Overweight runners are unique.

A few overweight runners have contacted me with questions, and for support. As a result I’ve done some research, and I hope the tips below help.


Sometimes people who take up running for weight loss end up disappointed with little or no results. Some even claim to gain weight.

One thing to remember is that permanent weight loss is a combination of both training and nutrition. If nutrition is ignored, running might not be enough. In this case, a nutrition plan that focuses on fat loss would be ideal, in combination with concrete, short-term weight loss goals. (Goals tend to work best in 5-10lb increments.)

As far as running, start slow. Otherwise burnout or injury may follow. And a great weight loss plan will often incorporate some sort of strength training instead of just cardio.

If you are an overweight runner in need of a personalized running plan, send me an email (vanessaruns@gmail.com) and I will refer you to a running coach who specializes in weight loss.


In Performance Nutrition for Runners, Matt Fitzerald recommends the following 12 dietary changes for overweight runners:

1. Substitute water for fruit juices and sodas.

2. Substitute a whole grain staple for a refined grain staple (eg. whole wheat bread instead of white bread).

3. Stop eating when your fullness level reaches 3 or 4 on a 1-5 scale.

4. Substitute low-fat dairy products for whole milk dairy products.

5. Add 1-2 servings of vegetables to your daily diet.

6. Reduce your consumption of fried foods to 1-2 servings/week.

7. Add 1-2 servings of fresh fruits to your diet.

8. Reduce your consumption of refined sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.

9. Introduce healthy midmorning and midafternoon snacks.

10. Introduce immediate post-workout “recovery” meals, snacks or supplements.

11. Eliminate eating in front of screens (TV and computer).

12. Begin eating more slowly.


We have all heard that fad diets do more harm than good, but we aren’t often told why.

Research has shown that everyone develops a specific number of fat cells in the body. This happens mostly at birth, but also during infancy and adolescence as we grow. If we overeat during these early stages, we may develop more fat cells. However, when we gain weight as adults, the number of fat cells in our body remains the same. They just get bigger.

When our weight fluctuates as a result of fad diets, our body fears starvation and begins storing more fat. So the same number of calories will, over time, keep us at a higher weight because our body’s set point is now higher. Because of this, it is much healthier for an overweight individual to remain the same weight than to experience the up and down weight fluctuations that come with fad diets.

The only way to combat this, and to keep extra weight off, is through regular exercise and good nutrition. A lifelong change. Of course, this is easier said than done. Weight loss tends to be more effective when tackled in groups, or in partners. Habits are hard to break, and overweight runners are likely to benefit from group runs for emotional and moral support.


Here are some additional weight loss suggestions from Elson M. Haas, MD (author of Staying Healthy with Nutrition):

1. Eat most food early in the day for best use of calories.

2. Drink two glasses of water 30 minutes before meals to reduce appetite.

3. Minimize salad dressings, cream soups, and meats.

4. Lessen or avoid alcohol and caffeine; minimize salt intake.

5. Use smaller plates and portions.

6. Fill up first on lower-calorie foods, such as soups or vegetable salads.

7. Wait 10-15 minutes before taking seconds – your hunger will decrease.

8. Shop for food only after eating, not when hungry.

9. Plan activities to occupy your free time when you might snack.

10. If you blow it, go right back to your plan, and do not make it an excuse to indulge.

11. Weigh yourself only once every 1-2 weeks.

12. Allow yourself to indulge (within reason) once weekly without guilt or self-judgment.

Best of luck in all your running and weight loss goals!