While exercise has long been seen as a primary factor in maintaining your weight, what we put in our body plays the greatest role in weight management. Our Head Nutritionist Brooke explains why you can’t over-exercise your way out of a poor diet.
“Calorie counting makes sense to many people because it’s a simple math equation, but bodies are extremely complicated and how they work varies from person to person. So while the calorie counting method seems like a sure-fire way to drop pounds, research continues to show that the number of calories you burn throughout the course of a day has more to do with what you eat than how much,” Brooke told us.
So just because you can “burn” calories, that doesn’t mean that the food you put into your body disappears—it still has an impact on how you feel, energy levels for exercise, digestion, and just about everything else related to how your body functions.
NOT ALL CALORIES ARE CREATED EQUAL
The calories you take in from vegetables, healthy fats, and fiber-rich grains have a different impact on your body than nutrient-poor foods. “For example,” Brooke explained, “100 calories coming from a high-sugar food will cause a big spike to your blood sugar and lead to hunger shortly after. 100 calories from fat, protein, or high-fiber foods will help keep you feeling more satisfied and full for longer.” So if you’re exercising regularly, you’ll want to find foods that fuel your body, not ones that cause chaos.
MAKE ROOM FOR MACROS
In general, foods are made up of three major macronutrients—fats, protein, and carbs. “It’s important to pay attention to the balance of macronutrients in our diet because this is usually what recommendations are based on,” Brooke said. “Start by taking inventory of what you’re eating using tracking apps like Apple Health (where you can also monitor your exercise). You’ll be able to see a breakdown of your macronutrients to establish a baseline, and then you can make tweaks to your diet from there.”
PAIR EXERCISE WITH PROTEIN
Not only has protein been shown to help keep you feeling full throughout the day, it’s also been associated with maintaining your weight by increasing energy expenditure and resting metabolic rate.
For those who are exercising on a regular basis, a slightly higher protein intake has been linked to improved muscle recovery.
CONSIDER LIMITING CARBS
A recent study showed that those on a lower-carb, higher-fat diet had higher energy expenditure than those eating a higher-carb, moderate-protein, low-fat diet.
To see how adjusting your carbs affects your workouts, start tracking how food makes you feel along with your new eating and fitness routines. When eating carbs, more fiber is better—fiber has been widely known to help stabilize blood sugar and curb hunger and cravings. This is one of the benefits of whole grains like the ones we use in our meals, like brown rice, wild rice, and quinoa.
DON’T FEAR FAT
If you do eat lower carb, you should consume more protein and fat to reach the same goals for calories. Fats make up a large percentage of our brain and are critical to the body for many reasons, like maintaining healthy cells and hormone production, and are important for healthy joints and bones, making them critical for muscle recovery and repair.
STAY FULL LONGER
Higher protein and higher fat have been shown to taper the blood sugar response, helping to keep you feeling full longer. As mentioned above, high-sugar/high-carb meals have been shown to cause a rapid rise and drop in blood sugar, leading to more cravings for more high-sugar/high-carb foods.