Calories and running - Women's Running

Calories and running

Author: Chris Macdonald

Read Time:   |  June 30, 2017


If you feel the “helpful” labeling system on the back of your food is more like some kind of cryptic top secret ancient Egyptian code, you’re not alone. Most of us understand the basics of the food label language but when it comes to comprehending calorie intake things get a little fuzzy. As a result, many people tend to make the mistake of overestimating or underestimating their daily calorie intake. To help you avoid this common mistake and conquer the calorie confusion here are our top tips on understanding calories.

How many calories should I be eating per day?

The average daily calorie allowance for women is 2000 calories. This has been based on the average woman’ s activity levels, the energy she expends getting up, going to work or doing light activities. However, none of us is average. We’re all on different training programmes and daily routines, so it would be fairer to say that most women need between 1800 and 2200 calories.

Training Days vs Rest Days

On days when you aren’t training you need to consume fewer calories, perhaps between 1800 to 2000, whereas on training days you can increase your intake to 2000 or 2200 calories. If you are training for a marathon you might need a bit more to allow for the extra weekly mileage.

The nitty gritty

It makes sense to spend some time to personalise your calorie usage, taking different factors into account. Consider the physical demands of your job and other daily activities, and then factor in your sports training. Next, measure these against your age, weight and body temperature. It’s helpful to keep a record of perceived hormonal changes, taking into account the time of the month, for example. Of course, we’re not suggesting that you become a lab rat to work out your calorie usage and consumption to the finest detail, but it’s worth pointing out that weighing up all these variables helps you to apply some realism to the guideline figures set out by the UK Department of Health.

How many calories does running burn?

On average running burns between 80 to 110 calories per ten minutes, depending on your speed, your weight and the terrain. I prefer to underestimate my calorie usage, which helps me to prevent eating all the calories that I’ve burned. Up to this point knowing how many calories you require is easy. To put this into practice you need to know a little bit more about the calorie content of food. Most people underestimate this while overestimating their calorie usage. The 200 calories that you eat as an extra allowance on training days equate to quite a modest snack: say half a beigel or half a bowl of cereal per day. In most cases a pre-run banana or peanut butter sandwich will provide those calories.

Losing it

If you are running to drop weight you need to reduce your calorie intake to ensure that the calories you use over a week and the reduction in your calorie intake adds up to at least 3500. For this you would need to run 30 minutes daily as well as calorie intake by 300 calories every day to help you to lose one pound of fat per week. It’s not wise to try to reduce calories any more dramatically than this. Reducing your calorie intake to less than 1200 could put your body in starvation mode, which will ultimately prevent weight loss because the little food that you eat is stored as body fat.

Slash and burn

  • Avoid the sugary food that causes blood glucose levels to surge; the body converts excess sugar into fat.
  • Eat low sugar, high fibre food that helps burn fat. Nuts, berries and fresh vegetables can all perform this function.
  • Ready-made sauces are often packed with sugar and preservatives, so create a healthy sauce for pasta or meat: a five-calorie stock cube and your choice of chopped onions, garlic or other vegetables will do the trick.
  • Cut out unnecessary calories and fat from processed food, such as mayonnaise, tomato ketchup and sweet chilli sauce.
  • Ban sugary, fizzy drinks from your diet.

Chris Macdonald

Editor-at-Large, Women's Running

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