Exercise is Eating. Are you Eating Enough?

Exercise is Eating. Are you Eating Enough?

Nov 09, 2015

Have you ever thought about that before…I mean REALLY thought about it?

Exercise IS eating!

Every time you exercise, you are actually eating a meal—a meal of YOURSELF!! When a person “exercises,” in an effort to “lose weight,” what they are really trying to do is get their body to “eat up” stored energy (i.e. FAT) rather than “running on” exclusively the food they’ve put into their mouth. I’m not sure if you have ever thought about exercise this way before, but that’s exactly what it is. Every time you get done running on a treadmill or elliptical, the machine is essentially telling you the number of calories you just ate (burned)? If it says 200 calories, this means you just ate a 200 calorie meal (of yourself)! If you wear a device like a Fitbit as you go throughout your day, it’s actually telling you how many calories you are “eating up” as you move. The number of calories you burn in a typical 1-hour workout will largely depend on several key factors, such as: age, gender, the climate, weight, muscle mass-to-fat ratio, the length and intensity of your workout, etc. For example, a man weighing 160 pounds who runs at an 8-mile per-hour pace for a full hour may burn close to 861 calories. However, a man weighing 240 pounds who runs the same distance, at the same pace, would burn approximately 1,286 calories!! Running a 5K may potentially burn anywhere from 350-600 calories. Running a marathon, on the other hand, would be about 2,500! Ideally, the calories you are “burning/eating” would be coming from “internal” stores of energy in the form of: fat, protein, and carbohydrate that are stockpiled in the body (but ideally, mostly from stored fat). Unfortunately, as we’ll see in a minute, this is not always the case. For now, it’s important to understand that “Exercise IS Eating.” In fact, just for fun, the next timeyou’re headed out the door on your way to work-out and your significant other asks where you’re going, you can honestly say,
I’m just going out to get a bite to eat.”

How often you exercise (Frequency), the effort you put in (Intensity), the length (Time), and kind (Type) will all largely influence how much of your own body fat you burn off. This is often referred to as the “FITT Principle”—Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type. Our nutrition is equally important. Always remember that…

Weight loss (i.e. fat loss) only occurs when we “EAT UP” more of our own “internal” stores of energy (i.e. stored body fat) than we do “external” sources of calories (i.e. the food we put into our mouth). Conversely, if you eat more “external” food than “internal” food, you get fat!!

When it comes to the optimal diet and exercise prescription for fat loss, people are obviously still confused. For example, I’ve talked with hundreds of people over the years about their diet and lifestyle, and I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they skip meals on a regular basis. My reply almost always shocks them.

I say, “That’s not true! You’ve never skipped a meal a day in your life!”

They often get defensive and insist that they do—they skipped breakfast that very morning, they tell me. I then go on to explain to them the ridiculousness of such a claim:

The day you “skip a meal” is the day you die!

You see, your body, just like an automobile, only runs (stays alive) as long as there is always a steady stream of fuel available. We all know what happens when our car runs out of gas?

That’s right—it dies!! The same thing would happen to us if our body ever ran out of fuel. But the human body does not function the same way an automobile does (thank God). It is designed to make “meals” of itself whenever “external” sources of fuel (food) is not available (such as during a fast). The primary fuel the body uses when “external” sources of food are not available is FAT!!

Being able to eat anytime we want and snack between meals are relatively “recent” Tupperware.Our grandparents and great-grandparents simply did not have the ability to purchase, process, and store food in their homes to the degree we do today. Therefore, they could not just eat anything they wanted, any time they wanted. They had to go without from time-to-time. Eating only 3 square meals a day was common for them. It was the space between each meal (the post prandial “space”) where a large amount of their stored fat was burned—especially when they were physically active during this time! Giving your body a break from food for 3-4 hours AT LEAST between meals is very important to help reduce sugar levels and burn more fat. While it’s a subject I’ll write more in depth about another time, let me just say that I honestly believe that the whole “eat many small meals throughout the day”philosophy has done more to make us overweight than just sticking with the same 3 square meals a day that our ancestors consumed.

Eating incessantly all day long (i.e. SNACKING) is the worst thing you can do if you want to burn lots of body fat!

By constantly supplying our body with calories all day long, we give it no reason to burn stored fat, but to instead run almost exclusively on the calories we’ve just consumed!! As a result, our bodies have become trained to run on the fuel we get from “external” food sources instead of the “internal” food stores we have locked-up within. This means that the primary reason we cannot lose weight is because our body is happily burning up the food we are eating, rather than burning up US! This is also one of the primary reasons that those who exercise, but snack frequently, do not lose weight. In fact, I can almost GUARANTEE you that if you have been exercising a lot and are still seeing no significant improvement, I’ll bet with almost 100% certainty that:

You are burning off almost exclusively the food you eat rather than the food you wear!!!

