We have all heard about the multiple benefits of cardiovascular exercise and strength training. So, it’s nothing new if we start the list with heart disease, go through type 2 diabetes, and talk about cancer and dementia. But what about compensating for a bad diet?
My personal experience about exercise and cheat meals
We can all relate to exercising and then feeling somewhat licensed to eat everything you want. Luckily, it doesn’t happen all the time, but it is more than likely that you experienced this more than once. But if you might not get the results you want if you always give in to this thought. At least that was my case.
I have lived an active life for a long time (I could even say my entire life). When I was very young, I was very good at sports such as basketball -despite being short compared to basketball players-, and T-ball. I was also good at gymnastics. I got into tennis during my teen years and also liked track and field. My performance was not bad, and I never thought about how my dietary choices affected the whole thing. Not to say the impact on my own health. As long as I keep on running and being active, I was sure that it doesn’t matter what I eat or if I remain seated for the rest of the day. I could do anything I wanted and eat anything and everything. And I’m not talking about a craving for veggies and omega 3 sources. I was using my workout as an excuse to eat plenty of carbohydrates every day. I was eating nachos, pizza, lots of bread, and ice creams.
When I finally hit my thirties, I finally realized what I had been doing and its consequences. I said to myself, I couldn’t keep on eating whatever crossed my mind. Then, I opened a studio and started teaching others. They were up to 5 classes every day, and my body started to fail me in the most critical time! My muscles were easily fatigued while I was teaching, and I began to feel constantly overwhelmed and tired. I figured it was because I needed to replenish my energy sources, and I was doing it but not with the right ingredients. I stopped seeing the results of my training, and my performance started to drop. I realized it is simply not possible to outrun or out-train a lousy diet.
A healthy lifestyle is a puzzle with many pieces. To see the final outline and experience its results, we need to join nutrition, exercise, stress management, self-care techniques, proper sleep, education, social support, and other fundamental parts that combine for our wellbeing. However, there are two primary components, and they are nutrition and exercise.
Exercise is great, but by itself, it won’t work wonders. You can sweat it off in the gym and stay obese or at least overweight because you’re not complementing it with an appropriate diet. Exercise is essential for long-lasting weight loss, but by itself, it is not enough.
The benefits of exercise are impressive. More studies are being released every day, talking wonders about increasing your physical activity levels. Cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular problems; they can all improve with exercise. Not to mention a reduction in cancer risk of up to 30% in some cases. But by itself, it does an incomplete job because we also need a healthy diet.
The number of people who exercise is relatively constant over time. It is almost the same as 30 years ago. But today’s society is considerably more overweight and obese. Even children are now having insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, which was never imagined in the past. There’s definitely something different in the equation, and it is related to our dietary choices.
The food industry has become massive in the last decades. They have adopted industrial processing to elaborate more and more food for people who are becoming addict to sugar, processed flavors, dyes, preservatives, and many chemicals. According to studies, every 150 extra calories of sugar increases the risk of diabetes 11 times, and that’s completely independent of their exercise level.
So, at the end of the day, losing weight with exercise and a poor diet is not possible. Exercise is simply not enough. It does sustain weight loss, but this weight change is only driven by a careful nutrition plan.
5 reasons why training does not compensate for a bad diet
- You can’t cover a big indulgence with more exercise: If you make the numbers, burning more calories may counter the extra calories of a cheat meal. But there’s much more than calories in what you eat. We have different sources of calories and other nutrients and substances that affect our hormone levels and metabolism.
- Junk food does not have the same fueling effect on your body: Not all calories are the same, and they do not run the same way in your organism. Junky fuel will never outperform high-quality nutrients. It would be like a puzzle where you get the wrong pieces every time. As a result, you can continue week after week without results only because you’re not eating healthily.
- You need high-quality carbs to have the energy for your workouts: You may also think that carbs are your enemies if you want to lose weight. But skipping on carbs and cutting your calories in an over-restrictive dietary plan gives your muscle insufficient energy to grow and speed up your metabolism. Your hormones will be affected by an overly restrictive diet, with a long-lasting effect on your lean body mass.
- Eating appropriately is necessary to keep you motivated: There’s an ongoing loop between a good diet and an efficient exercise routine. They feed each other and need each other. Your motivation levels to train stay up by eating appropriately, and after training, your appetite increases. Breaking the loop would make you feel bogged down and tired.
- An inadequate diet increases the chance of getting hurt or sick: It is not alright to train if you’re injured. The likelihood of injury and disease increases with an inadequate dietary habit. The immune system requires proper nutrition, and its primary components are located in the gut. Alcohol, dairy, and processed carbohydrates keep your gut in an inflammatory state that favors all types of disease. Similarly, the chance of overuse injuries increases if you do not eat a healthy diet.
What you can do to optimize your training and achieve your goals
For all of the above, it is essential to know what type of nutritional habits will help you. Moreover, you need to keep it up 80 to 90% of the time to achieve your goals. Until you really have a good dietary habit on the most basic level (avoiding junk food and adopting a healthy eating style), booster supplements and measuring exact grams will only be a small extra. You need to focus on the big picture before considering the details.
So, if you want a starting point, take these three recommendations and walk your way to better nutrition:
- Every time you eat, make sure you have a protein source: Proteins give you amino acids, which ultimately build muscle mass, enzymes, and many other molecules in your body. They are the most critical building blocks, and you should eat them in every meal in the proportion of 20-30 grams for women and 40-60 grams for men.
- Rely on non-starchy veggies: Non-starchy vegetables are filled with phytonutrients, dietary fiber, and many other micronutrients. They are useful to boost your immune system and provide the musculoskeletal tissue with what it needs for stability and performance. Aim for 1-2 servings for every meal.
- Use starchy carbs for fuel after resistance training: Yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and plantains are all starchy carbs you can eat after strength training workouts. If you’re aiming to lose weight, this meal should be the only one that contains this type of carbohydrates (in a proportion of half to ¾ of a cup in women and 1 to 1 and a half cups in men). But they may be required in every meal if you’re an athlete, and your priority is optimizing your performance. The right proportion is variable according to your exercise levels and body type.
Remember that fewer carbohydrates are not always better for losing weight. More food is not always better to bulk up. What you need is equilibrium by adopting healthy eating patterns that will contribute to your gains and result in good health now and in the future.
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