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Running But Not Losing Weight? Here's Why

Taren Gesell

If you've been running but not losing weight, you're not alone. I've actually experienced this myself, gaining twelve pounds the year that I prepared for an Ironman triathlon and exercising an average of fifteen hours a week.

Unfortunately, diagnosing why you're not losing weight despite exercising is not easy. The cause of not losing weight is different for everyone. However, in this article, we'll give you some potential reasons why you might not be losing as much weight as you want.

Running is a journey that has its ups and downs, so don't lose hope! We'll help you get through this tough time and on track to reach your goals.

Key Takeaways you'll get from reading this article:

  • Running is a complex activity with many variables impacting weight loss.
  • Accurate understanding and management of calorie intake and expenditure are vital.
  • Maximizing the likelihood that your workout is designed to promote weight loss might help
  • The longer you've been running, the more important nutrition will be to support your weight loss efforts.
  • External elements like stress, sleep, and hormones significantly affect your ability to lose weight.
  • Some factors outside of your control may be making weight loss challenging, and that's ok!
  • Continually adapting your training is crucial to overcome weight gain or plateau.

Why Am I Not Losing Weight Despite Running Regularly?

Calorie Intake vs Expenditure: Understanding the Balance for Weight Loss

When people find that they're not losing weight despite exercising, most people say that it's as simple as calories in versus calories out. I believe that this is both correct and incorrect. So, if you've been frustrated with this answer, I don't blame you, but let's address this potential issue first.

You might be burning calories and feeling great, but if you're inadvertently eating just as much or more calories than you're burning, you won't see that weight loss you're aiming for. So there is the possibility that you're eating too much to lose weight.

It's also easy to overestimate the number of calories burned during a run, leading to a smaller calorie deficit than you think you're achieving. The running calorie calculator below will help you determine approximately how many calories you're actually burning while you run.

Assuming that your body is functioning properly, the key to weight loss is to maintain a calorie deficit.

Running and Weight Gain: Five Potential Causes

There are five main reasons that runners might end up not losing weight despite exercising regularly:

  1. Overconsuming Calories: while studies typically show that exercise reduces appetite, some people develop psychological reasons that they overeat and can't help but consume more calories than they burn. Other runners may restrict calories around workouts too aggressively, which anecdotally tends to increase appetite very strongly later in the day, leading to a higher likelihood of overeating that's out of our control.
  2. Overestimating Calorie Burn: Many runners overestimate the number of calories they burn during a workout. While running does burn a significant amount of calories, various factors such as your weight, running pace, and overall fitness level influence the exact amount. Relying on overestimated numbers can lead to a smaller calorie deficit than required for weight loss or potentially even a surplus.
  3. Stagnant Training Plan: If your running routine lacks variety and progression, your body might become too efficient at the exercise, reducing the overall calorie burn. When you do the same type or intensity of running for a long time, your body adapts, and you may hit a plateau. Mixing up your routine with different running styles, speeds, and inclines can challenge your body in new ways and increase your calorie burn.
  4. Metabolic Damage: Long-term calorie restriction combined with excessive exercise can lead to metabolic damage or adaptation. This has been studied in The Biggest Loser contestants, almost all of whom tend to gain back more weight than they lost while on the show. Metabolic damage means your body starts conserving energy by reducing the number of calories it burns at rest and during activity. It's a survival mechanism in response to what your body perceives as stress. This adaptation can make weight loss more challenging and might require a reevaluation of your diet and exercise plan.
  5. Other Health Concerns Like Water Retention: Finally, several health-related issues might affect weight loss, one common issue being water retention. Hormonal fluctuations, dietary sensitivities, and certain medications can also cause water retention. Beyond water weight, other medical conditions like thyroid disorders or PCOS can influence weight, making it crucial to consider these factors in your weight loss journey.

