You have probably heard the phrase ‘Calories-in and Calories-out’ before. Let’s shed a little light on what that means and why it matters to runners.
Whether you’re running to PR, get in shape, or just running because you love it, calories matter. Making sure you eat in a way that fuels your body and goals is critical.
From a strictly caloric perspective, there are two problems we encounter if we don’t get our calorie balance right –over-fueling or under-fueling. Both mistakes can affect your health, training, and performance.
Run to eat? Maybe not so much
The effects of over-fueling are pretty obvious. If we have too many calories on board we tend to gain weight. Increased weight can sabotage our fitness goals by making us sluggish as well as by increasing our risk of injury.
Sometimes our training can be the cause of our overeating. One of the biggest complaints about running I hear is from people that say they gain weight when they start running.
It’s really easy when running to burn a large number of carbohydrate calories and little fat. It happens to be the way most people choose to train when they just head out on a run without a specific plan in place.
The problem with burning predominantly carb calories is that we only have a limited number of carbs on board at any given time. When we burn off carbs, we deplete our bodies of the stored carbs we need for maintaining our blood sugar or for baseline reactions like the fight-or-flight response.
Once our carb stores are depleted, our body’s natural response is to EAT! We get hungry, sometimes hangry even, and are tempted to eat every carb in sight! As we eat we often don’t just replenish the carb stores, we often over-do it and wind up packing on a few extra pounds in the process.
Food Faux Pas
Under-fueling is another HUGE problem! If we under-fuel our bodies we run several risks, especially when talking
The first big problem with getting too few calories is the "hangry" issue again. Getting hungry leads to poor decision making around food and a lot of frustration. It’s a lot easier to fall “off the wagon” and give up if we plateau, stop seeing results, and feel poorly all of the time.
The reasons why we plateau in our weight loss or our running paces tend to suffer are due to the adaptations our body makes when we’re under-fed. We simply can’t keep up with the demand we put on ourselves. Our body must decide what it can and can’t fuel. This process is what causes a ‘slow metabolism.’
Metabolism is simply the sum total of anabolic (building) reactions and catabolic (breaking down) reactions. Breaking down reactions are things like burning calories and breaking down old tissues. Anabolic processes are building up our tissue in response to the stress placed on them. The more we stress our body, the more they break down and trigger building up processes. At least as long as there are enough building blocks available to do so.
Some of the main areas the body has to make decisions about fueling is in recovery of tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones. If we’re chronically under-feeding ourselves, especially while exercising rigorously, our metabolism adjusts to the number of calories it has available and decides what to build back up. If we wonder why we might have a slow metabolism, under-feeding is usually the cause.
In anabolic decision-making processes, when our body simply lacks sufficient building blocks, things just don’t get built back up correctly. Have you heard of a lot of runners having problems like plantar fasciitis, stress fractures and shin splints? How about tendon and ligaments strains in the hamstrings or calf muscles? Pretty common stuff, right?
Well, one of the main reasons why these things happen is simply not allowing our bodies to fully recover and build back up. One of the biggest keys to recovery is getting the building blocks from our diet (calories and other nutrients) into the right places. With enough time and the right stuff, we typically rebuild stronger than before to adjust to the amount of stress placed on our body.
Pretty amazing process if you ask me!
Why diets fail!
So, now that we’ve established WHY eating the correct number of calories matters, let’s get down to why most calories-in/calories-out diets fail miserably! The main reason; they’re based on an incorrect assumption.
You’ve probably heard that 3,500 calories are equal to 1 pound of fat. Because of this assumption, most programs, online calculators and ‘fitness gurus’ use the calculation of:
-500 calories/day X 7 days/week = -3500 calories per day and thus -1 pound/week
The problem is…it’s simply not true. The truth is that 3,500 calories aren’t equal to 1 pound of fat. One pound of fat is equal to 3,500 FAT CALORIES!!! Huge distinction. The calories have to be FAT calories, not just calories. This is where most programs based on calories-in/calories-out fall flat apart.
Burning off 1 pound of weight means that we actually tapped into the fat stores in our body. If we create a 500 calorie deficit of just any calories, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are using our fat stores as a result of the deficit.
Most apps or programs advocate creating a 500 calorie deficit through exercise and dietary restriction. Many programs seem to place all women at 1000-1200 no matter what. Has this been you before?
Frankly, it’s usually ridiculously low, and likely the cause of your progress plateau, weight gain, and even your running injury.
