Running is one of the most effective sports for weight loss due to its high caloric burn.
According to a report from the American Fitness Council, running burns more calories than weight lifting, swimming, cycling, or even downhill skiing. However, runners may easily overestimate the amount of calories burned during a typical run.
There are various ways to determine the calories that the body burns while running. Many runners use the rule of 100 calories/mile (1 mile = 1.6 km), specifically, an average-sized runner will burn about 100 calories per mile. If your goal is to burn 500 calories, you need to run about 5 miles. While this is the fastest and simplest way to estimate caloric burn, this estimation is not accurate as it does not take into account important variables.
For a more accurate calculation of calories burned while running, a physical activity formula can be used, which is based on your current weight, running speed, and running time.
Factors affecting calorie burn when running
The number of calories a runner burns during running depends on several factors:
The heavier you are, the more calories you will burn. A person weighing 140 pounds (63.5 kg) running at a pace of 10 minutes/mile will burn 318 calories in 30 minutes. Running at the same pace in the same timeframe, a person weighing 180 pounds (81.6 kg) will burn about 408 calories.
The reason is that the body has to work harder and burn more fuel when carrying more weight.
This is a complex factor. Many researchers have studied the impact of gender on calorie burn. However, it is unclear whether gender differences or body composition cause the discrepancy, as men typically have more muscle than women. A 2018 study found that when both men and women participated in an exercise that included backpacking, women burned fewer calories than men.
A person weighing 160 pounds running at a speed of 5 miles/hour for 30 minutes will burn about 290 calories. If they run at 6 miles/hour, they will burn 363 calories in the same timeframe.
The reason is that increasing speed means the body has to exert more and burn more fuel. While speed is a useful factor to compare calorie burn for an individual, it can be misleading when using speed to compare calorie burn between runners. For example, a well-trained runner will burn fewer calories when running a mile in 8 minutes compared to a novice runner.
Adding an uphill section to your running route can increase the number of calories your body burns. The reason is that runners have to exert more effort when running uphill.
If you are using a treadmill, you can easily calculate the energy expenditure when adjusting the incline of the machine. When running uphill outdoors, you can burn more calories, but you will burn fewer calories on the way down as it requires less effort.
Whether you run on roads, on a treadmill, on trails or on sand, the running surface also needs to be factored into the calorie expenditure. Generally, running on a treadmill burns the least calories, because there is no wind resistance or obstacles.
Running on sand or on muddy or rocky trails requires slightly more energy. The body has to use more muscles and more energy to maintain balance and stay upright when running on uneven surfaces.
Running in windy conditions can potentially increase intensity, meaning you will burn more calories if you maintain your pace.
There is evidence that exercising in extreme cold burns more calories, possibly due to shivering or activation of brown fat. However, there is also evidence that exercising in extreme heat burns more calories because the body has to work harder to sweat and maintain a healthy temperature.
Most experts agree that exercising at moderate temperatures is most effective if your goal is to burn more calories. Too hot or too cold temperatures can have some effects on calorie expenditure, but not enough to make a large difference in the total calories.
Overall, running is one of the most effective ways to burn calories. However, remember that the number of calories can change as you become slimmer and your body adapts to running more efficiently. If your goal is weight loss, you may achieve the highest reduction. This is when you need to take your running activity to the next level by adding speed workouts, hill runs, or long runs to increase calorie burn.
Adding variety to your runs not only helps achieve your calorie burn goal but also reduces boredom and fatigue to make running a long-term habit for maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy body.