By Sean Zucker –
Ever have a huge breakfast or lunch and figure an extra-long jog or overly intense workout will compensate? It’s a common negotiation that is unfortunately misguided. Bargaining unhealthy diet trends with excess exercise is neither a winning nor effective solution—just ask the experts.
Many people assume marathon runners and hardcore trainers can pretty much eat whatever they want given the calories they burn on a daily basis. Sara Mahoney, Ph.D., however, shuts that notion down really quick.
The chair of the department of exercise science at Bellarmine University told Men’s Health that while runners generally are much healthier than the average person, with lower rates of diabetes and heart disease, their extreme exercise routines generally aren’t the only cause of their physical good fortune. Rather, healthy diets and ample rest likely contribute more to the advanced health of frequent runners.
Admittedly, some runners may even have supercharged metabolisms that mitigate the negative effects of poor diet choices in the short term. Eventually, however, wanting lifestyles and lousy diets catch up to everyone no matter how much they exercise.
Boston Marathon director Dave McGillivray knows this to be true all too well. The longtime runner, who’s competed in the famed marathon every year since 1973, revealed he learned the unfortunate lesson four years ago by developing severe coronary artery disease.
“I’ve been running all my life. I’ve done eight Ironman Triathlons and 140 marathons. I’ve run across the United States,” he confessed to the magazine of his reaction to the diagnosis. “How can I have blocked arteries?”
Sure, he acknowledged there was a family history of chronic cardiac illness. But with his workout schedule he assumed he could eat whatever he wanted.
“As a runner, I just felt that if the furnace was hot enough, it would burn whatever you put in,” McGillivray said. “So, I would eat anything and everything I wanted.”
Apparently, even serial marathon runners can’t simply work off an endless junk food buffet. Dietitian Jessica Spendlove agreed, giving Huffington Post the disappointing revelation.
“Put simply, it is much easier to over-consume or eat excess energy than it is to burn it off,” she said.
What causes weight gain is an excess in energy intake versus output. Of course, junk food is incredibly dense and therefor requires an incredibly high amount of energy output to compensate.
“For example, a person could eat a 1,000-calorie meal in 5–10 minutes, but it would take them much longer than 60 minutes to burn off (probably closer to 90–120 minutes),” Spendlove explained.
“Exercise and nutrition are both important aspects of overall health and weight loss, but when it comes to losing weight you will never be able to burn more than what you eat, which is why dietary choices are so important.”
Ultimately, there isn’t even a straight equation that covers burning off X amount of calories in Y amount of time. The reason? Not all calories are the same and as such, the body stores them differently.
“What you eat signals hormones to store or burn fat, boost or crash metabolism, and build or break down muscle,” says JJ Virgin, certified nutrition specialist and author of the Sugar Impact Diet Cookbook.
Depending on what nutrients, or lack thereof, an item of food contains will indicate where and how the body stores it.
For example, Virgin adds that sugar is key to raising insulin levels, so it gets stored as fat. Alternatively, spinach triggers other hormones like glucagon, which releases fat to burn for energy.
Obviously, none of this is meant to inspire trashing workout plans and succumbing to the couch potato life.
“Exercise is critical for long-term weight management because it helps burn up your fat-storing enzymes, and it boosts your metabolism, so you burn more calories from fat throughout the day,” Virgin underscored. “Plus, exercise makes you look better naked.”