Is the Running Afterburn Effect Real? Find Out the Truth!

A woman running in New York City

What if I told you that you could burn calories while sitting on your couch? Well, you can! Of course, it’s not only sitting on the couch that makes the magic happen — it’s the running afterburn effect. Have you heard of it before? Here’s how the afterburn effect for runners works and what you have to do in order to reap the biggest benefits.

A woman running in New York

What is the Afterburn Effect?

First things first, what is the afterburn effect in general? The afterburn effect is simply additional energy expenditure that occurs after exercise. Meaning that if you train strategically, you can burn even more calories after you have already completed your workout.

How it works: The impact for runners

The technical term is “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,” or EPOC, which gives you a hint to what’s going on. After running, your body must put checkmarks next to a couple of things to recover and return to a resting state:

✔ replenishment of ATP, creatine and oxygen stores

✔ removal of lactic acid

✔reparation of the muscles and much more

All these processes require oxygen, which is why oxygen consumption rises after exercise. This requires extra energy; therefore, additional calories will be burned on top of the ones you have already torched during your workout.

Intensity is key

The intensity is very important when it comes to EPOC. The best way to benefit from the running afterburn effect is through HIIT training. Additionally, tempo runs, fartleks, and interval workouts are excellent ways of creating a running afterburn effect.

Especially for runners, HIIT-style exercise performed on a regular basis (1-3 x per week, depending on your fitness level) makes you faster and stronger. Of course, a steady run also burns calories, but the running afterburn effect isn’t as significant as it would be after a HIIT or interval training, for example. And it must be mentioned that consuming the proper fuel before you train (i.e. a protein shake with a banana) will help you last longer and give it your all during intense exercise.

What about strength training?

As a running coach, I always recommend a well-balanced combination of both running and strength training for best results. A lot of runners I work with generally like to perform bodyweight exercises like push-ups, dips, lunges, sit-ups, donkey kicks and step-ups because they can easily be done at home after the run.

You can definitely perform HIIT and interval training with bodyweight exercises like the ones mentioned and gain the benefits of the afterburn effect as well. However, the increase in muscle tissue and decrease in fat tissue that accompanies regular strength training deserves more attention. Increasing your muscle mass (no ladies, that doesn’t mean getting super big!) is going to boost your metabolism and increase your BMR (the number of calories your body burns at rest).

Running afterburn effect: How significant is it??

Now back to the main question: Is the running afterburn effect a noteworthy phenomenon? Yes. But the reality is that the calories burned during exercise are the most important factor in fat loss and are always higher than the calories burned after your workout. The exact number of calories burned will, of course, vary from person to person, but research from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) notes that EPOC can increase calorie burn by 6-15%.

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Sabrina Wieser Sabrina works as a running coach in NYC and is the Runtastic Ambassador for the US. "runningbrina" has combined her running training with active bodybuilding for the past two years. View all posts by Sabrina Wieser »