This is either a result of too much eating, or too little exercise, or BOTH!!

A good example of someone potentially sabotaging their fat loss efforts is when someone is consuming sugary drinks before, during, or immediately after exercise. By doing so, the body will simply burn off the carbs rather than burning stored fat!! Unbeknownst to many, the body has the ability to alter what fuel it runs on largely based upon the kind of food we eat, in relationship to its proximity to exercise, and based upon the type and length of physical activity we engage in. By consuming carbs before a workout, for example, we shift oxidation rates (calorie burning) toward the burning of carbohydrates and away from body fat!

The only people that may need to be ingesting carbs during and immediately after exercise are those who:

  1. Did not fuel-up properly before 1-3 hours before exercising.
  2. Are doing especially lengthy exercise lasting 2 hours or more.
  3. Have a medical condition (like hypoglycemia or diabetes).
  4. Do not want to lose weight.
  5. Are eating them for “performance enhancement and/or recovery.”
  6. Over-exerted themselves to the point that blood sugar levels are dangerously low (hypoglycemia).

Have you ever seen someone who is no more than five minutes into their workout and they are already chugging down a sugary drink like Gatorade or a Red Bull? What about the person who gets up in the morning and is eating before or during their morning cardio? These individuals may not realize that instead of burning body fat, their use of dietary carbs during exercise (or just prior to) is shifting their body out of “fat-burning mode” and into “sugar-burning mode.” The carbs may help them get through their workout and even increase their performance, but as a result, they hardly burned any body fat at all!!

The same thing can happen when someone eats a whole bunch of carbs right after their workout. Their body had just got into “prime” fat burning mode and they unknowingly shut it right off by ingesting a whole bunch of carbs post-workout! While it’s certainly important to get some healthy carbs at some point post-workout, and they can certainly speed recovery and promote anabolism, consuming them IMMEDIATELY upon ceasing exercise or DURING exercise may not always be your best strategy… at least not if maximum fat-burning is your primary goal!

Athletes and those who are already lean may have good reasons to consume carbs immediately before, during, or after exercise such as for “maximizing their performance,” “enhancing recovery,” and “building muscle,” but these things are not necessarily synonymous or necessary for those seeking to maximize “fat loss.” A far-more effective strategy to maximize fat loss would be to consume a meal rich in complex carbohydrates an hour or two before the workout and only drink water during the exercise session. After the workout, rather than ingesting carbs right away, they could take some BCAA’s (Branched Chain Amino Acids) or HMB and then go for a walk or easy jog (a “workout after the workout”) to increase the oxidation of fat in their blood. After your walk, you could then have a healthy meal that contains some protein, veggies, and some starchy carbs (if you like). For example, this could be a meal of baked fish, a sweet potato, and a side of steamed broccoli. If you can’t go for a walk after your workout, even just giving yourself an hour or two to relax with no food can be helpful at increasing the amount of fat burned.

For those of you who dispute carbs interfering with fat burning, I’d encourage you to do some research. Now don’t get me wrong: I AM NOT saying that you should avoid carbs or eat a low-carb diet—NOT AT ALL. In fact, I think a rather high-to-moderate carb diet is ideal. I am specifically referring to meal timing and frequency. Because our body finds carbs to be much easier to burn than fat, whenever carbs are present, the body will burn almost always exclusively burn carbohydrates and simultaneously reduce its oxidation (burning) of stored body fat. In fact, some pretty fascinating experiments (such as this one here) have demonstrated that when carb intake goes up, carb burning (oxidation) goes up as well. In fact, fat oxidation rates are suppressed in almost direct proportion to the number of carb calories consumed. In other words, the more carbs you eat, the more carbs you burn and subsequently less fat.

Knowing this has led many people to mistakenly assume that the only way to maximize fat loss is to therefore adopt a low-carb diet. But the truth is that you can still burn a ton of fat on a high-carb diet, especially when your dietary fat intake is low and you use proper timing of carb intake!

But our ancestors not only ate less often, they also exercised FAR MORE than we do today!

Our ancestors not only ate fewer meals per day, they were also far more active during this time between meals. far less exercise than our great-grandparents did. This isn’t too difficult to prove either! A recent study, published by the American College of Sports Medicine, examined the activity level of the traditional Amish people. The Amish are not only known to have far lower rates of obesity than the average American (despite not eating the healthiest of diets), but they still live and practice a lifestyle that is very similar to, (and as demanding as) our great-grandparents’. In order to determine exactly how much physical activity Amish farmers get each day in comparison to the average American, Amish men and women were asked to wear pedometers each day for an entire week so that their activity levels could be established. By the end of the study, the Amish men logged an average of 18,425 steps a day, whereas the Amish women logged 14,196. Just to put this into perspective, most experts believe that we should get at least 10,000 steps a day in order to consider ourselves an “active person.” But the study did not stop there:

“Other forms of physical activity were also measured and the findings were that the Amish performed 6 times more physical activity per day than a study of 2,000 participants in 12 modernized nations. Only 4% of the Amish population are obese as defined by a Body Mass Index above 30, whereas 31% of the US adult population is obese. For women, energy expenditure was 2,610 and 3,590 kcal/d whereas for men energy expenditure was 3,130 and 3,990 kcal/d. That means women expended around 860 calories a day and men around 980 in physical activity (exercise)!!”

