Running Does Burn Fat – How to Run for Weight Loss

7 min read Chris Zibutis

Chris Zibutis
Written by
Chris Zibutis
Head Running Coach - that one person on earth who loves interval runs 🥵

Does running burn fat? Running can burn more calories than swimming, cycling, or weight training, according to the American Council on Exercise. At the same time, running helps with boosting mood and improving your sleep quality while having other health benefits.

But to burn the most calories when running, you have to do it right. Steady-state running is not as effective as high-intensity interval running, though it can still help beginners.

It’s good to know too that running may give people a false sense of how many calories they burned. When running for fat burning, it’s important to log your runs and measure your calorie intake to make sure you’re burning more than taking in.

Read on to find out more about the link between running and weight loss and whether running burns belly, stomach, and thigh fat.

When Does Your Body Burn Fat?

During physical activity, your body first burns glycogen, a type of glucose it stores in the liver for energy. Your body only starts to burn fat after around 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise.

Running and jogging are both forms of aerobic exercise. By contrast, sprinting and high-intensity interval training are forms of anaerobic exercise, which are not powered by oxygen but by energy stored in your muscles.

How much fat does running burn then? It depends on your body weight, gender, running speed, terrain inclination, and weather conditions. Even the surface you run on can affect how many calories you burn when running.

A well-known rule states that the average runner burns around 100 calories per mile. But for a more accurate measurement, you can use a simple calorie burn rate calculator like the one provided by the University of Rochester Medical Center that factors in your weight and running pace.

Good to know: Running at a faster pace will help you burn more calories. For example, a 125-pound runner can burn more than twice as many calories running for an hour at the pace of one mile per 6 minutes (990 calories) compared to one mile per 12 minutes (only 480 calories).

What about the number of calories you burn per minute when running? According to the American Council on Exercise, a 120-pound runner running at the pace of 10 minutes per mile will burn approximately 11.4 calories per minute. The calories you burn when running go up as your weight does. For example, a 160-pound runner will burn 15.1 calories per minute.

Running apps and fitness bracelets can automatically log how many calories you burn based on your weight, speed, type of exercise, and other factors. Having one makes tracking calories you burn so much easier.

The bottom line: Running for weight loss works, but individual factors determine just how many calories you burn.

Running Has Many Benefits Beyond Weight Loss

There are many types of running, from high-intensity intervals to long-distance runs, and each can help you burn excess calories.

Running has a host of other health benefits that make it an inspired activity for losing weight in a healthy way while strengthening your body. These benefits include:

  • Reduced heart disease risk
  • Lower blood sugar
  • Lower risk of cataracts
  • Lower risk of neurological diseases
  • Lower risk of cancer
  • Reduced risk of falling
  • Stronger knee tissue and healthier knees
  • Less knee pain
  • Stronger muscles in the lower body
  • Stronger bones
  • Improved sleep
  • Better mood

To enjoy these benefits, you need to run consistently and rest well in between runs.

Does Running Burn Belly Fat?

Yes! Research indicates that moderate to high-intensity running can reduce belly fat even if you don’t change your diet. Belly fat increases the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other diseases, according to an article published in the journal Circulation.

There’s a strong link between high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and fat burning. HIIT such as interval runs is more likely to result in noticeable weight loss than running consistently at a slow-to-moderate pace according to this study.

This happens because high-intensity training creates a stronger afterburn effect, in which your body continues to burn calories even after you’ve finished running.

The afterburn effect is stronger in the hour after the run but can last for up to 48 hours. What’s more, high-intensity running suppresses appetite so that you’re less likely to take in a lot of calories after your runs.

The bottom line: Running is an effective way to burn full-body fat, including thigh fat, but not all types of running provide the same results. You can burn more calories with HIIT, but you have to be careful to avoid injury and give yourself time to recover.

What about muscles? Is there a risk that long-distance running will burn muscle for energy? Running may burn muscle only if your diet and nutrition are poor and fail to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to make enough glycogen.

High-Intensity Interval vs Low-Intensity Long-Run: What Burns More Fat?

Running burns around 80% more calories than walking. While some sources may claim that walking burns more fat than running, a study of middle-aged obese females found that high-intensity exercise training burned more belly fat than those who did only low-intensity exercise.

High-intensity interval training done at 80% or more of your normal heart rate can help you burn up to 29% more fat than a lower intensity long run, according to a meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. This type of training produces metabolic changes in the body that promote weight loss.

However, it’s important to remember that HIIT is more taxing, especially for a beginner, and may require a longer resting period. Lower-intensity long runs are easier to keep up and recover from, so in the beginning, they can help you burn more weekly calories than HIIT.

