15 January 2010

I Drank What? Socrates, Nutrition, and Enurance

A family member who is hoping to take off a little weight recently asked me this question regarding nutrition: "Will I lose weight if I limit my daily caloric intake to just 1500 calories?" She continued "I have a coworker that said in order to lose weight, I should limit the number of calories I eat in a day to just 1500. That does not seem reasonable to me, I like to eat." First, I always have to preface these types of posts by submitting the disclaimer—I am not a nutritionist. As far as exercise and nutrition go, I am largely an autodidactic. I think someone once told me—or perhaps I am coining this myself—that the only real learning we do is what we figure out on our own. Like composing, I learned a lot about what works with my own musical rhetoric by trial and error. In the pool, I get several tips about my swimming technique (both encouraged and completely unsolicited.) I could have Michael Phelps coaching me, but unless I have that "aha!" moment myself moving across the pool, all that coaching will only encourage me to be more aware about said technique. Socrates was one wise dude when he said "I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think, or who more famously said—according to actor Val Kilmer in his portrayal of Chris Knight in the greatest film ever made about lasers liquidating human
targets from outer space, Real Genius—"I drank what?"  But I digress.  I am, however, passionate about inspiring and motivating people to make healthier decisions about their nutrition, and encourage them to maintain an active lifestyle. Secondly, as someone who has been known to scarf down two pounds of cavatelli and broccoli for lunch,  I am not an authority on how to limit your daily caloric intake to a mere 1500 calories. My life revolves around my next meal. Terrible, right?  I love to eat. However, I have noticed a symbiotic relationship regarding the volume of training that I engage in and my appetite. Sure, initially I eat much more as the volume increases. I have to. Eventually, my intake regulates itself and I maintain a lower, leaner overall body weight. In other words, I eat a lot more initially, but then my body learns to regulate its appetite so I don't eat butter at four in the morning. 

You can and should eat more after hard workouts. There are days after a long bike, or hard swim that I spend the rest of the day grazing and drinking enough water to qualify as genus Camelus dromedarius (thanks Wikipedia!) As for my relative, she goes out for brisk half hour walks most days during her lunch break, and during the summer months—rides her bike and continues her walking. She is active, but her workout intensity is moderate at best. What that means is that she is not going to burn the same amount of calories during her workouts as someone who works out a a higher intensity.  Case in point: I met this guy at the gym in his mid 30's who said he had recently taken off more than one hundred pounds. I 
told him that was amazing and asked him how he did it. In a very matter-of-fact sort of way, he responded "Eat less, work out more," and then followed it up with a "duh!" I later discovered that not only did this guy work out, but he had become a hardcore cardio junkie, hitting the elliptical machine, treadmill, or stationary bike hard for a half hour to fourty-five minutes until he was red in the face and sweating from head to toe. 

When my cousin lived with us for the summer and took off 72 pounds, I had to totally revamp the way he thought about food and exercise. Exercise does not have to be this thing that we "do," but a way of life. More, when you exercise, and you are trying to lose weight or maintain some type of athletic performance, it is suppose to be tough, so that you can work out your heart and be more fit. You have to start somewhere, but at some point, I encourage people wanting to lose weight to ramp up the intensity of their exercise and stop ordering dessert. Calories are calories, but what types of foods you get them from and what types of nutrients they have are important as well. For instance, a half cup of broccoli has 12 calories and 0.2 grams of fat compared to one square of your average brownie that has 200 calories and 3 grams of fat. Have you ever eaten just one brownie? Puuuleeeasse!   

The body does burn a higher percentage of calories from fat in the 'fat burning zone' or at lower intensities.  But, at higher intensities, you burn a greater number of overall calories which is what you should be concerned about when trying to lose weight. The chart below details the fat calories expended by a 130-pound woman during cardio exercise:

The following table was taken from  The 24/5 Complete Personal Training Manual, 24 Hour Fitness, 2000:

Low Intensity - 60-65% MHR
High Intensity - 80-85% MHR
Total Calories expended per min.
Fat Calories expended per min.
Total Calories expended in 30 min.
Total Fat calories expended in 30 min.
Percentage of fat calories burned
In the above table, the woman will not only burn more total calories, but more fat calories at a higher level of intensity. Should you only do high intensity workouts? NO Endurance workouts should be a staple of your fitness training, along with shorter, higher intensity workouts, or interval training—toggling back and forth between low intensity endurance and fast paced sprints—which are a great way to burn calories and build endurance.  

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