Should I eat my exercise calories?
And thus ends the shortest blog post in Fresh Evolution history.
Ok, Ok, I’m joking, sort of.
The real answer is, it depends.
I’ve spoken in person and answered this question a few times. I actually seem to get this one pretty often, so I figured it would make a good blog post to help solidify the answer for anyone still wondering.
Much like anything else in life, this isn’t a simple cut and dry answer. There are many facets to it, including your current weight and body fat %, your goal weight and body fat %, athletic goals (if any), activity level when you’re not working out, your current level of nutritional compliance (sounds intimidating, I know, but really it’s just how well are you following what your trainer has suggested, nutritionally speaking) and a few other variables.
Sometimes I like writing blog posts in the multiple thousands of words, when I feel they need to be that long. Other times, I like to keep it simple. This will hopefully be one of those times.
If you are at a much higher weight and/or body fat % than where you want to be, in order to be happy and comfortable in your own skin…
If you do not have specific athletic goals or ambitions of being a gym badass…
If you lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle…
And if you don’t follow the nutritional planning and coaching that you and your trainer has agreed upon…
Then NO, I would say you shouldn’t eat back your exercise calories.
*NOTE* There are always exceptions to every rule, and heck, the above paragraph isn’t even a rule, so there’s that. If you are overweight, but you’re going so beastmode in your workouts that your burning 1500 calories and you should be eating 1400 daily, then yes, please eat your calories. Why? BECAUSE YOU NEED TO LIVE. You can’t lose weight if you’re dead. Well…I mean, you would, but you wouldn’t be alive to enjoy the new you, so ummm, what’s the point?
Now, at this point some of you may be wondering if you fit into the above categories or weight, ability, lifestyle and nutritional habits. These may be rough definitions, but they’ll give you good ideas of where you fit in.
If you have more than 40 pounds as a woman, or more than 30 pounds as a man, to lose to be healthy, I would refrain from eating back exercise calories (let’s say EBEC, from here, I have a feeling I’ll be typing that a lot today, lol)
If you need to lose between 20-40 pounds as a woman, or 20-30 pounds as a man, I would say you can EBEC, but do so sparingly. Perhaps on exhausting days with particularly hard workouts. People in this category can use the way they feel; energy levels, mood, clarity of thought, etc., as a means to gauge if they should be increasing their food intake.
So why does your weight and body fat % matter here? In the spirit of Fire Marshall Bill, “Lemme tell ya something!!” (If that one flew over your head, I ask that you please google the character right now. I may be showing my age, but Jim Carrey was the man back in the day.) Your weight and body fat are important because of what they are…stored fuel, right? If you eat too much food (fuel) and your body doesn’t require it at the moment of eating, as is often the case in this day and age of supersized and incorrect portion control, your body goes into super smart, awesome survival mode and stores those calories, mostly in the form of fat.
So fat is fuel. Right? And when we have too much fuel, we want to burn it up, right? We don’t want to feed more fuel into the already existing fuel. If your gas tank if full, you don’t stop by the gas station, pull out the pump, and start pouring out more gallons. Same basic principle with weight loss. If we have high amounts of excess weight to lose, we need to look at it as fuel to be burned. Your body will replenish itself from the workouts you do from that fuel. It’s not as efficient as proper nutrition, but as you lose the stored weight, you’ll slowly increase your amount of food, including EBEC.
If you have athletic ambitions, proper and fast recovery is important to improving your performance. In this case, I would suggest EBEC.
If you work a desk job, or no job…if you spend the majority of your day seated in a chair (duh, Andy, as opposed to what, a cactus?) or laying on the couch, chances are your metabolism is fairly low. If this is the case, I would again refrain from EBEC. When your metabolism slows to a crawl, you can use food more sparingly. Of course, the best option would be to get up off your butt. If at work, get a standing desk like some of the awesome members here have (feel free to share pics or links in the comments of your set ups). If you’re at home, get up and be active. Trust me, I get it. The day is long, and can be draining. But if you have the chance, get up during commercial breaks, or set a timer to go off every 20 or 30 minutes so you can get up and walk around a bit, away from the computer or tv…or stamp collection, if that’s your thing.
(On a related note, I HIGHLY suggest getting a fitness tracker like an UP or FitBit. I’ve seen firsthand the difference they can make. Just knowing that you’re racking up a step count and competing, with yourself or with friends and family, can be a big motivator.)
On the other hand, if you’re fairly lean, trying to lose that last 5-15 pounds, want to focus more on strength gains and not weight loss, if you don’t get much food throughout the day…these are considerations that I would use to suggest that EBEC would be appropriate. I do feel like the majority of our members are more focused on weight loss, and as such, I think will fit into the first category. It’s really only once you’ve hit a majority of your weight loss, and you’re in the home stretch of that long-term goal, that you want to consider EBEC.
If you’re still confused or have questions about anything in the article, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll answer them asap.
I could definitely go on for another 1000 words, but in the spirit of saving your eyeballs, and my workout time this morning, I’m going to wrap this one up. I hope this has answered some of your questions.
Now go forward, be awesome, get a great workout and choose your calories wisely!