By now you’ve probably read the NYT article: Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin where the author, John Cloud, conjectures that exercise:
a) makes us eat more and
b) weakens our resolve so that
c) we end up not losing weight BECAUSE we exercise.
The basic problem is that while it’s true that exercise burns calories and that you must burn calories to lose weight, exercise has another effect: it can stimulate hunger. That causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight-loss benefits we just accrued. Exercise, in other words, isn’t necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder.
And he goes on to to suppose:
After we exercise, we often crave sugary calories like those in muffins or in “sports” drinks like Gatorade. A standard 20-oz. bottle of Gatorade contains 130 calories. If you’re hot and thirsty after a 20-minute run in summer heat, it’s easy to guzzle that bottle in 20 seconds, in which case the caloric expenditure and the caloric intake are probably a wash. From a weight-loss perspective, you would have been better off sitting on the sofa knitting.
…In 2000 the journal Psychological Bulletin published a paper by psychologists Mark Muraven and Roy Baumeister in which they observed that self-control is like a muscle: it weakens each day after you use it. If you force yourself to jog for an hour, your self-regulatory capacity is proportionately enfeebled. Rather than lunching on a salad, you’ll be more likely to opt for pizza.
OK. In the last (ugh) 6 months, I will say I have become somewhat aware that after I work out, I drink my protein drink, shower, head home. And 1 mile from my house -as I turn the corner to head up the hill- I find I MUST stop at the store to pick up sorbet, a candy bar, cookies, SOMETHING sweet and sugary and totally inappropriate.
While Crown would say my “self-control muscle was weakened” I have a more logical explaination. One I was planning on writing about today anyway. So hip-hooray for my mental timing.
See, I eat my oatmeal -my one carb heavy meal- about 7 am. And starting in February, I began to push my workout back later in the day by a couple hours. The gym is slightly less crowded from noon to 2 pm. than it is from 10-12. This means I moved my heavy workout 2 hours further away from that feeding meal.
In my case, this act alone seems to be the culprit in my unexpected and hard-to-explain weight gain. Somehow that extra 2 hour window was having a dramatic change.
See, when you exercise hard- whether it’s resistance training or hard cardio- you deplete your muscles of glycogen, which is the food that muscles thrive on. After you stop working out, your body immediately tries to restore the glycogen levels in your muscles. That’s one reason that they recommend you eat within 1/2 hour of a workout. The protein I take protects my muscles -so they are catabolized to turn into glycogen- and I was not supplying my body with an alternative source.
Hence the strong craving for something sweet NOW to feed those muscles.
This might not be too severe a problem (uh, right?) except that exercising also convinces your body to increase it’s levels of hgh -using this hormone to repair the muscular damage. And hgh succeeds in repairing your muscles by burning fat for the required building blocks to do this repair. Unfortunately, hgh is turned off in the presence of a higher level of insulin. And guess what those supermarket snacks I grabbed all had in common? Quick sugar- increased insulin. And I was turning off my hgh fat-burning machine as quickly as I turned it on.
Now the good news: As I said, I realized a few weeks ago that there was this timing changing in my food intake. So I decided to change it back and watch the difference.
Keep my pre-workout meals the same, eat the oatmeal afterward. I still had a hard time simply getting home to eat my food. Keeping an apple in my gym bag did nothing to quell my cravings. And the oatmeal did little when I ate it after my workouts. Still wanted to overeat; still felt extremely tired later in the day-moving less. Still didn’t seem to be working.
Last week, I started simply eating my oatmeal 2 hours before I planned to head out for my workouts. Returning the timing of the food to what it had been. That was the only change I made. But guess what? No cravings post-work. No completely wiped out feelings hours later. All the signs that hgh is created and working to heal and burn fat. And an apparent 1# lower on the scale.
If this continues, then I will argue Cloud and others simply do not understand the mechanism they need to feed their workouts. And it’s this failure to eat right that has caused their problems not the exercise.
What do you think? Have you noticed that changes in your diet or in food timing have resulted in unexpected changes in your energy level or your fitness goals? Good? Bad?