Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Fatty Rewards of Exercise

Can exercise make you fat? A recent article in Time Magazine likes to think so. And the sad truth is that the author and the article are right, especially if you look at some of habits that follow post-calorie burn at the gym.

The simple argument is we go to the gym to workout, burn some calories in hopes of staving off those lurking extra pounds, clock a good sweat session or stress reliever, or train for the next event on the race calendar. But many of us use that gym time to make excuses for what we put into our stomachs post-workout--although I think you could easily argue the opposite that you go to the gym because of what you put into your stomach earlier in the day--and reward ourselves with the junk food, zero-calorie snacks and several nutritional no-nos more at home in the Not That category of the Men's Health Eat This, Not That list. And we do it mainly because that revving of the metabolism, that exercise, not only reenergizes our system or calms our stress but it stimulates hunger. And as the article states, "Exercise, in other words, isn't necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder."

Maybe not everyone is guilty of that reward after the workout, but I know I certainly am--just take a look at me chowing down on a massive burrito after the Heatstroke 100 century ride. My family already poked fun at me for that one, especially since I made my food choice so public and so large (I swear the burrito alone weighed five pounds, a little gross in retrospect). And they're in denial over my next admission--or what that's me who's in denial and they're making the oh-so-true accusations.

Yes, I'll eat a burrito after cycling 100 miles. If a Dairy Queen, Culver's or other cold treat is in the vicinity of a long bike ride, you can guarantee that I'll be making a refueling stop afterward. The first thing I craved after finishing the Ironman--and even recently after the Steelhead 70.3--was pizza. After marathons I've literally made a beeline to Weber Grill for a post-race snack mainly consisting of onion straws and a hot fudge sundae. I'll nosh down a larger, not-so-healthy breakfast--like a stuffed french toast concoction or a Walker Bros. apple pancake--if I sweat in Spinning beforehand. And if you really want to get specific, post-race snacks or meals after major races include a massive burger and fries (California International Marathon), pasta and salad buffet followed by Scooter's custard (Udder Century), Ray's Ice Cream where a single scoop is like singlehandedly cleaning up a pint of Ben and Jerry's (Motor City Triathlon), fries and a hot fudge banana sundae at Betty's Pies (Grandma's Marathon), Kopp's Custard (Spirit of Racine), pizza buffet followed by dinner at Morton's Steakhouse (Steelhead 70.3), post-race picnic and Scooter's custard (Chicago Triathlon).

So my diet is far from the best and I'm sure I'm a nutritionist's nightmare. One look at the above run-down and it reads more like something you might find listed in a food journal for a Biggest Loser competitor before the refrigerator raid not for an endurance athlete. But all that exercise makes me hungry and I want to eat--and tend to gravitate toward those foods I try to avoid while training with the exception of the ice cream and ignore the nagging voices in my head that those fries and sundaes aren't healthy.

Wouldn't you do it too, at least on occasion? Maybe it's me but I'm definitely guilty of slogging through a workout just so I can gorge on a meal later. Not all the time that's for sure, and I know I'm not seeing the needle on that scale drop when I do it. Yet even if we try to eat or refuel with more of a smart snack, we could be doomed for failure. Take a five-mile run where on average you'll burn about 500 calories, 100 for each mile. You're thirsty and the heat and humidity made you sweaty so you down a Gatorade to replenish lost electrolytes. Now your stomach is growling so you opt for a Clif bar over a bagel, donut or muffin since it offers the sweet with at least some semblance of good-for-you to it. But once you total the calories between the Gatorade and Clif bar, you've just given yourself the caloric-equivalent, roughly, of a can of soda and and a donut. Healthier option? Maybe. But when it comes to watching the waistline...not so much.

It's easy to argue both sides of the argument and I know I'm not going to stop the exercise anytime soon. Will I lose weight? Probably not anything like Biggest Loser proportions, but I'm not trying to. Could I change my post-workout habits? Most definitely, although cutting out Scooter's would be no easy task. Where do you weigh in? Photo grabbed from Posted by Kate



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