A good diet and regular exercise is not always easy to accomplish as a college student. Busy class schedule, mountains of homework, job, and no money are all roadblocks that prevent us from keeping the body fit and healthy during the college years. But have no fear! Over a series of articles in the coming months, we’ll battle through this together as I attempt to uncover the truth about diet and exercise. I’ll be tackling the tough questions, one at a time, to separate the truth from the lies. I’ll be depending largely on reader questions, so don’t hold back (see the comments section below!).
Today I’ll tackle fitness myth #1 - Exercise Can Overcome a High Calorie Diet
Simple math is the name of the game today. Generally speaking, 1 pound of body tissue is equal to between 2,800 and 3,700 Calories, where 1 Calorie is the amount of potential energy that can raise 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Celcius. So simply, if you are able to create a Calorie deficit of around 3,500, you will lose 1 pound of body weight. Although there are many intricacies that complicate this simplistic view, the “calories in = calories out” model is fine as it pertains to this discussion.
Today we will use running as the mode of exercise while exploring our question. I chose running as the example because per unit time, running burns more calories than all but the most intense “full-body” activities. Based upon a recent Syracuse University study, the average male burns 124 Calories per mile of running while the average female burns 105 Calories.
So now you are Joe Freshman, running 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. This is quite admirable for the average college student, and good for Joe! He is doing a lot good for his body with this consistent training. But how many Calories is he actually burning? Assuming Joe is running 3.5 miles every 30 minutes, he is burning just over 2000 Calories directly from running per week. Yes, additional calories are burnt after exercise from metabolic increase, but fewer than you may think. To be generous, lets say that Joe burns 3,000 calories per week with his formal exercise program. That’s almost 1 pound per week, right?
Not so fast. Joe is now going to be hungrier due to his workout. The 500 or so calorie deficit he created from this run very quickly are erased. All it takes is a protein shake and half a sandwich and the Caloric deficit Joe worked so hard to create is now gone. Go to Jim’s Steakout one night and eat just one footlong sub and guess what? You’ve erased your entire week’s deficit in one meal!!! Chicken wings? You don’t even want to know.
What is the point of my Joe Freshman case study? Certainly not that exercise is bad; in fact, it is one of the best things you can do for yourself for reasons upon reasons. But can exercise overcome a high Calorie diet? Absolutely not. When it comes to weight loss, diet trumps exercise as the most important factor. Every. Single. Time.
How many calories are you really burning? Runners World. 2012. http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-242-304-311-8402-0,00.html