How Likely Is Your Training Plan to Lead to Weight Loss

Runners with a training plan that doesn't change frequently will frequently plateau due to the body adapting to the workouts and no longer being challenged by workouts. A lack of strength training may also lead to a loss of muscle mass, which will lower the number of calories your body burns each day, making weight loss difficult.

Here is an example weekly training plan for people who want to lose weight:

Monday Rest
Tuesday Interval Run. 30-75 minute run with intervals of 15 seconds to 8 minutes. Adjust the intervals and rest periods weekly.
Wednesday Rest
Thursday Moderate Tempo Run. 30-75 minute run with intervals of 8 to 30 minutes. Adjust the intervals and rest periods weekly.
Friday Rest
Saturday Easy Long Run. 45 minute to two hour run done at very low intensity. Performing this on trails will add variety.
Sunday Strength Training. 30-60 minutes of strength training designed to maintain muscle mass.

Metabolic Rate: Impact on Weight Loss While Running

Your metabolic rate is the baseline of how many calories you burn daily, and a variety of factors, including age, sex, muscle mass, and activity level influences it. Generally, the more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate, which is why strength training is often recommended alongside running. More muscle means a higher resting metabolic rate, so you burn more calories even when you're not actively working out.

However, your body can adapt to prolonged calorie deficits by slowing down the metabolism to conserve energy, a survival mechanism that can stall your weight loss efforts. It's critical that you don't restrict calories too much, or your weight loss could stop and take years to start again as your metabolism rebalances itself.

Two Workout Strategies to Help You Lose Weight and Burn Fat

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for Weight Loss

High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, has been shown in studies to be better than steady-state cardio at creating fat loss. It may even target reductions in belly fat better than steady cardio. HIIT training or interval running involves short, intense bursts of activity followed by rest or lower-intensity periods.

HIIT training doesn't just burn calories during the workout; something called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) causes the body to keep burning calories well after the workout is over. This is why Interval running is so effective at fat burning.

Strength Training: The Effect of Gaining Muscle on Weight Loss

The amount of calories you burn at rest and during exercise is highly linked to how much muscle mass you have. Runners who don't perform any strength training and have experienced weight loss will likely have lost a lot of muscle mass, making continued weight loss more difficult.

Many organizations go so far as to recommend that strength training should always be included in a good run training plan. We actually include guided thirty-minute strength workouts in all our training plans.

Little Known Reasons That Might Effect The Number on The Scale

Critical Dietary Strategies for Weight Loss and Running

Nutrition is a cornerstone of effective running and weight loss. It's not just about eating less; it's about eating smart. Here are five cornerstones of a healthy and effective runner's diet for weight management:

  1. Eat before and after workouts: Eating before and after workouts will help manage your hunger later in the day, making it less likely that you'll overeat.
  2. Hydrate a lot: Sometimes, thirst can be mistaken for hunger. Frequent exercise can cause dehydration, making it possible that you could be overeating.
  3. Reduce food sensitivities: You may not be losing weight because you might be holding inflammation and water from food sensitivities. I've lost 15-20 pounds after removing foods I found out that I was allergic to.
  4. Eat whole foods: Unprocessed foods will fill you up more on a calorie-per-calorie basis than processed foods will.
  5. Eat high-satiety foods: Some foods make you feel fuller for longer; focusing on high-satiety foods will make it less likely that you'll overeat. I double-dog dare you to overeat hard-boiled eggs! Here's a list of the satiety of foods.

Impact of Stress and Sleep on Weight Management for Runners

Stress and sleep are two critical but often overlooked factors in weight management. High-stress levels lead to elevated cortisol, a hormone that increases appetite and encourages fat storage, particularly around the abdomen. Managing stress through relaxation techniques, meditation, or hobbies can help keep cortisol in check and support your weight loss efforts.

Studies have shown that insufficient sleep disrupts the balance of hunger hormones, leading to increased appetite and cravings. It can sap your energy and motivation, making sticking to your running and diet routine more challenging. Prioritizing 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night supports hormone balance, energy levels, and overall weight loss efforts.

