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Can You Run Your Fat Off?


From REVO₂LUTION RUNNING™ by Jason R. Karp, PhD

Can You Use Running For Fat Loss?

Want to know the secret of losing fat?

You don’t have to use fat when you run to lose fat from your waistline.


That doesn’t make any sense. If I want to lose fat from my hips and thighs, shouldn’t I be burning fat when I run?

Not necessarily.

Running significantly increases lipolysis—the breakdown of fat—by increasing the activity of the enzyme lipoprotein lipase and decreases lipogenesis—the formation and subsequent storage of body fat. Conversely, inactivity suppresses lipoprotein lipase, thus inhibiting fat burning.

You can become lean and obtain a low percentage of body fat even if you run at a high intensity that uses carbohydrates for energy. Your body fat, which is the fat from adipose tissue underneath your skin, is lost during the hours after you finish your run. All of the things that your body has to do to recover and recreate balance after running require energy. Recovery itself requires energy. That energy comes from fat, and the amount of fat transported and used after your run depends, in part, on the intensity during the run. Following high-intensity running, more fat from adipose tissue is transported to the muscles, and muscles use fat at a faster rate. 

How to Burn More Calories During Your Run

By tinkering with your running workouts, you can burn more calories both during and after your runs. As you become more fit, you recover faster, so your postworkout metabolic rate returns to its resting level sooner. Although some of the research comparing postworkout metabolic rates between trained and untrained people is a bit contradictory due to differences in research methods, most research has shown that postworkout metabolic rate is elevated longer in untrained people. (Out-of-shape people take longer to recover from a run.) Although the elevation in metabolism after your runs helps you burn more calories, the elevated metabolism during your workouts (which is much higher than afterward) has a greater impact on your calorie burn and subsequent weight loss.  

To find out how many calories you need to expend to lose weight, we must travel back in time to 1958, when Dr. Max Wishnofsky concluded (based on previous research in 1930) that the caloric equivalent of 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) of body weight lost is approximately 3,500 calories. He also explained that as weight loss occurs, the resting metabolic rate decreases.

For example, if a 40-year-old, 5-foot-10, 300-pound male reduces his weight to 200 pounds, his resting metabolic rate would drop from 2,265 calories to 1,995 calories, a difference of 270 calories per day or 8,100 calories per month. Thus, if he continues on the same activity and diet program, he would lose 2.3 pounds less per month (8,100 ˜ 3,500) at 200 pounds compared to when he was 300 pounds. In other words, if he had started out by losing 8 pounds per month, he would now be losing 5.7 pounds per month.

Why Your Weight Loss is Slowing

People don’t lose weight linearly over time, as Wishnofsky pointed out so many years ago. Weight loss is often dynamic rather than linear, and your body’s energy requirements change as you lose weight and alter your body composition and metabolic rate. When resting metabolic rate decreases as you lose weight, you need less energy, so calorie restriction no longer has the same effect as it did at the beginning of your diet program. So, what does this mean? Initially, when you lose weight, you’ll likely lose 1 pound (or very close to it) for every 3,500-calorie deficit you accumulate. However, as you lose a substantial amount of weight and your metabolic rate starts to drop, it will take more than 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound.   

The Weight-Loss Equation

A few years ago, I was standing in the diet and weight-loss book aisle of a bookstore, talking to a woman about losing weight. “I walk 2 miles a day 5 days a week and I’m still not losing weight,” she told me, sounding frustrated. I tried to explain to her how many calories each mile of walking burns and the “calories out” part of the weight-loss equation.

  • Carbohydrates are used for fuel by your muscles and exist in your body in two forms: glucose in your blood and glycogen (a branched chain of glucose molecules, which is the stored form of carbohydrate) in your muscles and liver. Any carbohydrate that you eat is used to replenish blood glucose and muscle and liver glycogen.
  • Protein is used to build things like muscle tissue, enzymes, and other parts of cells that carry out specific functions.
  • Fat is an important component of cell membranes and is used as a fuel, as insulation, and to protect your internal organs.

If your body doesn’t need to carry out those functions, all of the extra calories from carbohydrates, fat, and protein are stored as fat. Your level of physical activity and caloric intake is tightly coupled over a wide range of physical activities. However, this tight coupling is lost in people who don’t exercise at all, and caloric intake is inappropriately high, which causes people to gain weight.

So how do you avoid this? I’m glad you asked.

How to Create a Metabolic Demand

Exercise lowers your carbohydrate fuel tank, which creates a metabolic demand because carbohydrate is the muscles’ preferred fuel. Lowering that fuel tank is threatening to the survival of your muscles, so any carbohydrate you eat will be used to refill the tank.

The synthesis and storage of glycogen—the refilling of the carbohydrate fuel tank—is controlled by the hormone insulin and the availability and uptake of glucose from the blood. Through its effect on specific proteins that transport glucose, insulin draws glucose from the blood into muscle cells to be stored. The glucose is then used to make new glycogen. The higher the blood insulin concentration and the greater the availability of glucose, the faster glycogen is synthesized and stored.

The same thing happens with protein. When you exercise, you send a signal to build structural and functional proteins and you cause microscopic damage to the muscle fibers, so the amino acids from any protein you eat will be used to build those structural and functional proteins and repair the damage to the muscle fibers to make them stronger and more durable.

To prevent fat from accumulating on those love handles, you must create a metabolic demand so that the calories are used for other, more important needs. Make the love handles wait. If you are always mobilizing energy for it to be used, you’re not storing it as fat. Exercise creates metabolic demands, giving you the director’s clapperboard so that you decide where the calories go. And that is exactly the goal of any weight loss program—to make you the director of the calorie movie, dictating where your calories go and how they are used.

Becoming a Certified Running Coach

When you earn the REVO₂LUTION RUNNING™ certification, you not only get the best running education in the world; you get a complete running experience because what we do serves as the proof of what we believe.

Check out what it takes to start a career in personal fitness training. This is your most affordable and fastest way to become a highly qualified personal trainer.

Is your recertification coming up? Learn more about earning your CEU credits. You can find the full list of CEU courses here.

There is always something exciting about earning a new training or coaching certification and applying that new knowledge of how you train your clients. This also helps you hit the reset button.

NESTA and Spencer Institute coaching programs are open to anyone with a desire to learn and help others. There are no prerequisites.

That’s it for now.

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