There has long been a myth that if you exercise enough, you can eat whatever you want without implication. We’ve probably all heard someone say “I better hit the gym tomorrow after eating this burger and milkshake tonight.” However, exercise alone is not sufficient when it comes to general health, performance or weight loss. And not only does exercise burn off only a small fraction of the calories we consume (less than 10-30 percent), the quality of the calories we consume will impact our quality of exercise. For optimal health, you need to combine exercise with a nutrient-rich eating plan.
Exercise is important, but not a stand-alone solution. Let’s be clear that the role of exercise in a healthy lifestyle should not be underestimated. Not only will exercise help you build and maintain both strong muscles and bones, and help with weight loss, it can also help reduce the risk of chronic disease, and boost one’s mood, among many other benefits. The problem arises when we believe that exercise is the be-all and end-all. If one exercises because they think it will fully compensate for a bad diet, they’re in for a rude awakening. It’s much easier to consume calories than to spend them—it could take you an hour on the exercise bike to “burn off” a brownie you consumed in three minutes. You simply can’t outrun a bad diet.
It’s not as simple as calories in calories out. While 300 calories of dessert and 300 calories of salmon do have the same energy potential, the quality of that energy source and the impact it has on your health and performance vary greatly. And because of these varying biological effects, counting all calories equally is not the optimal metric when it comes to good health or performance. Any athlete will tell you that the quality of their food directly impacts the quality of their workout, recovery, and overall health because we derive energy, satisfaction and nutrients differently from different types of food.
Calculating calorie intake and expenditure is a guessing game. Exercise equipment or your smart watch can only provide a best guess since calorie expenditure calculation requires dozens of inputs, which your treadmill and smartphone simply don’t have. Most people overestimate the number of calories they burn, and underestimate the number of calories they consume. Again, calorie counting apps can only provide a best guess for unpackaged foods. (Plus, it’s incredibly time-consuming to record the exact measurement of everything one consumes.) So if weight loss is your goal, your tools might be misleading you. That’s why paying attention to what we put in our bodies matters.
Quality food provides quality nutrition. Eating excess refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and/or trans fats will still increase your risk of chronic disease and general health, even if you exercise. They may also impede your quest for maximum strength and endurance. A diet rich in fiber, protein and unprocessed carbohydrates derived from fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean animal or plant protein foods, and healthy fats is crucial. Keep in mind that your body likely absorbs nutrients from real food sources better than supplements and protein shakes; your body doesn’t utilize a highly-processed “nutrition” bar the same as it does a wholesome, balanced meal.
All of these elements of the relationship between exercise, nutrition and your body are exactly why it has been clinically shown that a combination of regular exercise and good nutrition is the most effective way to reduce the risk of diet-related disease, optimize strength, and maximize weight loss. If you already workout on a regular basis, you’re nailing one part of the equation, but how do you improve your diet once and for all? Keto, paleo, vegan, gluten-free…there are a lot of buzzwords out there about food—but what’s actually healthy, sustainable long-term, and right for you?
First, take an enlightening deep-dive into all of the questions you may have about eating this or that (good fats, bad fats, superfoods, ketosis, organic, probiotics, etc.) with Mark Bittman and David L. Katz in their aptly-named article, The Last Conversation You’ll Ever Need To Have About Eating Right. Then visit Foodstand to put your newfound knowledge into practice with one of our Good Eating Challenges focusing on limiting processed food, eating more plants, eating less animal products, and eating more mindfully—the four, universally agreed upon pillars of a healthy eating plan. Your health and your exercise routine will thank you.
- helps you turn basic principles of good eating into everyday habits
- is based on the science of behavior change
- has frictionless tracking—no calorie-counting required
- provides nutrition education
- provides daily support
- provides social accountability
- is straightforward, judgement-free, easy-to-use, and fun
- meets you where you are, and helps you accomplish your personal health goals
- has a 95% Team Challenge completion rate
Click here to learn more about bringing Foodstand’s Team Challenges to your business.
Note: For a more in-depth look at a qualitative vs. quantitative evaluation of calories, take a look at “How calorie-focused thinking about obesity and related diseases may mislead and harm public health. An alternative” by Sean C Lucan and James Dinicolantonio in Public Health Nutrition.