Running Makes You Fat: Fact or Fiction

Everyone that trains with me knows my loathing for running or any type of long duration cardio. It makes me cringe when clients say, “I need to do cardio otherwise I’ll get fat” because I know how untrue this is. In fact it’s running and long duration cardio that keeps people fat, and in many cases contributes to them getting fatter. Need proof? Well I’ve got it!

This is one of those moments that, if you are like me, you’ll love what I’m about to show you. Conversely, if you are one of those who clings to their running shoes or cardio equipment because the fear of out-of-control-fatness haunts you then this is going to be one of the toughest pills you’ve ever had to swallow. And if you are the type who runs for the love it then whatever I tell you or show you won’t matter, and you’re going to keep doing what you do.

So here it is…brace yourself

In 2006 the results of a 9 year study were released in which 12,568 runners were monitored to measure the effect that their weekly mileage had on their body composition. As you might suspect, the runners who decreased their mileage over the years gained the most amount of body fat. But don’t get too excited runners and you cardio queens. Because even the runners who maintained the same mileage or increased it slightly from one year to the next also got fatter.

The only group that didn’t experience an increase in fat were those that increased their mileage to the levels of a competitive marathoner; which brings along a whole slew of other problems related to joint health. So unless you’re running enough to train for marathon should be at least be a little concerned about how much you rely on running or cardio to maintain your waist size.

A number of other studies, as well as empirical evidence from those with extensive experience competing in steady-state endurance competitions (i.e. triathlons and marathons) have pointed out that these activities train the body to become more efficient at storing fat. This is why that person who hits the treadmill every day for 30-60 minutes still looks the same as they did a year ago.

The answer

Does anyone else find it ironic that the study I cited above was published in the International Journal of Obesity? You would think that those who study obesity, fat-loss, exercise, and nutrition would be championing the movement to get people to go out and run. But the fact is no amount of exercise can account for poor nutrition or overeating (even if you eat well you can still get fat). And certain types of exercise like running and other forms of steady-state cardio are metabolism killers.

Nutrition is the solution; the proper foods in the proper amounts (i.e. caloric deficit). If you “need to do cardio to keep from getting fat” then you clearly do not have a handle on your food. Instead of spending that hour running try spending it figuring out how many calories you’ve been taking in and how much you need to prevent your waistline from expanding. If needing to give your metabolism a kick-start or keep it elevated throughout the week, and you are already weight training 2-3x a week, then implementing 10-20 minutes of sprints or intervals on the bike or elliptical are your best options.

This has been a public service announcement from your brutally honest personal trainer. :-)