When you walk or exercise at a low intensity, your muscles burn a higher percentage of fat than carbohydrates and use more oxygen compared to running or exercising at a higher intensity. However, running burns more total calories, which contributes to greater weight loss.

For example, a 130-pound person walking at a pace of 5 miles per hour will burn 472 calories. The same person running at 6 miles per hour will burn 590 calories.

Running helps you burn more calories than other exercise types because it puts to work multiple muscle groups.

Good to know: Running on a treadmill also burns fat. For obese runners, treadmills are easier on the leg joints than most running surfaces and can reduce the risk for injuries.

How Long to Run to Burn Fat?

Running every day is not necessary to burn more fat. But frequency matters, so you want to put in 3 to 5 running sessions every week of at least 30 minutes each and preferably more, up to 60 minutes. The total time you run depends on your body weight, fitness level, and other factors.

High-intensity types of running can help you burn calories up to 48 hours after your workout. These include interval runs and hill repeats. It’s the afterburn effect, which could help you burn significantly more calories over time.

A study found that exercising vigorously for 45 minutes is enough to increase your metabolic rate for 14 hours.

The bottom line: Depending on your level, you can put in longer low-to-moderate intensity runs or focus on high-intensity training to tap into the afterburn effect.

Some Useful Tips for a Fat Burning Run

New to running? You can optimize your runs to burn more fat by following a beginner’s plan. Here are some tips that can complement your plan.

Just Start

Starting is often the hardest part of any weight loss journey, and running is no exception. Don’t lose yourself inon research or seek the ultimately best strategies for quick results. You won’t burn calories just by thinking about burning calories!

Just start running, even if in the beginning you do only short, low-intensity runs. By getting you moving, these early runs will play a major role in your journey to weight loss.

Warm Up Before Running and Cool Down After

Stretching and other warm up workouts increase your heart rate, warm up your muscles, increase your body elasticity, and prepare you for a run.

Warming up before running makes your muscles perform better and reduces the risk of injuries. It makes it easier for you to reach your weekly running goals.

Cool-downs are also important as they further reduce the risk of injury.

Consider Cross-Training

Cross-training on days when you’re not running conditions your body by working more than your lower body muscles.

It promotes active recovery, builds endurance, makes you stronger, and reduces the risk of injuries.

Cross-training can include jumping jacks, pushups, rope jumps, squats as well as swimming, cycling, or kayaking.

Try Trail Running

Because of the variations in the terrain, trail running can work more muscles than running in a park or on the treadmill.

It works your core and helps you build endurance. What’s more, it can motivate you. The best part is that it gets you to spend more time in nature, which has benefits of its own.

The Best Workout Is the One You Like

Staying motivated is what often makes the difference between runners who burn fat and those who give up after a few runs.

When choosing your running workouts, don’t be afraid to experiment in order to find the ones you like the most. If you don’t enjoy a workout, it’s not likely you’ll stick with it.

By contrast, picking a running workout that doesn’t burn as many calories but that you enjoy can help you burn more calories in the long run. Think long-term here.

Run on an Empty Stomach

Does running on an empty stomach make you burn more calories? The evidence is mixed, with some but not all studies noting higher fat burning.

The advantage of running on an empty stomach is that it will help you control your calorie intake, reduce the risk of digestion problems, and make you feel lighter as you run.

On the other hand, it may impact your energy level, so make sure you get enough nutrients in between runs, and don’t push yourself too hard. A supplement can also help you get enough electrolytes and vitamins.

Eating Habit

At the end of the day, running only works as a weight-loss strategy if you burn more calories than you eat. Cutting calories may be necessary.

Get into the right eating habit with the plate method for main meals:

  • Fill 50% of your plate with non-starchy veggies.
  • Fill 25% of your plate with lean protein.
  • Fill 25% of your plate with healthy carbs.

Important: For consistent weight loss, eat fewer calories than you burn—it’s as simple as that. Counting calories makes everything easier.


Running is one of the most effective workouts for burning fat. It’s a pleasant, health-boosting approach to weight loss that strengthens your body and mind even as it helps you shed excess pounds.

High-intensity interval running exercises are the most effective at burning fat. But if you’re at the beginning of your journey, you can start with any running exercise that gets you moving for at least 30 minutes three times a week.

Whatever workout you choose, it’s important to enjoy it. Because in the end, you’re not only running toward a lower BMI, but toward better health, better fitness, and a better you.

Enjoy every step of the journey!

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