“I might as well have an ice-cream, I’m going to the gym later.”
If only it was that easy. But, burning the calories of one Magnum will take 32 minutes of jogging, 57 minutes of squats, or 57 minutes of push-ups. Easier said than done.
Does exercise mean you can eat what you want?
So you just started an exercise routine. If you were a bit of a couch potato before, this is hard work. It feels like the amount of work you are putting in is probably burning a gazillion calories. But sadly, that is not true.
There are studies that claim that you can lose weight with exercise alone. The catch is, you will have to exercise a lot. If you are working, raising children and/or running a household, you don’t have much spare time.
We all know how life goes – exercise is the first thing we neglect when there are so many demands on us.
So consider this. In order to lose some fat through exercise, you will need to put in about 300 minutes per week, that is about 40 minutes per day.
In order to understand this, we need to take a look at what happens in our bodies when we lose weight.
The best, proven way to lose fat is to achieve a calorie deficit. This simply means that you need to burn more calories than you consume.
When this happens, your body tries to restore the balance with compensatory mechanisms designed to help us survive food shortages. Yes, you read right. When you lose weight, your body tries to stop it.
One of the ways your body does this is by slowing your metabolism. Exercise also affects the hormones that are in charge of telling you when you are hungry and when you are full.
One study found that following an exercise programme for two weeks or longer is associated with a decrease in leptin, a hormone that helps prevent over- and under-eating.
Exercise also increases your levels of acylated ghrelin (a hormone that regulates appetite) and decreases your levels of peptide YY and insulin (hormones that suppress appetite). This might cause you to eat more.
Then, as mentioned earlier, the very fact that you are exercising and working hard could make you feel like you deserve a reward. Before you know it, you’ve eaten back all the calories your last workout burned.
The effect of slower metabolism, hormones, and bad food decisions put together can put you right back to where you started – which is not losing any calories (depending of course on how much you exercise).
Research confirmed this. These factors could result in as much as a thousand calories back into your system.
So, if you burn 1 000 calories through exercise in a week, the body’s compensatory mechanisms could add those calories right back in.
There are some more risks to an unhealthy diet that you can’t exercise away.
Poor diet, poor workout
A diet that consists of processed foods will likely sabotage your workout, especially if you are trying to lose weight.
Not only will you enjoy fewer benefits, but your post-workout recovery and even your motivation levels could suffer.
Food is supposed to give us energy, but a study conducted at UCLA found that processed food may drain your energy during exercise rather than refuel it.
Eating a lot of fast food causes impaired task performance and lack of motivation. During the study, rats fed an ultra-processed food diet tended to gain weight and take longer to complete tasks, taking plenty of breaks.
Rats fed a healthy diet remained lean and finished tasks sooner. So if you are feeling heavy, tired and in no mood to exercise, it might be time to switch the burgers for broccoli.
Your body needs healthy food even more after you have completed your workout.
Lean protein and healthy, complex carbs helps your body to rebuild muscle, maintain blood sugar levels and keeps your metabolism going so you can burn fat.
Healthy food also acts as a stable source of energy for your body – which you will need for your next workout.
So what happens if you indulge in fast food after a workout? Well, not much. This type of food may fill you up, but it mostly consists of empty calories – so called because they contain no nutritional value.
Rather choose fish, lean meats or legumes. These digest slowly and keep your muscles fueled for longer.
Complex carbs like sweet potato and whole wheat bread will help you to keep going during your workout.
Why exercise can’t save you from a poor diet
There is no arguing that regular exercise brings you loads of benefits. Combining it with poor nutrition will, however, affect your long-term health.
Research found that participants who had both high levels of physical activity and a nutritious diet had the lowest risk of death. Their risk of death from all causes was reduced by 17%.
They also had a 19% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and 27% from certain cancers.
What else can go wrong when you exercise on a poor diet? Yes, there is more:
- Looking to tone your tummy or your hips and thighs? These are problem areas for a reason, and you will have a hard time getting them in shape with insufficient nutrition.
If you don’t do enough exercise to burn all the extra calories you are consuming, they go straight to these trouble areas. Even if you gain muscle here, it will be covered with a layer of fat.
- You could hurt yourself, or get sick. If you follow a diet that is both low in carbs and fat, it could have a negative effect on your heart.
Apart from that, you could suffer micronutrient deficiencies and increased inflammation throughout your body, which makes you more susceptible to injury.
Healthy fats help prevent overuse injuries such as stress fractures and tendonitis.
|How much exercise will burn off that snack?|
A 350ml can of soda: 12-14 minutes of cardio or 20-25 minutes of weight training. (170 calories)
A chocolate bar of 50g: 55 minutes of power walking or 27 minutes of jogging. (230-275 calories)
One slice of pizza: 43 minutes of jogging or cleaning the house for two hours. (290-340 calories)
One donut: 35 minutes of swimming or 54 minutes of walking. (200-350 calories)
The connection between diet and fitness
It’s easy to see food as entertainment, but its real purpose is to fuel your body with energy. The nutrients from healthy food contain the building blocks that are needed to make new cells to replace old, damaged ones.
Just like exercise works best with a healthy diet, eating right will be even more beneficial when paired with exercise.
Together, a healthy diet and exercise play a huge role in the prevention of many serious chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease.
Apart from keeping you at a healthy weight, diet and exercise improves regulation of inflammation, immune function and muscle mass, all of which can lengthen your lifespan.
|Your body is designed to resist weight loss. The mechanisms in charge of this can balance out the calories you lost through exercise.|
Healthy food gives you energy to exercise, fights fatigue and helps you to stay motivated.
A healthy lifestyle that consists of both good nutrition and regular exercise is the best way to ensure a long, healthy life.
The bottom line
It can be difficult for some people to follow a healthy lifestyle, but it’s worth it. A healthy body makes you feel good in every way. You will look better, feel better, sleep better and even work better.
That being said, an occasional snack won’t do harm, even if you are trying to lose weight. As long as it’s not often. You do, after all, deserve it.