Just because we’re cutting out 500 calories a day, doesn’t mean that we’re cutting out 500 STORED FAT calories a day. Eliminating stored fat is the real key. We simply have to find a way to burn off 500 fat calories from our fat stores in order to lose weight and still maintain our metabolism.
For runners looking to improve their performance, the same applies. When accounting for the calories they’ve burned during a workout, runners benefit from knowing the truth of how many fat and carbohydrate calories they are burning. Fat calories don’t necessarily have to be replaced after a run, but non-fat carbohydrate and protein calories surely do.
Maintaining our metabolism is a big key to maintaining a healthy weight and performing our best. If we simply cut out dietary calories, we often can lose weight initially. Most of the time though, this technique leads to quick plateauing after losing about 7-10 pounds. Then, the wheels start falling off.
Metabolism slows as it tries to see what the body can live without building back up. The result is that injuries build up, hunger gets worse, we feel generally run down and depleted and we eventually have some kind of breaking point.
So, how do we solve this dilemma of balancing calories-in and calories-out while focusing on the right type of calories? How do we eat properly to fuel our performance and get the most out of every run? Luckily, there are some solutions.
First, although you can’t outrun a bad diet, dieting alone has a 99% failure rate. Combining diet and exercise is the key. The reason why dieting doesn’t work: we slow our metabolism down, stop the diet because of hunger, fatigue, injury, and the fact that we’re miserable and then return to eating the way we did before. Only now we have a slower metabolism. We tend to gain the weight back with interest!
Instead of dieting or taking supplements, focus on your eating pattern. Eat the right number of calories and eat a variety of REAL foods. No hard rules, expensive products, or weird extremes. Simply avoid foods that are manufactured and fake. You know, the things that didn’t exist 200 years ago. Eat real foods; things that grow and were alive and are as near to their natural form as possible while still being delicious!
Second, exercising will help you maintain your metabolism. Strength training and moderate cardio exercise help you maintain muscle while burning off stored fat. Remember that you have to create a fat calorie deficit to burn to actually lose the fat and shed pounds.
Strength training is important to help us maintain a healthy metabolism and is critical to running performance. Keeping our muscles strong helps preserve our metabolism because we keep our muscles in a state of needing calories to repair and perform their best. Strengthening the muscles we use for running also helps us to avoid poor running form and injury.
Cardiovascular exercise is also critical for maintaining our metabolism and is obviously a critical component to running. Training our bodies to keep going at the pace we want to achieve for a long enough period of time is simply a matter of metabolism. If we can train our bodies to burn more fat for a longer period of time before tapping into carb stores, then we can run much longer before we start to crash.
Keeping the right balance of a lot of moderate intensity cardio (the zone where we burn fat best), along with smaller amounts of high-intensity interval training (the zone where we make the most improvement), is the way to maximize your metabolism during training. This balance has a lot of scientific backing showing that keeping a ratio of 80% moderate/20% high intensity is the optimal way to speed up while slimming down and becoming a fat burning machine!
The third key to mastering calories-in/calories-out is to come and learn the exact math equation for your metabolism. If you are truly serious about improving your running and training your body to optimize fat burn, find out exactly how you burn calories. You do this by performing a series of metabolic tests.
The RMR test shows us exactly how many calories we should be eating. You simply place a mask on your face that gathers all of the air you breath. Based on how much oxygen and carbon dioxide you breath out we can tell exactly how many and what type of calories you have burned.
Getting a precise RMR tells us exactly how many calories you shouldn’t eat less than. An RMR is essentially how many calories your body would burn in a day of complete rest. If we eat fewer calories than this amount, our body won’t have enough fuel and we’ll force it to slow down.
Knowing your RMR is a critical component to maintaining a healthy metabolism, post workout recovery, and proper nutrition. Equally important is knowing how you burn calories while you exercise.
After doing these metabolic tests you can rest assured that you are getting enough building blocks to your body to adequately recover, build-up and get faster, and tap into the stored fat to maintain a healthy weight and improve your endurance. Knowing your metabolism will be the key to finding success in meeting all of your fitness goals.
Be a Goal-Getter
So, you wanna crush your fitness goals this year? Wondering where to get tested? Here at Body Smart we perform these metabolic tests to help people learn an EXACT calories-in/calories-out plan. We’re excited to serve you and help you get the most out of every run and every effort to maintain a healthy weight.
You probably have a lot of questions about how this all works and if it will work for you. I would love to answer your questions. Simply apply for one of our FREE 30-minute visits and we’ll talk about your goals to create a game plan to help you have the healthiest possible year of running.
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