Top 10 Rules of Weight Loss for Runners

Unwanted weight gain can happen to even the most health-savvy women. A perfect storm of stress, eating on the go, pregnancy and age-related metabolic slowdown can gradually pile on extra pounds.

After years of self-described "insane workaholic behavior," Columbia University associate professor Jenny Davidson experienced a gradual but significant weight gain. "The next thing I knew, I was 50 pounds overweight," says Davidson. To lose weight, she skipped the fad diets and instead focused on exercise and a healthy eating plan. Her reward: She lost 80 pounds and is now an avid runner and triathlete.

Want to do something similar? You can with these 10 simple strategies.

Rule 1: Know Your Caloric Needs

To stay healthy and run well while losing weight, you must determine how many calories you need. On average, a 150-pound, 5-foot-7-inch moderately active woman in her early 30s should consume about 2,100 calories per day.  To lose weight, you must reduce your total caloric intake, whether by eating less or burning calories through exercise.

Research shows you're more likely to keep the fat off if you lose it gradually, says Monique Ryan, author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. It's best to cut no more than 200 to 300 calories per day. According to sports nutritionist Suzanne Girard Eberle, if you maintain a diet too low in calories, you may be at risk for developing the female athlete triad, which causes menstrual irregularity and poor bone health, among other problems.

Rule 2: Set a Realistic Goal

Many women fall into the trap of setting a stereotypical goal weight, regardless of their body type. The truth is, every body is different, and your ideal weight for optimal health, energy and performance may not be what society says it should be (read: skinny). Consult your physician to set a healthy goal before starting a weight loss plan. It may also be helpful to have a professional measure your body composition, or muscle-to-fat ratio, which can be a better indicator of what you need to lose.

Rule 3: Stay Fueled

Even while losing weight, you need to replenish your energy stores--and to do it right.  Active women need to maintain a balanced diet of 50 to 60 percent carbohydrates, 20 to 30 percent protein and 20 to 30 percent healthy fats. Don't rely on diet- or fat-free processed foods, which are often low in nutrients and high in chemicals.

Eat a breakfast of high protein, healthy-fat foods like eggs, oatmeal and low-fat yogurt. Snack on nuts, fruits or vegetables to avoid depriving yourself.

Keep in mind: While protein bars and sports drinks are great during and after long training runs, you don't need the extra calories for runs less than 60 minutes long.

Rule 4: Hit the Weight Room

Although resistance training alone doesn't burn a lot of calories, Virginia Tech obesity and exercise researcher Janet Rankin, Ph.D., says it does offer benefits to those trying to lose weight, from increasing bone density to reducing injuries. Research also indicates that developing more muscle mass increases your resting metabolism.

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