“I’m Exercising…So Why Can’t I Lose Weight!?”

Written by: on Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
woman running

You run, therefore you should be losing weight. Not true! There's much more to the weight-loss story than that.

Despite their apparent leanness, too many active people are discontent with their body fat. All too often, I hear seemingly lean athletes express extreme frustration with their inability to lose undesired bumps and bulges:

Am I the only runner who has ever gained weight when training for a marathon???

Why does my husband lose weight when he starts going to the gym and I don’t?

For all the exercise I do, I should be pencil-thin. Why can’t I simply lose a few pounds?

Clearly, weight loss is not simple and often includes debunking a few myths. Perhaps this article will offer some insights that will lead to success with your weight-loss efforts.

woman standing on a scale

Even if you're an athlete, you cannot eat anything you want and expect to still lose weight.

MYTH You must exercise in order to lose body fat. 

TRUTH To lose body fat, you must create a calorie deficit. You can create that deficit by 1) exercising, which improves your overall health and fitness, or 2) eating fewer calories. Even injured athletes can lose fat, despite a lack of exercise. The complaint “I gained weight when I was injured because I couldn’t exercise” could more correctly be stated “I gained weight because I mindlessly overate for comfort and fun.”

Adding on exercise does not equate to losing body fat. In a 16-week study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, untrained women (ages 18 to 34) built up to 40 minutes of hard cardio or weight lifting three days a week. They were told to not change their diet, and—as a result—they saw no changes in body fatness. The bottom line: creating a calorie deficit by eating less food seems to be more effective than simply adding on exercise to try to lose weight.

Athletes who complain they “eat like a bird” but fail to lose body fat may simply be under-reporting their food intake. A survey of female marathoners, in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, indicated the fatter runners under-reported their food intake more than the leaner ones. Were they oblivious to how much they actually consumed? Or were they too sedentary in the non-exercise hours of their day?

woman running in race

Just because you're in training for a race doesn't mean you earned those chocolate chip cookies!

MYTH If you train for a marathon or triathlon, surely your body fat will melt away. 

TRUTH Wishful thinking. If you’re an endurance athlete who complains:“For all the exercise I do, I should be pencil-thin,” take a look at your 24-hour energy expenditure. Do you put most of your energy into exercising, but then tend to be quite sedentary the rest of the day as you recover from your tough workouts? Male endurance athletes who reported a seemingly low calorie intake did less spontaneous activity than their peers in the non-exercise parts of their day, found another study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. You need to keep taking the stairs instead of the elevators, no matter how much you train. Again, you should eat according to your whole day’s activity level, not according to how hard you trained that day.

MYTH The more you exercise, the more fat you will lose.

TRUTH Often, the more you exercise, the hungrier you get, and 1) the more you will eat, or 2) the more you believe you “deserve” to eat for having survived the killer workout. Unfortunately, rewarding yourself with a 600-calorie cinnamon roll can quickly erase in a few minutes the 600-calorie deficit you generated during your workout.

The effects of exercise on weight loss are complex and unclear—and depend on the 24-hour picture. We know among people (ages 56 to 78) who participated in a vigorous walking program, their daily energy needs remained about the same despite adding an hour of exercise. How could that be? The participants napped more and were 62 percent less active the rest of their day, according to research published in the American Journal of Physiology. Be sure to pay attention to your whole day’s activity level. One hour of exercise does not compensate for a sedentary lifestyle

woman doing a lunge stretch

Four workouts a week with cardio, strength (and a bit of stretching) might be better for weight control than six workouts a week.

MYTH You should exercise six days a week to lose weight. 

TRUTH Research suggests exercising four times a week might be better for weight control than six times a week. Another study—published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise—with sedentary women (ages 60 to 74) who built up to exercising for 40 minutes of cardio and weights suggests those who did four workouts a week burned about 225 additional calories in the other parts of their day because they felt energized. The group that trained six times a week complained the workouts not only took up too much time, but also left them feeling tired and droopy. They burned about 200 fewer calories in the non-exercise parts of their day. Yes, they were ages 60 to 74, but the info might also relate to you?

man and woman running together outdoors

Woman will always lose weight at a slower pace than guys...it's just the way we're built.

MYTH Couples who exercise together, lose fat together.

TRUTH Not always. In a 16-month study looking at exercise for weight loss—and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine—the men lost 11.5 pounds and the women maintained weight, even though they did the same amount of exercise. In another study, published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, men who did an 18-month marathon training program reported eating about 500 more calories per day and lost about five pounds of fat. The women reported eating only 60 more calories, despite having added on 50 miles per week of running. They lost only two pounds.

What’s going on here? Well, a husband who adds on exercise will lose more weight than his wife if he’s heftier and thereby burns more calories during the same workout. But, speaking in terms of evolution, Nature seems protective of women’s role as child bearer, and wants women to maintain adequate body fat for nourishing healthy babies. Hence, women are more energy efficient. Obesity researchers at New York’s Columbia University suggest a pound of weight loss in men equates to a deficit of about 2,500 calories, while women need a 3,500-calorie deficit. No wonder women have a tougher time losing weight then do men….

The bottom line

If you’re exercising to lose weight, I encourage you to separate exercise and weight. Yes, you should exercise for health, fitness, stress relief, and most importantly, for enjoyment. (After all, the E in exercise stands for enjoyment!) If you exercise primarily to burn off calories, exercise will become punishment for having excess body fat. You’ll eventually quit exercising—and that’s a bad idea.

Instead of focusing on exercise as the key to fat loss, pay more attention to your calorie intake. Knocking off just 100 calories a day from your evening snacks can theoretically result in 10 pounds a year of fat loss. One less cookie a day seems simpler than hours of sweating…?

