For plus-sized and petite runners alike, body weight is a common concern.
Running is a sport that relies a lot on numbers: how fast you ran, how many miles you ran, and how many ounces of fluid you drank are just a few of the statistics that may be swirling in your head at any given time. One number that could be causing you some concern as a runner is your weight. Could you go faster if you lost a few pounds? Are your workouts suffering because you don’t weigh enough? Here are some tips for finding your ideal running weight and getting the most out of your training.
Shed a Few to Get Faster
Researchers have found that a 5-pound drop in weight can translate to a 5 percent increase in performance. Other studies demonstrate that body fat percentage is a predictor of race times. If you have a few pounds to lose, shedding just a small amount might help you to reach that PR you have been gunning for. It’s not an exact science, but losing weight (if you’re not already lean enough) can actually help you to up your race pace. Why does losing a few help you shave off time? When you have less fat, your body runs more efficiently. With more blood and oxygen available for your muscles, they work more efficiently, powering you to a faster 5K time.
Yes, it can be challenging to lose weight, especially if you are already running often. But simple dietary changes can reap big rewards down the road: add veggies and fruits to your meals and snacks to replace junk foods, limit your alcohol consumption, and swap water for soda. Eat “clean” by choosing fresh, whole foods over processed foods that are often loaded with trans fats and other unhealthy additives. Small changes like these add up over the long run, and will help you to lose a few extra pounds — plus make you feel healthier.
Focus on cleaning up your diet and making healthy lifestyle changes, rather than obsessing over the numbers. Eventually, with patience, you should see a drop in your times (and your pants size). To find that magic number, the weight at which you’ll run your best, work with a sports nutritionist or another registered dietician who has experience working with runners to really hone in on your ideal running weight. As you test your fitness with races or time trials, notice whether your times are no longer improving. Although a variety of factors, such as over- or under-training, can influence race times, the weight at which you clocked your best time prior to your plateau is most likely your ideal running weight.
Losing Weight Won’t Make Everyone Faster
Not everyone will see a gain in speed by losing a few pounds, especially those who are very lean or already at a healthy body weight. This is where individualized advice from a specialist, such as an expert sports nutritionist or dietician is helpful. One way to determine whether your body weight is in a healthy range is to use a ballpark estimate generated by a BMI Calculator by plugging in your height and weight to determine if you are within a healthy weight range. Note: this is an inexact tool, especially considering that muscle weighs more than fat; your doctor or another qualified healthcare practitioner can best assess whether your weight is healthy.
If you are in the healthy range, which is a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9, losing weight may not be necessary. To gain speed and running fitness as you work towards a PR, you can try adding more intense workout sessions like hill repeats or intervals on the track to your training regimen, and use strength training to increase lean muscle mass and running efficiency.
If you are in the underweight category, which is a BMI of 18.5 or less, you may be compromising your fitness and your running times. As renowned sports nutritionist Nancy Clark explains, “Your car needs gas to run. Your body needs food to run.” Working with a nutritionist can help you determine whether your body is under-fueled. If you’re not eating enough to properly fuel your runs or to recover from your runs, your training and performance are compromised. World-class runners may look incredibly thin, but the strongest are not starving themselves. They have a lean body makeup, but still have plenty of muscle, which weighs more than fat.
If you are in the underweight BMI range, add nutrient-dense foods to your daily diet, including “healthy” fats like those found in almond butter and extra virgin olive oil (which help you absorb vitamins and minerals as well as feel satiated) and protein (which aids in recovery). Focus on building lean muscle. The addition of a few pounds of healthy, strong muscle may actually improve your performance.
Sometimes, losing weight can help you to achieve your best running times. In other cases, it may leave you running on empty, under-performing and/or injured. If you are constantly feeling drained and hungry, adding in a few hundred calories per day before and after your runs could be exactly what you need to get out of a running rut. Focus on staying within a healthy weight range by fueling your runs with nutritious foods to achieve your personal ideal running weight.