Does Running Burn Belly Fat? 6 Science-Reviewed Tips

Running can burn belly fat. Learn the right approach to whittling your waist with running.

A man running on a paved path with a fence
by
Sabrina Tillman
— Signos
Health & Fitness Writer
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Reviewed by

Sabrina Tillman
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
February 23, 2024
October 20, 2021
— Updated:
August 3, 2023

Table of contents

Does running burn belly fat? Sure, running can burn fat, including stomach fat.

“Running burns more calories than most forms of other exercises, making it an ideal time-efficient weight loss strategy,” says Jason Fitzgerald, USA Track & Field certified coach, competitive runner, and founder of Strength Running.1

Belly fat, stomach fat, abdominal fat, a mix of visceral fat and subcutaneous fat…whether scientific or colloquial, these terms all speak to the collection of body fat around the midsection. Things that influence the accumulation of belly fat include epigenetics, hormones, stress, inactivity, food choices, and depression.2,3,4,5,6,7

What can be done to burn away belly fat? Smart decisions about exercise, diet, and other lifestyle choices, including quality sleep and stress management. 

Let’s look at how you can use cardio, specifically running, to burn belly fat.

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How Do We Burn Fat?

Regarding body weight, using fat calories is more relevant than total energy expenditure.  

To burn away belly fat, you need to access your fat stores.

Oxidative priority of macronutrient disposal is a clinical way of describing how our bodies prioritize the utilization, storage, or elimination of the fuel we get from eating and drinking. One scientific paper shows the following priority hierarchy:8

  1. Alcohol: no storage
  2. Protein: limited tissue storage of 360–480 calories
  3. Carbohydrates: blood glucose and glycogen storage of 1,200–2,000 calories
  4. Fat: adipose tissue storage of an unlimited number of calories

As you can see from this list, if you’re in a fully-fed state, you’ll have to use whatever glucose is available in your blood at the time you go for a run, followed by any stored amino acids and glycogen before you start burning stored fat. 

There are ways to burn fat stores while running, which involves running in the morning while fasting, running longer to burn through your glycogen stores and access fat stores, and varying running intensities.

What is Belly Fat?

While fat is often demonized in today’s culture, the human body does need an amount of fat to survive and maintain optimal wellness. Body fat cushions and protects organs, helps absorb vitamins, produces hormones, and insulates the body. 

While some body fat is needed, excessive fat in this area is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases and adverse health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.9

How Does Running Help Losing Belly Fat? 

The energy that the body needs while running comes from stored glycogen (carbs) and stored fat. Running in a fasted state can allow quicker access to your energy stores because you don’t have to burn through digested food.

Two small studies conducted on active men showed the fat-burning benefits of running on a treadmill in a fasted state. One study found that fasted runners burned 20 percent more fat than the group who ate before running.10

Another study found that the group who ran long (about 100 minutes) at 65% of VO2 max before eating anything in the morning burned the most fat, but also burned the least amount of carbs out of the three running groups.11

The group that burned the most carbs? The one that ran after lunch. Using the carbs available from your meals either shortly after eating to lower a glucose spike or that same day still burns energy that could be otherwise stored—and still increases your daily energy expenditure.

Some of the factors that influence whether fat or carbs are used as fuel during cardiovascular workouts include:

  • Intensity or pace
  • Time or duration 
  • Your fitness level
  • Diet immediately before the activity
  • Your long-term diet
  • Genetics (more fast-twitch or slow-twitch muscle fibers)
  • Environment (temperature, humidity, wind, incline, altitude, the surface of the run, etc.)

How High-Intensity Running Helps You Lose Weight 

Running can certainly help you burn belly fat and lose weight. Below are some reasons why this workout is an effective strategy and some of the health benefits of running.

Helps you eat less

Several studies have found that high-intensity running can reduce your appetite after a workout.12,13 This may be due to suppressing ghrelin levels (the hunger hormone) and producing more satiety hormones like peptide YY (PYY).

Continues to burn calories after exercise

High-intensity types of running workouts, like hills and interval runs, can continue to burn calories for up to 48 hours after the workout ends.14 This is because these specific exercises utilize multiple muscle groups and need more energy for recovery. This is often referred to as the “afterburn effect,” and several studies have found that this phenomenon can help you burn significantly more calories over time.15,16

Targets Harmful Belly Fat

Studies have shown that moderate-to-high aerobic exercise like running can reduce belly fat without any other lifestyle changes.17,18 An analysis of 15 studies and 852 participants found that aerobic exercise reduced belly fat without changes to diet. Training at moderate-to-high intensity was the most effective at reducing belly fat in this study.19

How Often Should You Run to Lose Belly Fat?

If your goal is to lose belly fat, the American Council on Exercise recommends aiming to run for 30 to 60 minutes at least four times a week.20 If this is not achievable, consider adding in another type of moderate-to-high-intensity physical activity, such as swimming, weight training, or a dance class.

6 Ways to Burn Belly Fat With Running

Know Your Numbers

Losing fat involves various factors, including hormones, genetics, food choices, and calorie intake. You will need to calculate your total daily energy expenditure and track your calories to determine how many calories you consume. To lose one pound a week, which is a healthy, sustainable rate for weight loss, you will need to burn 500 more calories than you ingest every day and achieve a calorie deficit.

Increasing running volume

By running for longer periods of time or more days per week, you will naturally burn more calories. However, you should be mindful not to increase your distance by more than 10% each week to prevent injuries.

