Running is a great way to get in shape and shed a few pounds. But how do you keep them off for good while maintaining a balanced diet? We’ve rounded up the most cunning hacks, neat tricks, clever tips and great foods to help your weight loss journey...
1. Eat more seafood
The lower your levels of the satiety hormone leptin, the higher your risk of obesity, but scientists have found a decadent solution to this problem. Crustaceans such as langoustines and lobsters are rich in the mineral zinc – with roughly a third of your RDA per serving – which ramps up production of the hormone, says the journal Life Sciences.
2. Empty the tank
Evolution has hardwired our bodies to store fat for impending famine, rather than torching it for fuel, so imposing a tactical food delay could hack your weight-loss hard drive. Researchers at the University of Bath found that training on an empty stomach triggers a rise in PDK4 gene expression – code for a sign your body fat is being burnt. Try running first thing, before your breakfast to get the day off to a good start.
3. Add spring onions to your plate
Add some spring onions to your post-run meal – they contain chromium, which can help you metabolise carbs for fuel plus they’re full of fibre and calcium, which aids weight loss.
4. Put cheat days in the diary
Scientist now know willpower can be a fact of biology, rather than an acquired trait. This means our genetics could affect our response when we are faced with a mouth-watering menu, according to John Hopkins Medicine, Maryland, U.S. Take impulse out of the equation by making ‘burger night’ a weekly event, rather than weak-willed indulgence. A 2,700 kcal cheat day can binge-proof your brain for the rest of the week.
5. Enjoy a seasonal diet
Leaner runners have healthier, more diverse gut bacteria than their overweight peers. This is partly inherited, but reworking your staid nutrition plan can flip the switch. A study in the journal Science found that a seasonal diet makes these food-processing microbes more efficient, so ditch imported foods. Instead, ask your butcher for in-season meat and gather seasonal food at your local greengrocer.
6. Add some heat
Anyone with a passion for Sriracha sauce will be aware of chilli’s ability to bump up metabolism, but now research from American Society for Microbiology has also found that capsaicin – the burning core chemical in chilli – hacks the genes involved in digestion, using up calories long after your tongue stops tingling.
7. Choose your bar snacks wisely
It’s not just your choice of beverage that can affect fat loss – your bar snack has a part to play, too. Peanuts are a source of resveratrol, the compound famously found in red wine, which, the European Journal of Nutrition reports, boosts your fat cells’ ability to burn calories at rest. Should you need something to wash it down with, Pinot Noir tops the wine list. Pub peanuts tend to be the salted variety, so show a little self-control and don’t tip the whole bag down your throat.
8. Swap pasta for soba
Runners eat a lot of pasta, but running coach and former GB marathoner Mara Yamauchi chooses soba noodles instead. “They are thicker, flatter and chewier than pasta but cook the same way,” she says. Made from wholegrain buckwheat, soba has just as many carbs as pasta, plus the phytochemical rutin. Studies show that rutin may halt the expansion of fat cells and lower blood-fat levels.
9. Watch those sugar cravings
If an insatiable sweet tooth is souring your weight-loss plans, it’s time to rethink your afternoon pick-me-up. But it’s not just the chocolate digestives that are at fault; a study by Cornell University, U.S, found 200mg of caffeine – a double espresso’s worth – dampens our tastebuds, heightening sugar cravings. If you recoil at the word ‘decaf’, just try to restrict yourself to a single shot.
10. It’s all about the avocado
Spread half a ripe avocado on your toast instead of slathering it in butter. “Most of us could do with more mono-unsaturated fat – avocado contains plenty, as well as many other health benefits”, says nutritionist Drew Price. It’ll raise your basic metabolic rate, helping you to burn more fat.
11. Give yourself a break
Sticking to that months-old strict eating plan? Take a break. According to the University of Tasmania, Australia, adopting a ‘two weeks on, two weeks off’ protocol prevents the drop in your metabolism – part of your body’s hardwired famine response – that occurs midway through a strict nutrition regime. Give yourself a break every now and then and you’ll stick with the plan.
12. Reach for the dark chocolate
Upgrade your morning porridge by skipping the fruit topping and grating dark chocolate over it instead; its polyphenols suppress genes related to fat storage, according to Nutrition Journal, rewiring metabolism. Better still, a 600kcal breakfast with a little cocoa has been linked to a reduced incidence of overeating later in the day.
13. Work your jaw
If you want to supercharge your calorie burn, the muscle you need to be working is your jaw. Chewing food thoroughly increases ‘diet-induced thermogenesis’ – calorie burning- while improving blood-sugar control, according to Clinical Nutrition. Aim for 40 chews per mouthful, instead of the usual 15. You’ll have far less time for second helpings too.
14. Make everything bite-sized
Slice your foot into morsel-sized pieces before you eat. You’ll take in 20 per cent fewer calories, according to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, which says people rate sliced servings as 27% larger than unsliced, so you eat less.
15. Chew sugarless gum
Chewing sugarless gum for 15 minutes after eating will curb your desire to snack for up to three hours after your meal, according to Glasgow Caledonian University.
16. Visualise the cravings away
Food cravings begin the brain, not the belly, with the part of your grey matter responsible for visual imagery being particularly active when you suddenly want something to eat. Next time you find yourself salivating, rewire your mental circuits by bringing a vivid, emotive picture to mind, suggests Frontiers in Psychiatry.
