Ajit Thandur, a coach and a runner talks about how exercise is not the single answer to your weight loss goal.
In all of my 10+ years of staying active via running, bicycling and swimming, I have met many an acquaintance who along the way have grown to become dear friends. They have come from different walks of life and different age groups but the one common thing amongst them is their enthusiasm for the sport and being active.
Like most amateur sports enthusiasts, nearly all of them started out with one of these sports for two reasons: (1) Fitness and (2) Staying in good health. The first words that come to mind when you think of these two reasons are “WEIGHT LOSS” – shed those extra kilos, shape up the midriff, reduce the waistline!
Thinking back now I find that only a small percentage of those people have been able to achieve their goal, while a vast majority have either achieved it partly or nothing at all. Exercise in any form (running, cycling, swimming, hitting the gym) is great for our body. It works our muscles, joints, builds flexibility, agility, improves our heart condition but it has a very minimal impact on weight-loss.
For long we have been wrongly made to believe that ‘eat less, burn more’ is the mantra for weight loss! Many poor souls I know believe this lopsided logic and actually, consider a workout such as a weekend half marathon run or a 100K bicycle ride or a 3K swim to be a qualifier for a lavish breakfast or dessert binge or plain binge eating and drinking.
The fact is that our body easily adapts to the increased quantum of exercise and tries to reduce normal activity and instigates increased intake of food.
We have been made to believe in the ‘calories in, calories out’ theory which we understand as ‘eat less, burn more. Consequently, we have equated the two to assume that a weight loss goal can be achieved with 50% from diet and 50% from exercise. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the diet has a 95% role to play in weight loss and exercise only 5% according to Dr. Jason Fung, a nephrologist and obesity researcher in Canada.
Let’s look into this a tad bit more.
Total Energy Expenditure = Basal Energy Expenditure + Voluntary Expenditure (Exercise).
- Basal Energy Expenditure is when our bodies depending on our characteristics (height and structure) will expend about 2200 to 2500 calories to maintain body heat, keep organs working, etc.
- Voluntary Expenditure is energy spent through physical activity (walking around, general movement and exercise). For e.g. A 10k run for instance expends about 300 calories. For e.g. A 10k run, for instance, expends about 300 calories.
As you can see our body is capable of burning a lot more fuel than we can with exercise. For weight loss, we need to rely on a diet almost completely.
It, therefore, becomes important to understand food as a whole and to be able to do that we need to first understand scientifically which of these macronutrients- carbohydrates, fat, and protein make one fat.
Let us see how each of these macronutrients break down to upon digestion:
- Carbohydrates – glucose
- Fat- ketones
- Protein- amino acids
Now how does the body use and manage glucose, ketones, and amino acids?
On digestion of carbs, the glucose enters the blood. After the body has used as much glucose required for energy to support various physical activities the hormone insulin converts the excess glucose to glycogen and stores it away in the liver and muscle cells. If there is still an excess of glucose in the blood and it can’t be stored away as glycogen in the liver and muscle cells, insulin converts it to fat.
Good fat, as in saturated fat such as butter, ghee, animal fat, etc. break down on digestion to ketones. The body is as capable of using ketones for energy as it does with glucose.
On digestion, proteins break down to amino acids which are essential for the maintenance and growth of muscles. However, an excess of proteins more than what is required for muscle maintenance will be converted to glucose.
And now we come to the big question: what is it that leads to fat accumulation in our body?
And the answer is: an excess of glucose.
And the source: Carbohydrates.
If we understand the science behind these facts, it becomes clear that if losing weight is your prime goal, you need to regulate the consumption of not calories in general but calories from carbohydrates.
Some of the biggest contributors to this are direct sugars that we use with coffee/tea, sweets, pastries, chocolates, ice creams, as well as all refined carbohydrates such as refined flour, pasta, bread, and polished rice to name a few.
When we cut down on carbohydrates, we give the body the opportunity to use ketones for energy which is fat burning. This process of burning fat or ketones for energy happens only after the excess glucose in the blood is taken care of. We must ensure that we give our body the opportunity to become fat adapted.
How does one make the body fat adapted? How does one make the body use body fat for fuel and not glucose? By cutting down on glucose you are cutting down on carbs. This can be achieved with greater ease by fasting. Intermittent fasting is a great tool to achieve fat burning for energy.
This is a huge subject and to get a better understanding of this, I have included a couple of links for reference:
Being an endurance sportsperson for the past 10 years, I would also like to add here my own personal experience with weight loss in the last 4 years.
At the peak of my endurance sports training 4 years ago when I was 72 kilos, I used to put in 75K running, 100K bicycling and 6K swimming a week. At that time, I was a carbohydrate fan – lots of rice, low fat, high protein and lots and lots of gels, hydration sugars and salts. About 4 years ago, I decided to start on a low carbohydrate, high fat and medium protein regime along with intermittent fasting. The results were staggering – I dropped to 57 kilos with a lower and easier workout pattern of about 45K running and 6K swimming a week. Since then, I have been at 57 kilos.
In closing, I have this to say – exercise is excellent for good health and overall well-being but it’s not your magic potion for weight-loss.