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Reach PT: Cardio For Calories

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Let me start by stating that I’m not a massive fan of using cardio to create a calorie deficit. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see me trying not to roll my eyeballs when someone tells me this is what they’re doing in an attempt to get a body that they’ll be happy with when holidaying in the sun (for the majority of our clients, this means “toned”). Having said that, it is one of the tools in the toolbox and can augment a decent nutrition and resistance training programme.

The Best Way To Create A Calorie Deficit

The best way to create a calorie deficit is through your food intake. For long-term success you’re looking at creating a minimum of around 70-80% through nutrition. Any less than that and you run the risk of relying on exercise to create the majority of your deficit, which means that when you can’t exercise due to injury, lack of motivation, a busy schedule etc, you might end up finding that your nutrition is putting you in a surplus because you thought you could sidestep getting that in check by relying on cardio (see this post on the hamster on a wheel effect).

You’re never going to out-train a bad diet and there are loads of other issues such as health, muscle retention, weight loss versus fat loss, that mean it’s best to focus on nutrition to create a calorie deficit, but if do you have big goals and want to create an extra deficit, or if you want to relieve a little bit of the pressure on your nutrition, then paying attention to your exercise (running, cycling, power walking etc) and non-exercise (NEAT) activity levels is a good idea!

Running & Calories

When I run, burning calories is not even on my radar. Usually, I don’t even look at them at all! I run, sporadically, to improve my cardiovascular fitness, to get faster and hit PBs. Yes, I burn calories but that’s a function of my running NOT the goal!

That said, here’s an overview of this week’s running – I’ve ran every day at a very easy pace:

5 days / 5 runs
Distance 23.6km
Total time 2:27 (Ave 29 mins per day)
2047 calories

Reach PT: Cardio For Calories

By the end of the week I’ll have the best part of a 3000 calorie bonus as an extra deficit. If you’re already in a calorie deficit through nutrition, think how much more you would have to cut your calories to achieve that extra 3000 calorie deficit with food alone!

So, with this bonus deficit, I can either make 40% more progress or I can eat an extra 3000 calories and make the same progress as I would without the running. So I could stuff my face with pizza and Prosecco on Saturday without it affecting my current progress.

So, is there an argument, then, that you could just use running for weight loss, without needing to bother with the nutrition and resistance training?

The answer is Yes if (and it’s a big IF) short term weight loss is your only goal. Without appropriate attention to diet and strength training, you’ll end up weak, skinny fat, floppy, with a lack of muscle, a lack of definition and probably not very healthy. You’ll also probably re-gain the weight when you stop running – the “Hamster on a Wheel” again!

If you want to “tone up”, rather than just lose weight, and keep it off then nutrition and resistance training is where it’s at!


For fat loss, body toning and good health, it’s important for the primary focus to be on nutrition and resistance training, but running and other cardiovascular-based exercises can complement and speed up your RESULTS!