Medical Conditions and Their Influence on Weight Loss for Runners

Several medical conditions can complicate weight loss efforts. Conditions like hypothyroidism or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) affect metabolism and appetite regulation, making it difficult to lose weight. Even common issues like insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome can have a significant impact.

If you're struggling with weight loss despite doing everything 'right,' consider consulting a healthcare professional. They can help identify any underlying issues and work with you to develop a comprehensive plan that addresses these challenges. Remember, each person is unique, and a tailored approach is often necessary for successful weight loss.

Environmental Factors and Their Impact on Running and Weight Management

Your environment plays a more significant role in your running and weight management than you might think. Urban runners may face air pollution, affecting respiratory health and performance. Climate factors like temperature and humidity can alter how your body responds to running, impacting calorie burn and hydration needs.

Your living environment also influences your lifestyle choices. Access to safe running routes, availability of healthy food options, and even your social environment can impact your daily habits and, consequently, your weight. Recognizing and adapting to these external factors is an important step in creating a sustainable, effective running and weight management strategy.

Potential Hormonal Influences on Weight Loss While Running

Hormones are powerful regulators of weight, metabolism, and appetite. Imbalances in insulin, for example, can lead to weight gain or resistance to weight loss. Hormones like leptin and ghrelin control hunger and fullness, and disruptions can lead to overeating or persistent hunger.

Running can influence these hormonal balances, sometimes positively, such as improving insulin sensitivity, and sometimes negatively, such as through the stress of excessive exercise. Paying attention to how your body responds to your running routine and making adjustments as needed is key to maintaining hormonal balance and supporting your weight loss goals.

FAQ Most Common Questions When You Can't Lose Weight By Running

Q: I run regularly, but I'm not losing weight. Why is that?

A: There could be several reasons why you're not losing weight despite running. It may be due to consuming more calories than you burn, not running enough, not having an effective running regime or other health issues discussed in this article.

Q: Can I gain weight by running?

A: Running itself is unlikely to cause weight gain. However, if you consume more calories than you burn through running, it is possible to gain weight despite running. It's important to maintain a balanced approach to both exercise and diet to achieve weight loss.

Q: How can I ensure that I lose weight through running?

A: To ensure weight loss through running, it's important to have a good training plan that includes some strength training, high-intensity running, and low-intensity longer runs. You'll need a small calorie deficit, and need to make sure you don't have any health issues that are preventing you from losing weight despite your efforts running.

Q: What should I eat to support weight loss while running?

A: While running, it's essential to consume a balanced diet that includes lean protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. This will provide your body with the necessary nutrients while supporting weight loss.

Q: Should I run faster to lose more weight?

A: Running faster may help you burn more calories in a shorter amount of time, but the key to weight loss through running is varying your running workouts, eating a balanced meal, and making sure that your overall health is in check to allow you to lose weight.

Q: How do I know if I'm not losing weight despite running?

A: If you're not losing weight despite running, it's essential to track your progress, including measuring body weight, body composition, and taking body measurements. This will help you determine if your running regimen is effectively contributing to weight loss.


Running is an excellent tool for improving health and can be an effective part of a weight loss strategy, but many people do find that weight loss isn't easy despite working hard. Success in running weight loss requires a nuanced understanding of nutrition, exercise physiology, and your unique body. By addressing the various components of weight management, from diet and exercise to sleep, stress, and hormonal balance, you can optimize your running routine for weight loss and overall health.

Stay adaptable, be patient, and keep an open mind. Weight loss is a journey, and with the right approach, your running can take you where you want to go. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and don't forget to enjoy the journey!

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Taren Gesell

| Author

"Triathlon Taren" Gesell is founder of MOTTIV and one of the world's top experts on helping adults become endurance athletes later in life. Best known for his YouTube channel and podcast, Taren is the author of the Triathlon Foundations series of books and has been published featured in endurance publications around the world.

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