After a long workout or run, you’re probably jonesing for some carby, delicious doughnuts. But if you’re looking to lose weight, downing the dough can undo all the calories you just burned. But what’s a hungry AF runner who wants to slim down to do?
More and more studies, including a large review published in 2013 in US Endocrinology, show that the key to losing weight is keeping your calorie burn high through plenty of daily exercise and eating quality calories to properly fuel that activity. Whole, minimally processed foods supply the energy you need while helping to regulate your appetite and reduce hunger levels, which will spur weight loss.
Obesity researchers call this approach maintaining a “high energy flux.” That scientific term simply means that runners should aim to burn a high number of calories while also eating a high number of quality calories. Sorry, that doesn’t include doughnuts (at least not after every workout).
Here’s how you can amp up your “energy flux” and kick your weight loss into high gear.
Whole, natural foods, such as vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains, are high in fiber. High-fiber foods take up volume in your stomach and help you feel full longer. Soluble fiber (plentiful in beans and fruit) slows stomach emptying and stabilizes blood sugar, keeping hunger at bay. High-fiber foods also contain prebiotics—the special starches that serve as food for the probiotics, or healthy bacteria, in your GI tract.
Try it: Eat at least three cups of vegetables and three pieces of fruit daily, along with several servings of fiber-rich sweet potatoes, beans, and whole grains.
There are thousands of bacteria strains (those probiotics mentioned above) in your intestines. A large study review published in 2013 actually found that certain strains influence obesity. Some bacteria affect the amount of energy extracted from food and send signals that impact metabolism. One particular strain, called bifidobacteria, aids in weight loss and lessens symptoms related to obesity, such as a rise in inflammatory markers. Cultured milk, like kefir, buttermilk, yogurt, and cheese (!), are rich in bifidobacteria.
Try it: Aim for at least one serving of cultured dairy (and other probiotic foods, such as miso, tempeh, and even sauerkraut) every day.
Studies show that capsaicin, a compound in hot chili peppers, may help boost calorie burning, reduce appetite, and aid in weight control. That makes fresh or dried peppers, pepper flakes, and chili powder a smart addition to your diet. Green tea, which has special polyphenols called catechins, may also help boost calorie-burning and reduce hunger levels.
Try it: Swap your second cup of coffee for green tea. Add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes in soups and pasta sauce.
A new study from Cornell University shows that 92 percent of people clean their plates. That’s not so bad when you’re eating salads, but it could mean calorie overload when it comes to ice cream, cookies, chips, and other indulgent foods. Don’t deny yourself these treats—just trick yourself a bit by modifying what you see.
Try it: Serve chips in a small bowl (rather than out of the bag) and use smaller serving utensils and smaller plates, which will make downsized portions appear larger.
Keep up your running mileage, but toss in new activities. Doing so will use less-trained muscles and create adaptive changes on a microscopic level, such as building new muscle proteins and cellular compartments that help burn more calories.
Try it: Winter weather have you stuck inside? Now’s the perfect time to try an indoor boot camp class or swimming.
Exercise isn’t the only way to burn calories. Everyday tasks like walking, standing, and cleaning can have a big impact on your total calorie burn and tip the weight-loss balance in your favor. Look around your work and home environments for ways you can make yourself more active.
Try it: Don’t sit for more than 30 minutes at a time—set a timer to remind you to get up. Watch TV while standing up and folding laundry. If your employer offers it, get a standing desk at work, and take the stairs.