Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wait, what? Diet is more important than exercise? ZOINKS!

My mother, who I may have mentioned has been rocking the weight loss these past few weeks sent me an interesting article the other day. In a Time magazine piece on the value of exercise in the weight loss process, they point out an important fact to remember: Exercise stimulates hunger.  So instead of making it easier to lose weight, regular strenuous exercise can actually make it harder to lose weight.

Well, duh. Working out hard drains you of salt and fluids, and causes you to need to repair the tired muscles. Plus, the glycogen we use up wants to be replaced, and the fastest way to replace it is with sugars. So not only are you tired and hungry, your body is crying out for salt and sugar. And a lot of folks, myself included, often find themselves either eating things they normally wouldn't or simply more of things they would, because they think "I just burned 500 calories".

Here's the part that really hit home with me:
You might think half a muffin over an entire day wouldn't matter much, particularly if you exercise regularly. After all, doesn't exercise turn fat to muscle, and doesn't muscle process excess calories more efficiently than fat does?
Yes, although the muscle-fat relationship is often misunderstood. According to calculations published in the journal Obesity Research by a Columbia University team in 2001, a pound of muscle burns approximately six calories a day in a resting body, compared with the two calories that a pound of fat burns. Which means that after you work out hard enough to convert, say, 10 lb. of fat to muscle — a major achievement — you would be able to eat only an extra 40 calories per day, about the amount in a teaspoon of butter, before beginning to gain weight. Good luck with that.
Going forward, I am going to be smarter about not eating too much because I just worked hard. I'm as susceptible to cravings as the next person, especially after a hard workout. Proper preparation can help a lot with this. Take a salt pill during a long sweaty workout will reduce the bodies craving for salty foods. Taking a 60 calorie gel during a workout should help kill the desire for a big milkshake after. It will still be important to get the right amount of protein and other recovery foods, but doing it in a healthy way is key.


- Last night a 3 mile run. Rather, three 1 mile runs. I had decent stamina through each mile and walked a little less than 1/3rd mile between each run. I was pretty slow the last half of the 3rd mile, but I like that I got through all 3.

- Tonight, I'm shooting for 5 miles continuous on the rollers. It would be my longest session by 2 miles, so it if winds up at 4 miles, thats still progress.


  1. It should still be stressed that exercise is still required for overall health. But like you said, it is not an excuse for eating bad. People should be exercising in addition to eating a balanced diet instead of being of the mind frame "I exercise so I can eat crap". Granted, I'd be lying if I said I don't enjoy a good milkshake now and then, and exercise makes it easier for me to do that guilt free. But I did learn in exercise physiology that the best way to lose the most fat weight and the least lean weight is exercise with standard balanced 2000kcal diet. People lose more lean body weight once they start cutting calories, but for some people, its hard to exercise so its a necessary evil. Finally, I don't think anyone should be discouraged from working out. With the worsening health of this country, I don't think its a good idea to run around telling people they don't need to exercise anymore.

  2. Simply put, people as a whole are dumb and only hear "Yay, I don't have to exercise" and miss the part about "Hey, you need to stop eating like crap and start eating less". Either way, people are going to feel hungry initially because they are used to eating way more than they are supposed to.

  3. Ben,

    Great post! I've always considered "eating right" the 4th discipline of triathlon. LOL

    By the way, I love your blog! I'd love it if you'd link your blog to mine at

    Make it a great day!

  4. Wife - You're right, and that's what makes it harder to lose weight as we ramp up training. Between heavy training and a somewhat boring desk job which leads to snacking, it's tough sometimes.

    Ruben - I agree. And thanks, I'll definitely put up a link.