17. Snack smart
Rather than reaching for the biscuits, try these clever snacks out for size:
- Jerky: With 7g of protein per serving, jerky is a healthy post-run snack (just make sure it has 480mg or less of sodium per serving).
- Twiglets: A much better option than crisps, says nutritionist Justin Lord. They contain B vitamins and anti-inflammatory celery seed (which reduces bloating).
- Popcorn: It will help to lower your blood-glucose levels, which, in turn, switches your body into fat-burning mode. Keep it plain and air popped.
- Tortilla chips and salsa: High in vitamins and antioxidants, salsa contains just 70kcals per 250g. Enjoy it with baked, multigrain tortilla chips.
18. Say yes to black pepper
When the waiter comes to your table and proffers the black pepper, tell him to go for it. The spice can block the formation of fat cells, thanks to a compound called piperine.
19. Keep the fruit bowl somewhere you can see it
Simply looking at fruit and veg in the morning can hardwire you to make better food decisions during the day, says research from University of Leeds. So make sure that your fruit bowl is front and centre at breakfast time, even if you eat nothing from it.
20. Add mustard to your menu
Just 1 tbsp of mustard can increase your metabolism by 20%, says the Oxford Polytechnic Institute.
21. Use milk to recover
After running the hard yards, a recovery drink tastes amazing, but that’s because it probably contains artificial sweeteners. “Skimmed milk is a good, quickly absorbed source of quality protein and carbohydrate”, says nutritionist Drew Price. “And even better, it’s widely available when you don’t have a sports drink to hand.”
22. Drain the fat when you cook
Making spaghetti Bolognese? Dry-fry the mince until brown, then throw it into a colander and rinse with boiling water to drain away any remaining fat. Wipe out the pan with kitchen paper to remove the fatty residue before returning the meat to the pan and adding the other ingredients.
23. Use that food blender
Smoothies and soups can be incredibly quick and easy to make, but when they are prepared in a blender they also fight fat. According to researchers at Pennsylvania State University, US, foods with more air, such as shakes prepared in the blender, keep you feeling fuller for longer.
24. Try watermelon juice
Try upgrading your morning juice – not only is watermelon lower in sugar than orange juice, it’s also rich in the amino acid citrulline. Studies by Paris Descartes University found the compound ‘loosens’ stubborn belly fat, making it easier for your body to burn it up.
25. Change your cheese
Goat’s cheese is 40 per cent lower in calories than the stuff made from cow’s milk.
26. Update your shopping list
Add these gut-busting foods to your grocery list:
- Edamame: Soy protein can help keep your cholesterol down. A handful of edamame beans will do the trick.
- Grapefruit: Add half a grapefruit to your meals. It’ll help fill you up and it’s vitamin C aids the fat-burning process.
- Spinach: The huge fibre content here helps your body process fats more efficiently.
- Berries: They contain less fructose than other fruits, which means less sugar for your gut to deal with.
- Hummus: It’s filling and high in calories, but it’s a great source of omega-3 fats and is high in fibre.
27. It’s all about the meal prep
People who prepare leftovers for the next day spend more time savouring their meal and feel fuller more quickly, according to research from the University of Minnesota.
28. Add Apple Cider Vinegar to the menu
It doesn’t taste great, but add 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar to a litre of water. A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found the acetic acid suppresses your body’s ability to store fat. Apple cider vinegar can also be added to salads.
29. Set the scene
How many of us wolf-down dinner in front of the TV? A study by Cornell University in America found gentle music and soft lighting made people consume 18 per cent fewer calories per meal, and they enjoyed their food more, too.
30. Give pickles a chance
A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that diets rich in fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, pickles and miso reduced belly fat by 5 per cent over 12 weeks.
31. Fill your fridge
Clear a shelf in your fridge, and store your olives, anchovies, pesto, curry paste, sun-dried tomatoes and any other jars or tins in which the ingredients are packed in oil. When chilled, the fat rises to the top of the jar and collects, so you can scrape it off and bin it before using the product.
32. Use ice when cooking
Making gravy with meat juices is the tastiest option, but it adds fat, too. “An easy way to extract the fat is to pop a couple of ice cubes into your gravy and watch the fat collect around them. Spoon it off and you’ve got yourself a much healthier gravy,” say nutritionist Judith Wills.
33. Save the carbs till your post-run meal
“Save your carb intake for the hours around your run or the evening,” says Andy Reay, strength and conditioning at Pure Sports Medicine. “If you’re going on a long run, eat something before, but for shorter distances, saving fuelling until you’re done. After training, your body will soak up these carbs to replace the glycogen you have used up, so it won’t be converted to fat.”
34. If you’re going to eat cake, do so for breakfast
If you have a lunchtime Haribo problem, or an afternoon cake habit, start the day with a small slice of chocolate cake. Scientists at Tel Aviv University, Israel, found that a sweet treat in the morning suppresses cravings later in the day.
35. Redefine protein
A chicken breast contains up to a third of a runner’s daily protein needs. By eating protein-rich legumes, beans and nuts along with the meat, you take in more antioxidants. Over time, slowly add more beans and reduce the amount of meat.
36. Beef up your sandwiches
Putting tomato in your sandwiches will keep you feeling fuller for longer and will make you less likely to gorge on mid-afternoon snacks. The fruit suppresses the hormone ghrelin, which is responsible for hunger pans.
37. Splash the soy
Swap your usual seasoning for a low-salt soy sauce. Research shows that soy proteins interact with the receptors in our brains that tell us we’re full. Choosing the low-salt variety means you can limit any health downsides.
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