Include strength training 

Lifting weights to lose weight burns energy stored in your body, and you need more calories as you get stronger. Thus, strength training is an effective weight loss tool when combined with a healthy diet.

Consider cross-training

Cross-training is when you pick a primary exercise (running) and supplement it with another form of exercise (swimming, cycling, etc.) to improve the gains made by the primary exercise. The secondary activity should be low intensity and low impact to reduce the risk of injury and should not be done for more than 30 to 60 minutes for each workout session.

Incorporate interval running  

Studies have shown that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are more effective at burning fat.21 By running at different speeds, you will increase the flow of oxygen to your muscles, which will help boost your metabolism and burn more calories.

Try trail running 

While your pace may be slower when running on a trail, this landscape will force your entire body to be involved in the workout and activate your core muscles, which will help you lose belly fat.

Asian woman running on a track in the early morning

7 Running Tips for Reducing Belly Fat

Replenish energy before jogging

Aim to eat approximately 30 to 60 minutes before running. This will provide you with energy that will fuel your entire run.

Warm up thoroughly before running

Before doing any exercise, warming up throughout the body can prevent injuries. Warming up by walking at a steady pace and doing light stretches, such as ankle circles and calf stretches, will ensure your leg muscles are primed before the main workout.

Running with knee elevation

Before ending your run, reduce your speed and take time to do knee lifts while walking. This will allow your leg and abdominal muscles to stretch and cool down properly.

Run longer

One way to continue to burn fat and calories is to increase the length of your run. As noted above, be careful only to increase the distance by 10% week over week.

Changing running terrain

By changing your running locations and terrain, your muscles must continually adapt. It also may change your mood when running. If you are running on a treadmill, try increasing the incline of the track instead.

Practice portion control

When you want to trim your belly fat and lose weight, eat appropriate portion sizes and prioritize whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, low-glycemic whole grains, and moderate amounts of dairy or plant-based milk and yogurt.

Avoid processed foods

Processed foods can often contain copious amounts of added sugars. When enjoyed in small amounts, sweet foods can help improve our diets by making nutrient-dense ones more enticing and enjoyable. However, most Americans consume more than they need, increasing their calorie intake and may cause some people to experience blood sugar spikes.

3 High-Intensity Running Intervals to Burn Fat 

Research supports the fat-burning capabilities of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). You might associate HIIT with intervals of burpees, pop squats, and broad jumps, but you can also complete HIIT-style running intervals. Some examples of high-intensity running intervals include:

SIT 

Four to six sets of all-out sprinting for 30 seconds with four minutes rest between intervals. One study of women who followed this workout for six weeks three times per week showed an 8% decrease in body fat mass, a 3.5% decrease in waist circumference, and a 1% increase in fat-free mass.22

30 seconds on 30 seconds off

Five repeats of 30 seconds of running at 100% max effort with 30 seconds rest. Ease into this one; if you’re not well trained, aim for 70–80% max effort and extend the rest period for as long as you need to recover. This hardcore workout was performed for 12 weeks without calorie restriction in young, overweight men. The outcomes: a significant decrease in fat mass percentage and waist circumference and significant improvements in VO2 max in the HIIT group.23

Longer, slightly less intense intervals

Four repeats of four minutes of running at 85–95% max heart rate with 10 minutes of recovery between intervals. One study divided 43 overweight women into a HIIT group that ran the workout described above, a MICT (moderate-intensity continuous training) group, and a no-training control group for 12 weeks of running four days a week. The HIIT group lost the most belly fat and was the only group to lose a significant amount of visceral and subcutaneous abdominal fat.24

Running Sample Plan

Below is a month-long sample running plan to get you started if you are new to running. Do each set of activities for three to four days a week.

running-plan-with-weeks-and-work-out-time-table

6 Nutrition Tips to Reduce Belly Fat

While studies show that it’s possible to burn belly fat by running without specific changes to your diet, you’ll reap more benefits (in overall health and energy, not just weight loss) if you eat a balanced, whole-foods diet. Below are some other tips to keep in mind if fat loss is your goal.

Avoid trans fats

Trans fats have been shown to increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol, which can increase the risk of developing heart disease. Trans fats are also linked to inflammation, insulin resistance, and abdominal fat gain.25 Food labels may not list trans fats directly, so it's important to read the ingredient list and look for partially hydrogenated oils, a source of trans fats.

A mason jar salad with barley, vegetables, and tofu

Don’t drink too much alcohol

Excessive alcohol intake can have a negative impact on anyone’s health, but people who want to reduce belly fat should be especially mindful of their alcohol intake. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to unwanted weight gain, high blood pressure, increased insulin resistance, fatty liver disease, and abnormal lipid levels.

Limit sugary foods intake

Excessive sugar intake has been linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and liver disease. It is also a major cause of weight gain and increased abdominal fat.

Cut back on refined carbs

Refined carbohydrates, or processed carbs, are linked to excessive belly fat. Aim to replace these food items with unprocessed carb options like whole grains, vegetables, and legumes.

Avoid sugary drinks

Sugary drinks include soda, sweet tea, and alcoholic mixers and often contain high levels of added sugars. Similar to the tip above, cutting out added sugars and sugary drinks can aid in weight loss goals.

Eat fatty fish 

Salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies are all fatty fish that contain high amounts of protein and omega-3 fats. These healthy fats will leave you feeling fuller and help suppress cravings.


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References

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About the author

Sabrina has more than 20 years of experience writing, editing, and leading content teams in health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. She is the former managing editor at MyFitnessPal.

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