Can Running Make You Gain Weight?

If you’re looking to shed some pounds, you might have taken up running to achieve the results you want. After all, running is one of the most efficient ways to burn calories. And of course, a calorie deficit means you’ll lose weight…right?

Unfortunately, it’s not always quite that simple. In fact, many people are surprised to find they actually gain weight after they start a regular running routine. By having a better understanding of what can cause weight gain as a runner and what you can do about it, you can achieve the results you want.

When Can Running Lead to Weight Gain?

Despite the fact that the average person will burn between 80 and 140 calories per mile run, it is absolutely possible to gain weight when you begin running. There are many reasons as to why this may be the case.

You’re Building Muscle

Runner building muscle
Running promotes muscle development

One of the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to your newfound running routine is that there’s a good chance you’re also building some muscle with each workout. Most often, runners will find that they build muscle in their calves, thighs, and even their glutes. 

What does this have to do with weight gain? It’s relevant because muscle is denser than fat. As you replace body fat with muscle, then, it’s very possible that you could be seeing the numbers on the scale increasing—even though your waistline may be shrinking and you’re in better shape overall.

You’re Carrying Extra Water Weight

Another potential reason you may be gaining weight after starting a running routine is related to water retention. Any time you start or increase the intensity of your training, the body increases its water storage. The purpose of this is to help fuel and repair muscles after each of your workouts.

In addition to your body’s natural water retention, there’s also a good chance you’re drinking a lot more water to stay hydrated as a runner than you did before you started running on a regular basis. All of these factors can cause you to carry some extra water weight that will be reflected on the scale.

You’re Over-Estimating Your Calorie Burn

While running is certainly one of the quickest and most effective ways to burn calories, it’s also true that many runners over-estimate the number of calories they burn during any given workout. As a result, they may feel justified in consuming more calories. After all, don’t you feel like you’ve earned that decadent dessert after you ran three miles?

If you’re still seeing the numbers on the scale creep up even after you’ve been running for a while, it may be time to revisit your calorie-burn estimates and your diet plan. Increasing your intake of nutrient-dense foods (instead of calorie-dense foods) could help you achieve the results you really want.

Some examples of nutrient-dense, filling foods for runners include:

  • nuts and legumes
  • whole grains
  • eggs and full-fat yogurt
  • lean beef
  • avocado (and other healthy fats)

Meanwhile, to get a better feel for how many calories you’re actually burning while running, consider using a tool like this free online calculator. In general, it’s better to underestimate the true number of calories you’re burning with each run than it is to overestimate. 

Should You Worry About Weight Gain While Running?

Focus on your running
Focus on the positive impact of your running

At the end of the day, you should be focused less on the number on your scale and more on the other results you’re enjoying. For example, even if the number on your scale has increased, you may find that your favorite pair of jeans fit a lot better—or that you have increased energy levels and a happier mood overall.

More than likely, your added pounds are healthy pounds that are comprised of increased muscle mass. And if you’re drinking more water to stay hydrated as a runner, this could be an explanation for weight gain as well.

So long as you’re not consuming more calories than you’re realistically burning during your runs, you shouldn’t worry about a little weight gain from running. In fact, it might even be best to avoid stepping on the scale—or to at least make an effort to only weigh yourself every couple of weeks. In between weigh-ins, focus more on how your body image and overall health/wellness are improving!

The Final Word on: Can Running Make You Gain Weight?

It is very common for people to gain some weight, especially when they first start a running routine. In addition to the fact that muscle built while running is more dense than fat, many runners also retain more water for recovery purposes. 

The bottom line? It’s all good and nothing to stress about. Of course, if you have questions or concerns about your exercise plan and how it’s affecting your body, it never hurts to reach out to your doctor.