Copyright©Nancy Clark, MS, RD March 2013

 

 

 

 

Looking for a way to get fit quickly? Read this….

Written by: on Friday, July 15th, 2011

 

Man sprinting on treadmill

Hate the treadmill? There's new reason to jump on...

By Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD

 

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is effective, though it’s hard work! Once you are fit, you can then reduce the exercise intensity to a more enjoyable (sustainable) level. Dr. Martin Gibala of McMaster University in Ontario does not believe HIIT is a heart attack waiting to happen, but recommends untrained people first get a proper medical check-up. Here are some HIIT pointers:

HIIT can be an effective part of a weight reduction program. Overweight men who did twenty minutes of HIIT (8-second sprints with 12 seconds recovery) 3 times per week for 12 weeks achieved a 7% drop in body fat. In another study with untrained, slightly overweight women ages 30-45, those who did high intensity exercise lost more weight and body fat than those who did lower intensity training. One benefit of high intensity exercise is it can suppress the appetite (temporarily) compared to lower intensity exercise.

HIIT can create a significant afterburn. Men who expended roughly 500 calories during 47 minutes of vigorous exercise continued to burn 225 extra calories in the next 18.5 hours.

This was just some of the research presented at the annual meeting—in Denver, May 31-June 4, 2011—of The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the world’s largest organization of sports medicine and exercise science professionals. Over 6,000 exercise scientists, sports dietitians, physicians and other health professionals gathered to share their research. Other interesting research:

Why do women struggle harder than men to lose undesired body fat? Perhaps because they are women! In the animal kingdom, female animals generate less body beat after overfeeding compared to the males. Research with humans suggests similar energy conservation. When four men and four women were overfed ice cream for three days (150% of energy balance needs), the men burned off some of the extra calories while the women conserved energy.

 

Calorie/heart rate panel on cardio machine

You may not be able to trust the calories burned on your cardio machine's program display.

Should you believe the calorie estimates displayed on exercise machines? Doubtful. The Precor EFX556i overestimated energy expenditure, particularly with women.

 

When athletes lose weight, they lose muscle as well as fat. For example, soldiers during nine weeks of combat training lost 9 lbs (4.2 kg) body weight, of which one-third was muscle loss and two-thirds fat loss. They consumed about 15% fewer calories than required to maintain weight.

Even bodybuilders and figure competitors do not lose just body fat when they “lean out.” In the 12 weeks pre-competition, male bodybuilders lost about 4 lbs (1.8 kg) lean body mass and 11.5 lbs (5.2 kg) body fat. The female figure competitors lost about 5.5 lbs (2.6 kg) lean and about 6.4 lbs (2.9 kg) fat.

 

Sitting on stability ball at a desk

Swap out your chair at the office, burn more calories!

One way to burn a few extra calories is to sit on a stability ball while you are at work. At a call center (where 90% of the time is spent sitting), the employees who sat on the stability ball for five hours during the workday burned about 260 more calories per eight-hour shift. Theoretically, that could lead to loss of 26 pounds in a year! They burned about half a calorie more per minute sitting on a stability ball than sitting in a chair. The biggest barrier to using stability balls: aggravation of pre-existing back pain.

 

Trained cyclists who consumed equal calories of either a sports drink or banana chunks during a 75-kilometer cycling time trial performed similarly. The banana, however, offered a beneficial anti-inflammatory response. Natural foods generally offer more benefits than engineered sports foods.

Chocolate milk is a popular recovery food that contains carbohydrates to refuel muscles and high quality protein to build and repair muscles. Both full-fat and skimmed chocolate milk offer similar recovery benefits.

 

tall glass of beer

Non-alcoholic beer: a great drink for athletes?

Beer is a plant-based beverage that offers both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Marathoners who drank 1 to 1.5 liters of non-alcoholic beer per day for three weeks prior to a marathon and two weeks after the marathon experienced less post-race inflammation and fewer colds. Non-alcoholic beer offers a wise way to enjoy the natural high of exercise along with positive health benefits.

 

Have you ever wondered how much elite endurance athletes consume during an event? A post-event survey of Ironman triathletes, marathoners, long-distance cyclists, and professional bike racers suggests the Ironmen consumed about 70 grams (280 calories) of carbohydrate per hour; the cyclists, 53 grams (212 calories) and the marathoners, 35 grams (140 calories). The endurance athletes who consumed the most energy had the best performances.

How common are intestinal problems during endurance events? About 31% of the Ironman competitors reported GI serious problems, compared to 14% of the half-Ironman competitors, 4% of the cyclists, and 4% of the marathoners. Those with a history of GI distress reported the most symptoms, as well as those who exercised in higher heat.

If you are going to be competing in the heat, you might want to pre-cool your body. One way to do that is to enjoy an ice slurry. Runners who consumed about 14-ounces of ice slurry before they exercised in the heat were able to run about 1% faster during a 10-kilometer (6.2 mile) race.

Female athletes commonly restrict their food intake. Among 44 female high school cross-country runners (16 years old):

— 39% restricted food, thinking being lighter would help them perform better.

— 42% reported missed or absent menstrual periods in the past year, a sign of being under-fueled.

—They were eight times more likely to believe missing multiple periods was a sign they were in better shape.

These young women need to be educated about the medical problems associated with missed menstrual periods!

To resume menses, amenorrheic women need to correct the energy deficit. Those who drank a 360-calorie carbohydrate-protein supplement resumed menses, on average, in about 2.5 months (±2 months). The longer they had been amenorrheic, the longer they needed to resume menses.

(More ACSM highlights are available at www.acsm.org [click on “news releases”].)

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Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD July 2011. Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) counsels both casual and competitive athletes. Her office is at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill, MA (617-795-1875). Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for new runners, marathoners offer additional information. They are available at nancyclarkrd.com. See also sportsnutritionworkshop.com.