Can Runners Really Eat Whatever They Want?

Balance your calories to lose weight and get lean.
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A diet where you can eat whatever you want certainly seems appealing. Unlimited cookies, desserts, chips and ice cream sounds like heaven, and you could be forgiven for thinking that you can get away with this if you burn loads of calories through running, but this isn't the case. If you care about your health, weight and body shape, watch what you eat, even if you're a hardcore runner.

Calories Burned Running

    You only have to look at the diets of professional sportswomen and Olympic athletes to see how much they eat on a daily basis. However, there's a difference between your average casual jogger and an elite marathon runner. Running burns between 240 and 555 calories per half hour if you run between 5 and 7.5 mph. Even an all-out sprint at 10 mph only notches up 733 calories in 30 minutes. To put that in perspective, two 8-inch whole-grain tortillas contain 240 calories, while an Angus mushroom and Swiss burger contains around 770 calories.

Calorie Intake

    The average active woman needs between 2,000 and 2,400 calories to maintain her weight, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Managing your weight is all about balancing calories in and calories out -- or equalizing the calories you consume and those you burn through exercise. A steady, healthy rate of weight loss is around 1 to 2 pounds per week. If you're losing more than this, you can eat slightly more, but if you're losing less, reduce your caloric intake or increase your exercise.

Food Quality

    Food quality is often overlooked. Before you go chatting to your girlfriends about how a particular variety of chips only has 100 calories per bag or how low-fat cookies are better than regular ones, think about what you're putting into your body. If you're serious about improving your running performance, getting healthier and looking better, avoid fueling your body with poor-quality foods. You might find that you function OK by sticking within your calorie allowance and basing your diet around nutrient-dense whole foods such as lean meat and fish, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts and seeds.


    In theory, you can eat whatever you want if you're a runner. However, this will probably lead to weight gain and a big drop in performance. If you're using running as a way of shedding a few pounds and getting your body in bikini condition for summer, stick to your recommended caloric intake. And, always talk to your doctor before making any major changes in your diet or exercise regime.

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