The Ideal Running Weight

There is a great article in the New York Times today about how all runners have an ideal body weight. Surprisingly, the seemingly obvious answer, “the lowest weight possible,” is not the correct answer. Different from the common conception, weighing less does not always make you run faster.

The problem is that everyone has a point at which further weight loss actually makes their performance worse, said Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, a muscle metabolism researcher and physiologist at McMaster University in Ontario. Dr. Tarnopolsky, who is a nationally ranked athlete in winter triathlons, adventure racing and ski orienteering, said that people vary so much that there is no formula to figure out the perfect weight.

This is certainly a refreshing view to hear. Throughout my running career, I have heard people say “the skinnier the better.” It seems that these people look at the extremely slender frame of African runners and assume that muscles will have any easier time moving a lighter body. However, according to Dr. Tarnoposky, the problem with being too thin is that the body will begin to burn its own muscle protein for fuel. In other words, being underweight might make your body weigh less, but you won’t have the necessary energy to run fast.

I think that it is very important for all runners, especially those in high school and college, to hear this message. I have seen so many young runners practically starve themselves thinking that it was the only way to get fast – anorexia is a real, but sometimes hidden, problem in our sport.

So, what’s the “ideal” weight for runners? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer because it various tremendously for each person. The best way to figure our your desired weight is by trial and error. Think back to your best races; do you remember how much you weighed?

In reality, I think that the better approach for runners is not to be so obsessed with weight. As long as you eat a sensible, balanced diet most runners have nothing to worry about.

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