That’s about 2 hours a DAY worth of moderate aerobic exercise for women and 2.5 hours for men!! (2-2.5 hours X 7 days a week = 14-17 hours a week of physical activity!!)

The Amish were able to show us just how far we’ve fallen in the last 150 years or so in terms of the amount of physical activity we typically perform,” said David R. Bassett, Ph.D., FACSM, a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and lead researcher for the study. “Their lifestyle indicates that physical activity played a critical role in keeping our ancestors fit and healthy.”

The problem for most of trying to lose weight today is that it is not as simple as just eating less, but that we get no-where near the physical activity we need to lose weight! We mistakenly assume that if we exercise 1-3 times per week that we should expect to see amazing results.But this low level of physical activity is a mere pittance compared to that of our ancestors—and they were eating far less food than we are!! Data released from a 2,000 USDA report revealed that the average American is now consuming almost 800 calories per day than the average American living in 1950. That’s pretty amazing when you consider that obesity rates in 1950 were only around 9%; today, they are 35%!

Our low rates of physical activity are not just my personal opinion; most health organizations are telling us the same thing:

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), for example, tells us that exercising 1-3 times per week does not even meet the basic exercise needs for normal weight adults… let alone overweight people trying to lose body fat! In fact, the CDC recommends that ALL ADULTS should be getting AT LEAST 270 minutes per week of physical activity. They even tell us what “kind” of exercise:

“…2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week….along with muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).”

If you do the math, 270 minutes of exercise per week is 4.5 hours a week…and this is what the CDC says EVERYBODY should be doing! This number is for “basic health” and “disease prevention,” NOT for weight loss!! In fact, the CDC goes on to say that, “Clearly, overweight individuals have different exercise needs than the general public when it comes to increasing their energy expenditure. To maximize weight loss and minimize weight regain, it appears that overweight individuals should supplement dietary changes with approximately…twice the amount recommended for health in the general public.”

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has made similar findings. As a result, theyrecommend that adults participate in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity to prevent significant weight gain. Overweight and obese adults, however, are more likely to reach their goals with at least 250 minutes. The report also recommends strength training as part of the exercise regimen, in order to increase fat-free mass and further reduce health risks. The recommendations are published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. They are in line with the recent recommendations published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”

Research from other studies and health organization have demonstrated that high physical activity levels can help with maintenance of weight loss. In one study, subjects who exercised enough to expend 1000 calories per week (about 2 hours per week) regained most of their weight, but subjects who expended 2500 calories per week (about 4.5 hours a week) maintained most of their weight loss. Similar results have been observed in other studies. Subjects in the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), a database of individuals who have maintained at least a 30 pound weight loss for over a year, expend an average of 2,620 calories per week in physical activity.

Great question! I’m glad you understand how important it is to get sufficient exercise.

To really be able to accurately answer your question (How much exercise for rapid fat loss?)let’s consider the following facts:

Scientists have been able to establish that there are approximately 3,500 calories worth of stored energy in just 1-pound of fat. Another way to think about this is to realize that 1-pound of fat contains the equivalent of…

12 McDonald’s cheeseburgers worth of energy!

Incidentally, that means that someone who wants to lose 40 pounds of fat would eventually need to burn off approximately480 cheeseburgersworth of stored calories!!!

If weight loss worked like basic mathematics, and we wanted to lose 1-pound of fat over the course of seven days, then this would mean that we simply need to “burn off” 3,500 calories above our current caloric needs. If the average calorie burn for a 1-hour, high-intensity workout was 500 calories, then seven of these workouts (7 X 500 = 3,500) should burn off 3,500 calories and—BOOM!—one pound of fat is gone in a flash!!

While this way of thinking certainly makes sense from a mathematical perspective (and is still being taught by many health and fitness professionals, today) unfortunately IT’S COMPLETELY WRONG and does not accurately portray all the facts!!!

Firstly, we must understand that…


While it’s certainly true that we must burn off 3,500 calories to get rid of 1-pound of fat, these calories must come exclusively from FAT!! Remember that fat is made of fat, so the calories we burn off to lose one pound must be FAT CALORIES. Unfortunately, our body does NOT burn EXCLUSIVELY fat calories when we diet or exercise. In fact, many, if not most, of the calories we burn during exercise often come from stored carbohydrate. The same holds true for many types of dietsSome forms of exercise derive almost ALL of their energy from carbohydrate stored within the muscles, bloodstream, and liver, and very little fat. This isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing (In fact it’s GOOD—you get to eat more carbs), but it is important to realize that the calorie numbers you see on your treadmill or Fitbit at the end of an exercise session do not reflect the number of FAT CALORIES you burned, but simply “calories burned overall.”

