Running is arguably one of the most popular forms of exercise out there. It’s a common method adopted by those who are keen to shed a few pounds or for weight maintenance — and they’re not wrong. In fact, recent reports have shown that running induces more caloric burning than other cardio exercises (like cycling) or weight-training.
Despite all these claims, one shouldn’t overestimate the effectiveness of running. There are various personal factors responsible for determining the caloric expenditure of running for each individual — mass, type of running surface, steepness of the incline, and many more.
There are multiple methods to calculate the number of calories burned during a run. A popular method is the 100 calories/mile rule where an average-build runner burns roughly 100 calories per mile. Many runners use this calculation for a quick estimation but it is by no means accurate.
A more accurate method to determine caloric expenditure would be through a physical activity calculator. The calculator inputs data such as one’s current weight, running pace, and duration of run. All these factors combine help produce a more personalized result, which is obviously more accurate.
Technology is Our Friend
Another alternative method might include capitalizing on all the advanced health tech gadgets and gizmos available on the market.
In this modern-day and age, the smartphone is indispensable to the individual; to the point where it’s more rare to catch someone without a phone than with. Hence, utilize the accessibility and convenience of your smartphone by downloading apps to aid your health-tracking journey.
The app stores offer a variety of useful running apps to supply the user with data throughout the workout’s duration. All it requires is input of the workout’s duration, which is conveniently facilitated by simply carrying one’s phone on the run. However, do take note that these data are mostly estimates.
Fitness trackers are also another great way for tracking calories. They contain adjustable features and settings which can even allow real-time monitoring of one’s calories burned during the workout itself. The effectiveness of real-time features encourages individuals to persevere accordingly to meet their set calorie expectations.
I personally use my Apple Watch, while it records the calories you burn, it doesn’t display this till you have completed a run. Not that I go out for a run to burn ‘x’ calories.
Last but not least, treadmills often come with built-in calorie counters which display the user’s caloric expenditure during and at the end of the session. Once again, these numbers are usually estimations unless the relevant personal details like height, weight, and age are entered into the system. However, even then, there might be a tendency to overestimate calories on their part. There are many benefits to running on a treadmill.
Other Contributing Factors
A combination of other physiological and environmental factors significantly contribute to the individual’s effectiveness of burning calories.
When it comes to body mass, the principle is simple. The heavier you are, the easier it is to burn calories. This is due to their higher body-fat percentage and greater protein production which aids in the fat-burning process. Lighter people, in general, have less weight to lose, making the calorie-burning process less efficient.
With the Apple Watch, it takes your weight from the health app, so it’s important to keep this updated if you want to have accurate data.
Studies have found interesting and varying results on gender affecting caloric expenditure. A general assumption posits that men are better at burning calories than women because of possessing higher muscle mass than women. However, whether the effectiveness of caloric expenditure is due to body composition or other related factors like sex differences or the nature of physical activity has yet to be definitively confirmed.
It goes without saying: speed is key. Common sense would tell you that running at a faster pace (e.g. five-mile-hour versus six-mile-hour) would burn more calories if the duration of the run is held constant. This is accrued to the fact that increased speed directly correlates to increased effort, hence requiring the body to burn more calories to keep up.
However, speed is not the only determinant. Naturally, an experienced runner would burn less calories than a beginner runner due to their body’s conditioning like better stamina, slower lactic acid buildup, stronger lung capacity, etc.
Steepness and Running Surface
Incline is no joke. Anyone who’s tried walking alone on an incline for 30 minutes alone will understand the challenges of it, let alone running uphill. If you’re running on an incline on a treadmill, the in-built calorie counter can help calculate your energy expenditure while accounting for the steepness of the incline. You can then compare the caloric percentage difference induced by varying elevation as opposed to complete flatness. This acts as a decent gauge for running on incline outdoors. When running outside, however, online calorie calculators should be taken as estimates because unless you’re certain about the exact incline grade of the hill, the data won’t be most accurate.
With that being said, the type of running surface often goes in conjunction with incline. Depending on the surface texture, the amount of caloric expenditure can also differ accordingly. For example, treadmill running is relatively easier than outdoor running due to the lack of wind resistance or path obstructions. Conversely, running outdoors includes a multitude of hindrances like muddy and rocky trails as well as natural path undulation. As a result, the energy required to overcome these obstacles while maintaining running pace and posture definitely requires more effort.
The Immediate Climate
Lastly, the weather also affects the intensity of outdoor running. There is much debate for both cold and windy weather versus hot and dry weather in terms of which burns more calories. Some argue that colder temperatures trigger more calorie-burning in an attempt to keep warm whereas others argue that hotter temperatures trigger more calorie burning in order to regulate body temperature and prevent overheating.
However, experts have also agreed that the caloric difference incurred by drastic temperatures is marginal. They conclude that moderate temperature is most optimal for caloric expenditure.
Every runner knows running into a headwind requires more effort, and its usually on a race your on for a PB that you suddenly encounter a headwind.
Counting calories during exercise is a complicated thing. Each human body is incredibly complex, each subjected to a variety of different conditions affecting our effectiveness and efficiency in exercise. Therefore, in order to achieve a holistic understanding of your body’s caloric expenditure, it’s necessary to consider all the factors and their corresponding effects to attain more accurate and desirable results.