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Optimum Running Weight

author image Lee Simmons
Lee Simmons has 10 years of reporting experience covering a variety of issues for publications in South Carolina, California, and Texas. He also covered music industry issues for Soundcheck magazine and Bizmology.com, among others. Simmons earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. He lives in Austin.
Optimum Running Weight
Training and diet can impact optimum running weight. Photo Credit men running image by David Levinson from Fotolia.com

While weight can be a touchy subject in any conversation, it plays a critical factor in running. Optimum running weight consequently has stirred debate in running circles for years, chiefly over a primary question: What exactly is an optimum running weight? Coaches and dietitians alike rate weight--and more specifically excess body fat--as a key factor behind running performance. In short, the less excess body fat, the better your running performance.


Frequent running burns fat and promotes weight loss, but the optimum weight for a runner depends on height. The Stillman Table is one proven formula for figuring out height-weight ratio. For a non-active man, the formula allocates 110 lbs. for the first 5 feet of height and 5.5 lbs. for every inch thereafter. For a non-active woman, the formula allocates 100 lbs. for the first 5 feet and 5 lbs. for every inch above.

Assuming a male is 6 feet tall and weighs 176 lbs. and a female is 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 130 lbs., the Stillman Table speculates on optimum weight for certain running categories. Sprinters should be 2.5 percent lighter (about 4 lbs.); hurdlers should be 6 percent lighter (about 9 lbs.); middle distance runners should be 12 percent lighter (about 19 lbs.); and long distance runners should be about 15 percent lighter (about 25.5 lbs.). There are exceptions to the rule; however, a staggering percentage of world-class runners weigh at least 10 percent less than average, lending credence to the Stillman Table and the theory that less body fat improves running performance.

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For a runner who falls into the non-active category as defined by the Stillman Table, a good initial goal is to reduce your body weight by 10 percent, writes Frank Horwill on the website Peak Performance. Achieving this goal depends on a number of factors, not least of which are calorie intake and how long the runs are. Humans require 2,500 calories per day on average, reports Horwill; a steady, daily 10-mile run will burn 1,000 calories that need to be replaced. If a runner consumes 5,000 calories a day, he will actually gain weight in spite of those 10-mile runs. One approach for distance runners suggests aiming for a body weight 20 percent below average relative to height and limiting fat intake to 35 g per day, adds Horwill.

Diversifying Runs

One rule of thumb posits that every extra pound of non-productive body fat decreases running performance by 1 percent, writes Rick Morris in RunningPlanet.com. That said, there are a number of methods a runner can use to achieve optimum running weight. Diversifying the length and types of runs you do throughout the week can effectively shave off the pounds.

Extending your weekly long run is a good place to start, adds Morris. Most runners burn up to 120 calories per mile. Lengthening your weekly long run by just 3 miles can add up to 400 more burned calories. Similarly, adding a mid-week long run can also help you reach an ideal running weight. For instance, a distance runner who includes a mid-week 12-mile run will burn up to 1,500 calories weekly. Hills are also an important venue for burning fat. Uphill running burns more calories than running on a level surface and simultaneously builds metabolically active leg muscles--and a higher metabolism means greater fat-burning potential.

Strength Training

Strength training can be an important corollary to a typical running regimen, as well as an asset in reaching optimum running weight. Like hill-running, time spent in the gym can build metabolically active muscles that consequently lead to a higher metabolism. Upper and lower body strength exercises can also improve running performance.

Dietary Tweaking

Key shifts in diet are necessary. Avoiding simple carbohydrates is one such shift, but include sufficient complex carbohydrates, as they are essential to runners since they provide nutrient content that delivers energy during a run.

Portion size is another critical factor. For eating at home, prepare a portion size that won't tempt you to overeat. At a restaurant, you may have to consciously stop eating after a certain amount as portion sizes may not conform to dietary recommendations. Eating slowly can help alleviate this quandary by allowing your hunger to catch up with your consumption.

Finally, eliminating certain beverages can be important in achieving optimum running weight. Carbonated drinks are a primary culprit; most 12-ounce cans contain up to 200 calories. Carbonated drinks account for a significant percentage of adult caloric intake. Scratching such beverages from the diet can make a big difference in pursuing an ideal running weight.

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