Run to lose weight or lose weight to run?

I hate them; they make it look so easy, effortless and painless. I might as well be honest I really hate them and I’m actually a bit jealous.  Elite runners are genetically and physically gifted. Elite runners are gifted, sure, but without intense training those gifts are wasted.  I blame my parents, it’s entirely their fault. They gave me my big bum and stout thighs. I don’t have the physique of a really fast runner and never will. Moving, as I did,  from a sport like rugby, in which sheer size and mass is becoming a predictor of success at all levels (Olds, 2001) to a sport like running in which excessive body mass may hinder performance, is difficult. It’s hard to go from actively trying to keep weight on, to trying to stop weight gain and even reduce it!

Runners have always been concerned with weight. For many, like me, controlling weight is one of the many reasons to start. But unfortunately like many amateur enthusiasts I’m pretty sure my physique may never resemble that of the elite runners. Unfortunately a strong correlation between running speed and the body mass index (BMI) has long been established (Sedeaud et al., 2014). Body mass index (BMI) is calculated as body mass divided by the square of the body height. A BMI of 25 or greater is considered overweight, and a BMI higher than 30 is considered obese. It must however be noted that BMI does not account for body composition (percentage of fat versus muscle) which is a much better indicator of fitness and fatness. So in order to become a quicker runner, it is necessary to be lighter.  Body weight affects performance in running more than any other sport, and lower BMI seems increasingly important as race distances get longer (Knechtle et al., 2010).


So there comes a point in every amateur runner’s life that rather than using running to control and minimise weight gain, slimming down may serve your running by making you quicker – possibly 4 seconds per mile in long distance races per Kilogram of weight lost. The stature, body mass and Body Mass Index (BMI) of elite marathoners have decreased and the times have improved over the last 20- 30 years (Marc et al., 2014). But as I dunk my third chocolate finger into my cooling flat white I come across some reassuring research. Even though overeating maybe slowing my progress and causing me to plateau, if I continue to run I will maintain my physical fitness levels. This appears to be the most important factor in maintaining health and preventing cardiovascular diseases – the main cause of death in the developed world. Ideally we should aim to be both lean and fit, but it is still safer from a health perspective to be physically active and overweight than skinny and unfit (Mahmood et al.; Hainer et al., 2009; Lee et al., 2010). It’s still much easier to blame my poor genetics rather than my sweet tooth!


Kamau JW, Wanderi MP, Njororai WWS, Wamukoya EK: Prevalence of overweight and obesity among primary school children in Nairobi province, Kenya.Afr J Phys Health Educ Recr Dance 2011.,17(2).


Hainer V, Toplak H & Stich V. (2009). Fat or fit: what is more important? Diabetes Care 32 Suppl 2, S392-397.


Knechtle B, Wirth A & Rosemann T. (2010). Predictors of race time in male Ironman triathletes: physical characteristics, training, or prerace experience? Percept Mot Skills 111, 437-446.


Lee DC, Artero EG, Sui X & Blair SN. (2010). Mortality trends in the general population: the importance of cardiorespiratory fitness. J Psychopharmacol 24, 27-35.


Mahmood SS, Levy D, Vasan RS & Wang TJ. The Framingham Heart Study and the epidemiology of cardiovascular disease: a historical perspective. The Lancet 383, 999-1008.


Marc A, Sedeaud A, Guillaume M, Rizk M, Schipman J, Antero-Jacquemin J, Haida A, Berthelot G & Toussaint JF. (2014). Marathon progress: demography, morphology and environment. J Sports Sci 32, 524-532.


Olds T. (2001). The evolution of physique in male rugby union players in the twentieth century. J Sports Sci 19, 253-262.


Sedeaud A, Marc A, Marck A, Dor F, Schipman J, Dorsey M, Haida A, Berthelot G & Toussaint JF. (2014). BMI, a performance parameter for speed improvement. PLoS One 9, e90183.


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