middle 2.5 miles of that workout at a 4-percent incline. Just remember: For every 1-degree of incline, you get a 10-percent increase in calorie-burn.

And don't worry about pace. You'll definitely need to do the incline sections slower than the flat sections, but you'll still achieve the extra calorie-burn thanks to the increased workload.

If you don't have access to a treadmill, find some hills where you can either do a continuous hilly loop, or some long hill repeats. To get a rough estimate of a hill's incline, try this trick: Ride your bike to the top of the hill in question and face it downhill. At the top, coast freely for 5 seconds and check the speedometer. The speed you hit after 5 seconds of rolling will roughly match the incline in degrees. So, if your speedometer reads 5 mph after the 5-second roll, you're on a 5-percent incline.

Plan 2
5 Pounds in 12 Weeks

Mileage: This plan will increase your weekly mileage from 20 to 35 miles. Begin your mileage increases as explained in Plan 1. The only difference is that you continue to increase your mileage through week 6.
Intensity: Along with your incremental mileage increases, increase the intensity of two of your other weekly runs by adding Workout-Booster A and Workout-Booster B (as explained in Plan 1) every week.

Plan 3
5 Pounds in 11 Weeks

Mileage: This plan will double your weekly mileage from 20 to 40 miles, and all but register you for a marathon. Begin your mileage increases as explained in Plan 1. The only difference is that you continue to increase your mileage through week 7.
Intensity: Along with your incremental mileage increases, increase the intensity of two of your other weekly runs by adding Workout-Booster A and Workout-Booster B (as explained in Plan 1) every week.

Note:Even if you're now running more or less than 20 miles a week, you can still use this program to lose weight. Simply increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent per week. (So if you're running 10 miles per week, start by adding 1 mile each week.) Go ahead and also increase your intensity by adding the two Workout-Boosters described in Plan 1 to your weekly schedule. Your extra calorie-burn is calculated the same: 100 calories per every mile added, and 300 total calories for completing both intensity-boosting workouts.

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