Fitness Fun

Are Your Workouts Sabotaging Your Diet?

Exercise and nutrition go together like peanut butter and jam. We need physical activity to complete our healthy lifestyle, and staying active motivates us to make other healthy choices.

Or does it?

Not always. According to a forthcoming study in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health, sometimes our workouts actually cause us to choose worse!

Watching the dietary patterns of regular exercisers, mindless eating guru Brian Wansink and his colleagues spotted several not-so-healthy food beliefs as a result of exercise. Over time, these mistaken exercise-nutrition beliefs can lead to a fat loss plateau or even weight gain.

Are you undermining your workout results? See if any of these diet beliefs are holding you back from your ideal shape…

Habit #1: Thinking You’re Home Free

donut choice

Wansink and his colleagues found that regular exercisers will often justify a calorie splurge “because they exercised this morning” or “because they’re going to exercise tonight.” If you always burn exactly the amount of excess calories you eat, the danger of weight gain over time is less. But it’s hard for the average person to calculate this accurately, they note. The risk of over-compensating is high… and there’s also the risk that you don’t make it to the gym later, after all.

Habit #2: Using Food Rewards

burger and fries
A number of people in the study promised themselves a treat as a “reward” to get motivated to work out. This builds off thinking you’re home free, calorie-wise, but might be even worse if a reward to you is something high in sugar or fat.

Sugar, salt, saturated fat and preservatives can contribute to fat gain, inflammation and increased risk of disease, even if your daily run “equals” the number of calories in stuffed crust pizza. The occasional cheat meal is no biggie, but being dependent on sweet, high fat foods every time you exercise could spell trouble. It’s important to remember there’s more to a healthy diet than “calories in, calories out.”

Habit #3: Misunderstanding What It Means to Refuel


Regular exercisers, up to 5 hours per week, don’t really need more food than the general population, the researchers say. Most people don’t need to “carbo load” and, in fact, they add: “the benefits of exercise can be wiped out in minutes by the consumption of high-energy, high-fat foods.”

When I talk about refueling in the Shape Up Challenge, I’m showing you foods that are going to help you have a steady energy supply before a workout, and recover and facilitate lean muscle development after a workout. But it’s NOT just packing in a bunch of calories to “compensate.” It’s a balance of protein, carbs and (minimal) fats, and we’re only talking a couple hundred calories.

Habit #4: Overeating on Rest Day

Table with food and drink

Some study participants also had a tendency to eat more on non-exercise days, simply because they had more spare time. This is fine as long as you’re keeping an eye on your calories, but be prepared to curb the munchies if you tend to get bored during your downtime.

Sometimes our attitudes about eating are worsened by exercise, but on the bright side, the researchers noticed that people were more likely to eat clean shortly before their workout. As anyone who’s ever tried to eat fast food before exercise knows, it doesn’t work out so well.

Key takeaway: Our exercise and diet habits are closely intertwined. That’s why it’s important to have an exercise nutrition strategy like the one we provide in Shape Up Challenge that includes correctly fueling your workouts *and* managing cravings and misconceptions that might come from exercise.

What do you think? Does exercise ever influence your eating habits for better or worse?

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Lindsey Mathews

Lindsey Mathews

Head Trainer

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