You're Always Burning Calories
This post will be a quick one but I think it's something that bears repeating and then watching it sink in as people process the info. When you read a lot of nutrition and exercise science you often have to nod along as someone repeats something they've heard or read that is flat out wrong - because you know the dark, twisted and frustrating path those misguided beliefs can take someone because you've been down that road yourself.
Endless cycles of drinking detox teas, consuming almost all your calories from supplements, fasting, doing 90 minutes of cardio a day and the big one, TRACKING YOUR EXERCISE CALORIE EXPENDITURE.
I always tell people to go out and walk. Just get up and walk around outside for an hour, yes even when it's hot, cold or less than ideal. Just get up and move! That movement goes a long way to getting you centered, moving some blood around and taking some time for yourself. It's not hard, it requires zero equipment, (you don't even need those silly fingerless exercise gloves!) and you can do it literally anywhere.
Inevitable though, someone will always say "yeah but it doesn't burn that many calories" so here we go.....
Your Fitness Tracker is Lying to You
If you are tracking your food and also tracking your exercise, just know the fitness tracker calorie expenditure is way off. WAY off. You did not burn 600-900 calories during an hour long workout. You did not even burn 500 calories unless you are a large male or have never done that type of exericse before. Aerobic exercise burns about a gram of glycogen per minute. A gram of glycogen has 4 calories. So an hour of continuous cardio expends about 240 calories. Not much.
But wait, it gets better. You still would have expended energy and burned calories even if you just went to the grocery store instead of running for an hour. Maybe not much, lets say 100 calories. But now that means that 240 calories expended from running isn't even 240 calories on TOP of what you would have burned anyway. That 100 calories you would've burned going to the grocery store means the exercise only burned an additional 140 calories during that hour of time.
When you compound that many people take exercise to the extreme and find any way to sneak in a cardio or HIIT session here and there they become quite resistant to expending more calories. If you weren't, exercising 90 minutes a day would've gotten you shredded a LONG time ago. Instead your bodies desire for homeostasis means it will expend fewer and fewer calories over time during that exercise.
And as a final note, research shows that when some people exericse really hard (and expend a lot of calories in a short amount of time) they sometimes move less the rest of the day. So yeah. you expended more calories during a workout but your N.E.A.T (non exercise activity thermogenesis) downregulated to make you expend fewer calories than normal the rest of the day. To throw another wrench in the works here, some people also EAT more the more they exercise and start rewarding themselves for their efforts.
Don't Get Caught in Your Own Trap
Pulling clients out of this cycle can be hard, really hard. And convincing people that this isn't working is even harder. But but but if I stop exercising like a lunatic, I WILL gain fat. I know, those thoughts, I know that fear and anxiety and I know it's bullshit. But right now some of you don't and it's important to look at the facts because it can help you start to rationalize and pull your emotions away from the situation.
Just pulling this anecdote from Eric Helms here, I don't have the citation so it will be a loose quote but he referenced that even hunter-gatherer tribes who move a ton in efforts to track, hunt, kill and bring back game to camp still don't expend that much more calories daily than we do in our current society. Our ability to adapt to higher degrees of activity and not waste away is amazing. And it happens for a reason. It's why you don't keep gaining 5lbs of muscle a month forever, you'd be too big to even support your system with food, and recovery. You'd be an endless energy suck. And the same holds true for exercising to lose weight, at some point calorie expenditure can threaten the system so much that it does everything in it's power to get you to expend fewer calories.
Are we seeing what's happening here?
What Exercise Truly Does
Exercise is an input, a signal, a challenge to your homeostasis. It represents something your body has to adapt to. Destroy the crap out of your muscles with weights and the response is to grow bigger and stronger to handle the same thing in the future. Aerobic exercise works similarly....you get major adaptations in resting heart rate, stroke volume and oxygen saturation. It's not really about the calories burned as it is the adaptation we are trying to force our body to make.
The Most Effective Way to Lean Out
Nutrition. It's nutrition. Let me say that again nutrition. In case you missed it, nutrition.
I want you to repeat that over and over. Repeat it until you believe it. Repeat it to yourself when you feel like you NEED to go run the track after eating a donut. Screw the donut, have it and move on, no guilt. But your nutrition the rest of the day better be damn good. The exercise might drive some physical adaptation but you're not really burning off a donut the way you think you are.
If busting your ass in a single session in the summer heat only burns a few hundred calories, that is a piss poor way to suffer for fat loss. You can easily cut those 300 calories from oil in food, switching to leaner meats or subbing more veggies in for carbs. It's not hard but it is also not sexy and that's why it's hard to sell.
Always come back to your nutrition. Quality and quantity. Don't worry about everything else. Do the exercise you enjoy with people you like. And choose the exercise that gets the physical results you want. If you want bigger pecs, running ain't going to do it. Then get back to nutrition. Quantity and quality, quality and quantity.
This is how we do it. (insert Montell Jordan song here).