The holidays are over, your resolutions are waning and you’re likely looking ahead to racing season and thinking about getting back to race weight. Or maybe, as a runner, you’re just wondering why — if you’re running and training regularly — the scale refuses to budge, no matter how many salads you consume.
If those last five pounds simply won’t be shed, let us tell you first that you are not alone. But if you’re serious about getting rid of just a few pounds, without sacrificing speed or fitness, we’ve got you covered.
Use an app like MyFitnessPal and honestly (really, honestly) log what you’re eating — and your workouts — for 5–7 days. Even if you think you’re eating healthy, you might be undereating, or extra calories may be sneaking in where you’re not expecting them. Undereating might sound like what you want to be doing to drop weight, but sometimes, our bodies can go into protective mode and stubbornly slow our metabolism as a result of constantly depriving ourselves.
If you’re eating more than 500 calories less than your daily caloric needs, you’ll likely benefit from adding a few more calories in and around your running in order to burn more efficiently. If you’re overeating, try to cut out the obvious culprits, like sweetened beverages and processed foods, and swap in more veggies, healthy fats and lean protein.
Speaking of protein … If your calorie count seems reasonable, make sure your protein intake is also reasonable. You should be getting 20 grams in at every meal and in your post-run recovery shake or snack. Bumping up protein if it’s low can reduce cravings and drop your overall calorie count, improve muscle adaptation and help you hit those intervals harder the next day — burning more calories in the process.
Being low on sleep can actually cause you to hold onto weight. Bummer, especially if you slack on sleep to sneak in runs. Losing out on the average 7–9 hours-per-night of shut-eye can result in a disruption in your hormones, according to research presented in 2017 that showed people low on sleep tend to make worse food choices and were more likely to be obese. (It’s also hard for your body to recover and make adaptations if you don’t rest it enough.) You might be better off adding a bit more sleep and figuring out a better way to manage your running, whether that means switching to a lunchtime run versus a morning one or swapping some of your distance for a shorter interval session.
Sorry, but the Snickers should probably be nixed from your diet. Ditto fun-colored cocktails and cookies. The typical American diet is now more than 50% “ultra-processed food” on average, according to one study. That’s frightening — and athletes, with our propensity for processed food on the run and after as our recovery, aren’t immune. The more food you can swap to whole, natural versions — i.e, snacking on carrots instead of chips — the fuller you’ll feel on less calories. And even if you think you’re eating a reasonable amount of calories but most come from processed foods, you’re still at risk for gaining weight: Because processed foods are more energy-dense than whole foods, it’s incredibly easy to accidentally overeat.
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If you’re a six-runs-a-week person who just does 45 minutes each session at a relatively easy pace, you might need to mix things up to see results. Adding high-intensity interval training has been shown to help athletes drop weight: The interval efforts keep the metabolism revved long after your session is over. Make it easy on yourself and just add a few fartlek sprints of about 30 seconds each into half of your run sessions to start.
If work and family life have been feeling hectic and overwhelming lately, stress could actually be the reason you’re not seeing weight loss. Long-term stress has been linked to obesity in studies, so if you feel like your life is out of control, you might actually need to slow down, not speed up. Adding a few minutes of meditation to each day and actively trying to destress by addressing the stressful factors in your life may actually help you shed pounds faster than adding an extra workout session.
Lastly, consider the most important question: Do you really need to drop those last five pounds? Will it really help you hit your training goal or are you doing it for an arbitrary number on the scale? Sometimes, our bodies know best and find an equilibrium that may not correspond to your goal weight, but is right for you. If you feel great, and your training is going well, then maybe you’re better off ditching the scale and staying the course for now.