Posts Tagged ‘calories


Counting Calories, Loosing Weight, and Marathons

A quick search around the web reveals hundreds of different diet plans: diets that let you eat almost anything, diets that eliminate entire food groups, diets that are loosely based on the science of how the body processes calories, and more. Unless you’re one of those people naturally gifted with the extremely high metabolism at some point in your life you’re going to need to watch your intake.

I’m not going to go into full details but about eight years I concluded I needed to loose 50lbs. Over the course of the next two years I lost about 55lbs and felt good. Then I started to vascillate up to around 200lbs. When I started running in May 2008 I wanted to know how many calories I burned, so I started tracking my weight. This got me to wondering, how does my own weight affect my running ability.

Let’s start out with something very basic, as a 32 year old, 6’2″ male, if I were to loose 30lbs and go from 195 to 165, my caloric expenditures in a marathon would drop by 631 calories. In more realistic terms, if I were to bonk at 22 miles weighing 195lbs, I could make it through the whole marathon without bonking at 165lbs. Plus, there’s the ancillary benefit of less wear and tear on your joints. Wondering about how many calories your next marathon will take? Here’s a little table I made with the help of Wolfram Alpha. It assumes a flat course and is set up for a 32 year old 6’2″ male. Someone remarkably similar to yours truly.

The key to loosing weight so you can further on the same amount of energy is simply understanding that you need to burn more calories than you take in. In other words, count calories. I’m a scientist (yes, a real scientist with the Dr. title and all) and spend most of my day recording and analyzing data. I’m also busy, so I can’t waste time creating two exact duplicate meals and burning one in a calorimeter to determine the exact number of calories in a meal. Instead, I cheat and estimate my meals using an online food tracker.

My tool of choice is FatSecret. Using FatSecret I can easily track both my weight and food intake. It’s not perfect — I can’t track other measurements such as body fat, running pace, my sleep — but it gets the job done. FatSecret also can give me a report of my food for the week including the nutrients and caloric breakdown (fats vs protein vs carbs). Although I’m not a finely tuned machine where these matter a ton, it does help me understand what is going into my body.

People find it strange when I tell them that even now I’m counting calories and trying to lose weight. I have a healthy BMI and look much skinnier than my BMI indicates. However, for me, I consider this to be an essential part of training, at if it means not bonking during a marathon, or even delaying the bonk a few miles, I’m willing to put up with indignity and hassle of counting calories. After all, many runners swap shoes because of mere ounces of weight difference — I’m talking about 30lbs. That’s not only swapping shoes, but also cutting off most of a leg. It seems a little crazy, but when I cross that finish line it will be entirely worth it.

Do you count calories while training? Any hints for people starting on the journey?


Know Your Calories

(note: this article has been in draft form for a while, seeing the recent post on Lifehacker inspired me to get it out.)

An under-appreciated element of training for a marathon is tracking your daily runs in a training log. A training log is a great way for a first time or experienced marathoner to go back and look at where they were and where they are now. It provides me a great sense of accomplishment when I look at my training log. In the case of an injury I can look back and see what might have precipitated the injury. Was it over training? Running too hard? A change in surface? I track all of these in my running log.

An additional helpful thing that my log tracks automatically is the number of calories that I burned during a run. After a run I can look at how many calories I burned and get an idea of what I need to replenish those lost calories. Although you can’t get an exact count of the calories you’ve burned without running inside of a calorimeter (is that even possibleā€½), there are numerous tools that give you a close approximation.

One of the easiest ways to get an idea of the calories you’ve burned is to simply use a table. Find a weight that is similar to your own weight and a pace that is about what you did and you’ll get an idea of how many calories you’ve burned. A nice advantage of these tables is that they often contain many different sports, so it’s easy to look up and see how many calories you burned during that game of beach volleyball or that run around the park too. There’s an excellent guide at NutriStrategy that has most sports you can think of and even some less sporting activities such as taking out the trash. If you want to get a bit more advanced, you can utilize calorie coefficients. These numbers tell how many calories you burn per minute of activity per kilogram of body weight.

Pace (min/mi) Pace (min/km) Coefficient
5:30 3:25 0.300
6:00 3:44 0.266
6:30 4:02 0.250
7:00 4:21 0.233
7:30 4:40 0.225
8:00 4:58 0.208
8:30 5:17 0.191
9:00 5:36 0.183
9:50 5:54 0.174
10:00 6:13 0.167
11:00 6:50 0.155
11:30 7:09 0.150
12:00 7:27 0.140

Calorie Coefficients for Running. Multiply Your Weight In Kilograms by The Coefficient and Number of Minutes of Running.

Another way to track your calories is to simply use a website that calculates your calories for you. RunKeeper, a great iPhone/Android app that recently went completely free, will approximate your calories based not only on your weight, pace, and distance, but also utilizes elevation information. It then displays the calories burned on information pages for individual runs and a running total on your RunKeeper profile page. If I were to use RunKeeper as my only log it would require no additional effort to provide calorie counts.

If you want more information than just calories, including expected times for races of other distances, then WolframAlpha can calculate them for you. Visit the WolframAlpha Home Page and enter your information in a format similar to this “194lb 6’2″ 31yo male running 4.33 miles in 39.5minutes” and WolframAlpha will provide a whole slew of information about your performance, including predicted times for races from 100m to a marathon.

Snapshot of Wolfram Alpha Calories

Metabolic Information Generated by WolframAlpha (Click for Full Report)

Of course, there are dozens of other ways to count calories while running. My personal approach is to use a consensus from a couple of different sources and average them out. How do you track your calories for a run? If you don’t track calories, why not?

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Marathon Times

2011 NYC Marathon3:57:45
2011 Hartford Marathon3:58:17
2011 Chicago Marathon4:20:16
2011 Grandma's Marathon4:07:43
2010 Big Sur International Marathon4:22:49
2009 NYC Marathon4:37:05
2009 Twin Cities Marathon4:43:28
2009 Pittsburgh Marathon4:14:38
2008 Erie Marathon5:11:40

Upcoming Races

  • Nov 6 - New York City Marathon, New York, NY
For previous races, check out my Race Log