In most cases, it is relatively safe to assume that close to ½ of the calories you burned during an hour of exercise may have come from stored fat; whereas the other ½ came from stored carbohydrate. So let’s say that you do a 1-hour workout and burn a total of 500 calories, you’d be pretty safe to assume that you only burnt around 250 calories from stored fat.

So now if we recalculate our math from above, we realize that far more work-outs would be necessary in order to burn off 3,500 calories of pure fat. Rather than seven 1-hour work-outs a week, it comes out to be much closer to around FOURTEEN! How many people do you know who do that much exercise in a week? Interestingly, this is almost EXACTLY the number of hours a week of physical activity that the scientists from above calculated the Amish men and women were completing in week to stay so slim! Incidentally, this is the exact same amount of exercise that the legendary Jack LaLanne (The Father of Exercise) did each day. His daily routine consisted of:

  • Waking up at 4 am to do 90 minutes of vigorous weight training and calisthenics.
  • He followed that with a jog or swim for 30 minutes.
  • Afterwards, he’d eat a late breakfast made up of mostly raw vegetables (often in fresh juice form) sometimes along with some egg whites.
  • And Jack made it a point to only eat 2-3 times a day (NO MORE). HMMMMM….
Jack was still doing this same routine DAILY up until he passed away in his late nineties. And while fourteen hours of exercise a week may certainly sound extreme to those of you who only work Loser show (and these were not athletes, but out-of-shape, obese, and even diabetic individuals) were utilizing. They were doing the equivalent of 24-28 hours of exercise a week!!!
Legendary singer song-writer, Tim McGraw, apparently decided that the key to ripped six-pack abs was not only a big change his diet (he dramatically reduced his sugar and alcohol intake as well as “beefed-up” his protein intake), but to get his physical activity level MUCH higher than it had been before. He began working out over 4 hours a day to get his dramatic results!!! That’s about the same number of hours each day that the Biggest Loser contestants were exercising! Check out Tim’s transformation and exercise here.

Dr. Huizenga, the supervising doctor of the show who prescribed such a high of physical activity for obese individuals trying to lose weight quickly and improve their health, has gone on public record stating how “pathetic” and “completely inadequate” current “dumbed down” exercise prescriptions are for those looking to lose body fat…especially those wanting to avoid disease and lose weight quickly. While many have criticized the Doc for his “over the top” prescription claiming that 4 hours of exercise a day is impossible for working people with a life, job, and family, he responds by saying that 4 hours a day is not necessary for amazing results, but that 2-hours a day is certainly do-able and effective for motivated individuals. In addition he states:

People have plenty of time to devote to working out, if they want to cure diseases like diabetes, live longer, and improve their quality of life. Those who cannot find the time need consider the alternative…. Everyone has time for essential daily activities—when your tooth has a painful infection, you cancel the day’s meetings and go to the dentist. If you are diagnosed with cancer, believe me, you’ll change your entire life to accommodate doctors’ appointments, cancer treatment, and prevention of relapse. Why then wouldn’t everyone…carry on at home with 60 to 90 minutes a day of exercise given these health stakes? If you have overflowing abdominal fat, you’re facing a choice not terribly dissimilar from [these] examples. Your excess fat is a deliberate poison. It’s not easy, but two hours a day of exercise with calorie counting and moderate caloric restriction for six months is a small price to pay to remove the poison.”

Dr. Huizenga himself claims to work out at least 90 to 100 minutes PER DAY, not PER WEEK!! He goes on to say, “It’s about setting priorities. Time is not the issue; priorities are the issue.”

I can personally attest to this strategy for maintaining weight loss because I too exercise approximately 14 hours (give or take) a week to maintain my weight loss. I usually do seven weight training sessions a week along with seven or more cardio sessions a week (some high intensity and others low intensity). Part of the reason I like to work out more often is because I can also eat more while staying lean. If I exercised less, I’d have to eat far less.

To summarize what we’ve learned so far, we now know that:

  1. Allowing some space between meals may help us lose more body fat than eating round the clock.
  2. 3 square meals a day is how our ancestors ate and obesity levels were only 9% in 1950; today they are at 35%.
  3. Not all calories burned during exercise come exclusively from fat.
  4. Getting a high level of physical activity is super important for the overweight to reduce risk of disease and to elicit rapid fat loss.
  5. 1-2 hours per day of physical activity is necessary to lose weight for those who want to be able to eat a fair amount of calories and still lose weight.

Finally, if “Exercise IS Eating,” are YOU eating enough?!