Will Distance Running Make You Fat?

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Will Distance Running Make You Fat?

I received an e-mail from a man who voiced both great confusion and intense frustration, but this man was a class act. There was no hint of animosity or hostility in his communication. Only a sense of total confusion and a genuine desire to know the truth. This is how he worded his question: “John, lately I’ve been reading that distance running is one of the most counter-productive forms of exercise for losing weight and shaping up. A friend of mine has given me several articles and a book written by Dr. Al Sears who says in effect that distance running causes your body to produce more fat. Do you agree or disagree with what Dr. Sears and other experts have to say?”

Does distance running make you fat?

HERE’S MY TAKE ON IT: That depends upon several factors besides distance running. These factors include speed (level of intensity), duration, frequency of exercise and/or recovery time allowed, nutritional profile, other types of exercise incorporated, natural somatotype, and genetic predisposition.

On the surface, common sense dictates that the answer to this question must surely be NO! But the truth is we are not dealing with common sense here, and sometimes (on rare occasions) the truth and common sense don’t necessarily seem to be the same.

Consider: We are dealing with the human body and how it responds to stress. YES, FRIENDS, stress. Stress, as in exercise, creates an adaptive response. For instance, if you take up long distance running and average 12 miles daily at a moderate pace of 8 to 9 minutes a mile, you will theoretically burn 1,200 calories. And since physiologists tell us that one pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories, that means we should lose one pound of fat every three days. Right? Only in theory. The truth is that you would be sending your body the message that it needs to become as slim as possible in order to more easily fulfill the demands that are being placed on it. Since muscle is a heavier tissue than fat, guess what your body will shed? You got it. Additional muscle mass that it perceives it does not need to fulfill the present demand. Granted, you may also lose a little fat, but not nearly as much as you will muscle mass. This in turn means that you will have less muscle mass, which happens to be the body’s fat-burning engine. In addition, because of the demands of excessive cardio exercise, you will also be elevating cortisol hormone, which further enhances fat gain while catabolizing muscle mass. As if that weren’t bad enough, there is also strong scientific evidence that you will also be suppressing testosterone, which is literally the exact opposite of what you want to do if you truly want a lithe, muscular physique.

So what’s the answer?

Well, if distance running is a sport that you enjoy, you need to supplement it with a strength program that causes the body to need both exceptional muscular strength, mass (within reason), and endurance. My recommendation: G.U.T.S. as a foundation plus high volume pull-ups two to three times weekly, sprinting twice each week, high volume push-ups of multiple variations every day, Atlas Sit-ups and Leg Raises, Isometrics, VRT/DVR, and self-resistance exercises of all types. In addition, you must eat for strength and development with plenty of superior quality protein as well as a balanced amount of fat and carbohydrate. This means lots of fresh, raw, and properly cooked fruits and vegetables. Go easy on grains, because grains will add fat to you like nobody’s business.

—John Peterson

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