9 Ways to Burn More Fat When You Run

10 minute read

Runners seem to come in two forms. There are the sleek gazelles, whose lean, athletic bodies dart around the roadways effortlessly. And then there are the rest of us, plodding along, adding up the miles and wondering why we’re still not losing weight no matter how many pairs of sneakers we burn through.

But the key to losing weight when you run isn’t to run longer or harder. It’s to run smarter. So says Eric Orton, the rule-breaking running coach who starred in Christopher McDougall’s 2009 best-seller Born to Run. An ultramarathoner (he once ran for 36 hours straight), Orton knows a lot about extreme running. But going over the top with your training isn’t the best way to fire up those fat burners. In fact, running less often, and less hard, might be the secret key to losing more weight.

Orton has collected his best secrets in a book of his own, The Cool Impossible. But Eat This, Not That! got him to share his absolute best weight-loss tips with us.

1. Be Strategic When You Hit a Roadblock

If you’re not losing as much weight as you want when running, it may be because you’re trying too hard: “The tendency can be to push too hard on all of your runs,” Orton says. “But rest and recovery is when the body rebuilds and gets stronger and during this time is often when great weight loss occurs. So if you’ve been hitting it hard, take a rest and recovery week where you do 50% [less running than usual],” he says.

Eat This, Not That! Tip: Pregame your run with a cup of green tea. In a recent study, participants who combined a daily habit of 4 to 5 cups of green tea each day with 25 minutes of exercise lost 2 pounds more than those who didn’t drink the tea.

2. Lose Weight Fast, and Then Slow

When the time comes to make your runs more rigorous, try very short, faster efforts interspersed with walking or easy running breaks in between – rather than running steady and hard for a long period of time. “And when bumping up run intensity, look to do hill repeats or inclined intervals on the treadmill,” Orton says. “The hills recruit more muscles than flat running and allows you to get in the important higher intensity with less impact.” Or change up your routine to intersperse long, slow runs with days of short, quick runs. “It could be as simple as adding in more intensity to one or two of your weekly runs,” he says.

Eat This, Not That! Tip: Your run isn’t the only thing that should be slow. Consider investing in slow carbs—meaning carbs that are digested slowly and keep you feeling fuller and energized longer. Sweet potatoes are the king of slow carbs, loaded with fiber and carotenoids, antioxidants which stabilize blood-sugar levels and lower insulin resistance, helping to prevent calories from being converted into fat. And their high vitamin profile (including A, C and B6) give you more energy to burn on the road.

3. Focus on Consistency, Not Intensity

Don’t make the mistake of thinking every run has to be long, strong and perfect. “Aim to make the majority of your weekly miles as easy as you can, so running is enjoyable,” says Orton. “Consistency and frequency is key for weight loss. Focus on doing less, more often.” For example, he continues, “If you are used to running 3 times a week for 45 min, strive for 4-5 times per week at 20-30 minutes and build from there.”

Eat This, Not That! Tip: Don’t be afraid to eat carbs the night before your run. One study in the European Journal of Nutrition put two groups of men on identical weight loss diets. The only difference? Half of the group ate their carbs throughout the day, while the second group reserved carbohydrates for nighttime. The result? The nighttime carb group showed a significantly higher diet-induced thermogenesis (meaning they burned more calories digesting their food the next day).

4. Mix Up Your Movement

Think of running as a varied activity—rather than a one-note push—and you’ll lose weight faster. “You must continue to challenge your body,” says Orton. “Avoid doing the same type of running all of the time. Add an element of play and surprise.” If you typically do treadmill runs or the same lap at a gym or field, consider trail running: Running trails is an amazing way to explore nature and makes running feel like an event in itself—not exercise. And always pack a pair of running shoes when you’re visiting a new city. It’s the best way to sightsee. “This again puts focus on the activity and not on weight loss, and makes it much more sustainable and physically and emotionally rewarding.”

Eat This, Not That! Tip: Consider snacking on some dark chocolate right after your run. U.C. San Diego researchers found that adults who regularly eat chocolate are actually thinner than those who ate chocolate less often, regardless of exercise or calorie intake (the chocolate fans actually took in more calories each day). But make sure it’s high-quality dark chocolate: look for the words “70% cacao” or higher.

