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How to Achieve a Runner's Body Fat Percentage

written by: Angela Atkinson • edited by: KJ Fitness,Ink • updated: 5/30/2009

Would you like to lose a few pounds or just get into better shape? Taking a cue from competitive runners, just a few simple changes can make a world of difference in your level of health and fitness.

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    Image Credit: Steve Woods
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    Runners' Low Body Fat Percentages

    Runners, in general, are thought to be healthy individuals with a lower body-fat percentage than those involved in other sports. For example, swimmers statistically carry a higher percentage of body fat than runners, even though they expend similar amounts of energy in their training workouts.

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    What is an ideal body fat percentage?

    Healthy adult males should strive for a body fat percentage of 15 to 18 percent, while healthy adult females should have about 25 to 30 percent. Of course, competitive runners are statistically below those marks, especially those who are very successful. Men can have a percentage as low as 5 percent, while women might go as low as 10 percent.

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    Why do runners have statistically lower body fat percentages?

    This is at least in part due to the running itself—people who are serious about running are training on a daily basis. Daily exercise, especially done at the intensity of running, will help to lower your body fat percentage significantly.

    However, runners must still pay close attention to their diets. In fact, many runners don’t get enough nutrition. Those who are healthiest don’t eat things like protein bars and supplement shakes. Instead, they eat a wide variety of natural whole foods.

    Experts say that a healthy and well-rounded runner’s diet includes things like seeds and nuts (for good fat), varied colorful fruits vegetables (at least five per day), milk (and other milk products), fish and lean meat. Also, it's better to leave the skins on your fruits and veggies and eat organically whenever possible.

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    Is diet really that important if I’m running every day?

    While running can burn significantly more calories than other types of physical activity, one must still pay close attention to one’s diet. This is especially true for new runners.

    A body which is burning more calories suddenly (such as by starting a new running program) will feel hungrier. And, often times, new runners may be tempted to overeat.

    By eating intentionally and pushing through the first couple of weeks as your metabolism adjusts, you'll have a greater chance for long-term weight loss success.

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    What else should I consider when starting a running program?

    As with any change in your fitness routine, always check with your doctor before starting a new running program. Be sure to get yourself a good pair of running shoes in order to help protect your feet and joints. Always start your run with a warm up and end it with cool down time and stretching. Remember that stretching is most effective (and less dangerous) when your muscles are warm.