Running and the Scale


I was talking to my grandmother (she’s 98 1/2) on the phone the other day and she mentioned that I look too skinny. Sweet (I thought to myself)! As Spring approaches (maybe), I am trying to get back into racing shape. This begs the question, what is the ideal weight for racing?

Clearly, I’m not the only one who has thought about this topic:


In fact, Matt has a Racing Weight Calculator on his website.

As a general rule, runners move most efficiently when they’re at the low end of what’s considered a healthy body mass and body-fat percentage. “Running is really just a form of jumping. You can’t move forward without moving up, and the more you have to lift against gravity, the more energy it requires. Imagine running with an extra 5 pounds strapped around your waist.” – Matt Fitzgerald

BMI, a Performance Parameter for Speed Improvement found the optimal BMI for 800m runners is between 20 and 21, while it is between 19 and 20 for male 10,000m and marathon runners (my BMI is 21.5).

If you do lose [unnecessary] weight, how much faster can you get?

2 seconds per mile?

1 minute per pound for a marathon?

Of course, the answer is, it depends.


According to Fitzgerald, impaired performance is usually the first sign that a runner has dipped into dangerous territory. “It’s the canary in the coal mine – your body’s signal that it’s under too much stress.”

To keep your weight loss from becoming detrimental, the American Council on Exercise recommends maintaining a BMI that stays at or above the normal weight threshold of 18.5 and a body fat percentage above 14 percent for women and 6 percent for men. According to Rasa Troup, a certified specialist in sports dietetics and a former Olympian, some elites dip below these guidelines, but it’s not recommended without careful monitoring.


According to Fitzgerald, the time to prioritize weight loss is the four to nine weeks before you start ramping up your workouts, while you’re building your base. “You can’t maximize fitness gain and weight loss simultaneously.”

In closing, the best practice is to improve your diet by making it healthier. This generally means more vegetables and fruit and less refined sugars, meat and dairy. You don’t want to simply restrict calories while you continue training – you will get a stress fracture (or worse).

For more on this, check out Runner’s World.

Have you found your ideal racing weight? How did you do it?

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8 Responses to Running and the Scale

  1. Chris P says:

    Excellent post. Your grandmother reminds me so much of my own grandmother; I was always too skinny, and she always wanted to fatten me up. My mom always tries to do the same thing whenever I see her.

    My vegan diet combined with running 40 to 50 miles per week helps me maintain my weight. I hardly ever count calories, but I eat lots of fruits and vegetables and limit high calorie foods unless I am carb-loading for a big race. I also try to stand a lot instead of sit. As skinny as I am, sometimes I think I could stand to lose 5 lbs and maybe enhance my running performance, but other times I am not so sure. Good luck with your next race!

  2. FLRunnerBoy says:

    My ideal racing for me where I feel best is in the neighborhood of 154-156 and I found out through trail and error along with documenting how I felt racing at various weights and my best performances have been when I’m in that 154-156 ballpark.

  3. charissarunning says:

    This topic is so interesting and one I think about a lot. Sometimes I wonder if I could maximize performance if I lost another 5-7 lbs, but then I don’t really care enough to make that happen… I’d love to put this to the test and see if it works for me at some point though.

  4. klregan says:

    This is something I have been struggling with a lot. I read one of Matt Fitzgerald’s books and he talked about how you can’t loose weight and get faster at the same time. I was trying to get faster, so my workouts were getting harder, but in the process I accidentally lost some weight. I’ve been struggling with trying to refuel after harder workouts so I stay at the same weight. My goals over the next few months have been to figure out a system so I remain constant in my weight and get faster. If you have any post run foods for a vegetarian, please let me know!

  5. FatSlowTri says:

    Not a huge (no pun intended) fan of Fitzgerald. He comes across as a bit of an elitist to me, but he has sound points now and then. Where he loses me is his adherence to the BMI, which is not accurate in adults (useful in children) because it does not take into account muscle. A 5’10” NFL linebacker with 10% body fat weighing 255 is considered overweight. Not true. His “ideal” runner would have very little muscle on them, and as someone who carries muscle (from various endeavors in the past) I’ll never, ever, be 160 pounds (which is would my “ideal” body weight would be). I like my muscle. 🙂

  6. piratebobcat says:

    Good stuff! Sometimes with me it’s easy to cheat on the diet sometimes when I know I’ll be running a bunch of miles.

  7. Sweaty Mess says:

    I’m definitely not at my ideal racing weight. I’m right now trying to find the right nutrition to help me drop a few pounds without impacting my training. My running is more important right now, though, so if I lose more weight great, if I don’t, oh well.

  8. runsonsyrup says:

    I have been at my “ideal racing weight” according to articles and studies I’ve read… but I was anorexic at the time! We’re all built differently and I happen to run better with a little more junk in the trunk. In my opinion, unless you’re an elite, the best running weight is the weight which allows me to run fast, but not be tired all the time or have detrimental health consequences. That being said, everyone is different. Thanks for the post!

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