5. Train Smart on Your Off Days

To keep your body in optimal condition and your weight loss steady, Orton recommends incorporating bodyweight exercises with the use of a fit ball. “This not only trains you for full-body strength but also helps the body to move better and keep your supporting muscles strong and active,” says Orton. (Don’t forget: muscle burns more calories than fat!) “Swimming is also an amazing cross-training activity that acts as a form of recovery—like a massage.”

Eat This, Not That! Tip: Your best off-day meal could be quinoa. It’s a complete protein, meaning that it contains the complete chain of amino acids that are necessary for muscle building and fat loss. It’s also high in the amino acid lysine, which helps you burn fat and maintain healthy bones and skin. And according to a study published in the journal Food Chemistry, quinoa has the highest level of betaine, a chemical that revs your metabolism and actually shuts down the genes that encourage belly fat to hang around.

6. Create Some Fun Goals

Perhaps weight loss is your primary reason to run, but try not to let your brain know that. Weight loss isn’t necessarily as fun or rewarding as some easier, more tangible goals. “Create a long-term goal for your running so the focus becomes the running, rather than the weight loss,” Orton advises. Whether that’s doing a 5k fun run or just making it a full lap around the football field, set your sights on tangible, running-related victories to set yourself up for success.

Eat This, Not That! Tip: Maybe you should finish your run at a nearby Chipotle, and then order a bean burrito. Beans are high in the chemical butyrate, which encourages the body to burn fat as fuel, and rich in soluble fiber. According to a study at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, for each 10 grams of soluble fiber that study subjects added to their diet, they lost 3.7% of their belly fat in a year!

7. Skip the Music

We know you’re thinking that’s crazy (we did, too), but just hear Orton out. “I love music just as much as running, but very very rarely ever listen to music when I’m hitting the paths or concrete,” he says. “This should be a time for the mind to become aware of the exercise and can be a very powerful time for self-reflection, personal discovery and even a creative time that can help with your career or passion projects. This self-awareness also creates a “flow” in the brain, similar to the zone, but more predictable,” Orton explains. If running without Beyoncé is too horrible to bear, consider easing into it by enjoying the last 10 minutes of your run in silence. This is an especially good time because excitement is kicking in knowing you’ve almost made it—sans music.

Eat This, Not That! Tip: Another good thing to go without: breakfast. A study from Northumbria University found that people burn up to 20 percent more body fat by exercising in the morning on an empty stomach.

8. Surprise! Don’t Worry About Fancy Running Shoes

When we asked Orton what shoes he’d advise purchasing if you’re a running for weight loss regime, his answer surprised us. “[Before investing in a high end pair of shoes, my first] answer would be to focus more on building foot strength. The strength of our feet directly affects how well we move and run and activate other important running muscles.” Focus on building foot strength by trying out some barefoot balance moves—first flat footed, and then balance with your heel lifted up. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, Orton recommends finding a slant board or wobble board at the gym. “Building foot strength is such a simple act, but so very potent for your running health. Once you’ve devoted time to this, then simply find shoes that feel best for you. As you develop better foot strength, gravitate to a shoe that has a flat bottom and thinner sole,” he says.

Eat This, Not That! Tip: Your feet should be strong, but so should the flavor of your food. A compound in cayenne pepper, called capsaicin, has proven to suppress appetite and boost the body’s ability to convert food to energy. Daily consumption of capsaicin speeds up abdominal fat loss, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found. Just one gram of red pepper (about 1/2 a teaspoon) can help manage appetite and increase calorie burn after a meal, according to a study by Purdue University researchers.

9. Listen to Your Heart

While we’re on the apparel topic, you might want to consider investing in a heart rate monitor: “Educate yourself on the use of a heart rate monitor so you can run at your own level of ability and intensity. This is key to help you continue to improve, lose weight and not over train,” says Orton. In terms of clothing, make sure you’re dressing for the demands of your regional weather. This will not only improve the enjoyment factor in your runs, but also make sure you can’t pull the “I have nothing to wear” card when weather gets in the way.

This article originally appeared on Eat This, Not That!

More from Eat This, Not That!

  • 20 Best Fat-Burning Foods of All Time
  • 14 Detox Waters That Banish Bloat
  • 9 Ways to Lose Fat Faster
  • More Must-Reads from TIME

    Contact us at letters@time.com