I’ve been hitting the gym three to four times per week for the past few years. During this time I have made the acquaintance of quite a few other regulars. One thing I noted was that, although disciplined in their attendance and workout habits, many have failed to lose any appreciable amount of weight and body fat. Many had large bellies that displayed visceral fat (the unhealthy type), as opposed to abdominal muscle. (OK, I used my son-in-law for this picture, and he obviously doesn’t fit the mold of having a lot of abdominal fat; but the price was right to get him as a model!) During the course of many locker room conversations, several members revealed that, although being good about exercising, they could not say the same in regard to their eating habits. After sweating away for an hour or more they would go home and eat the same way they always did – high-fat, high-calorie foods and beverages.
Granted they are probably much healthier given their penchant for moving their muscles. And they definitely are burning calories, so they can consume more calories than another their age, gender and size without gaining a lot of weight. But they are unable to lose the excess weight they have because they’ve not addressed their food and beverage choices and portion sizes.
A little nutrition analysis software snooping revealed calorie counts for some popular fast food fare:
Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger = 980 calories
Crisscut French Fries = 450 calories
Vanilla Malt – 780 calories
Chocolate Cake = 300 calories
Burger King Double Whopper with cheese = 1250 calories
Onion rings, large = 490 calories
Dutch Apple Pie = 320 calories
Vanilla Shake = 667 calories
Cinnamon roll = 400 calories
Triple Baconator = 1330 calories
Chicken nuggets, 10 pieces = 470 calories
French fries, large = 540 calories
Barq’s Root Beer, large = 300 calories
Frosty, vanilla, large = 520 calories
Bacon, Egg and Cheese Bagel = 630 calories
Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese = 750 calories
French fries, large = 500 calories
McCafe Frappe, Chocolate Chip = 530 calories
Strawberry and Crème Pie = 310 calories
Personal Pan Pizza = 590 calories
Ok, you get the idea. If you don’t make good food choices you can bust your calorie budget in no time. But gosh we’re going to the gym so it’s ok right? Wrong! Let’s see how much of the above-mentioned foods and beverages you can “exercise away:”*
Aerobics, high impact = 533 calories/hour
Aerobics, low impact = 365 calories/hour
Bicycling, leisure pace = 292 calories/hour
Hiking = 438 calories/hour
Resistance/Weight training = 365 calories/hour
Running, 5 mph = 606 calories/hour
Swimming laps = 423 calories/hour
Walking, 2 mph = 204 calories/hour
Walking, 3.5 mph = 314 calories/hour
* based on a 160-pound person
So getting it into perspective, if you ate a Triple Baconator (1330 calories) you would need to walk at a moderate pace for about 4 hours and 15 minutes to burn off the calories. And this is without the fries and a drink! A Snickers bar has 280 calories, so you would have to walk for almost an hour for this indulgence.
Don’t get me wrong; I believe most foods are ok in moderation. And that’s the key – moderation. Most of us have our indulgences regarding food and beverage, but we can’t consume them as if they represented dietary staples. Balance, variety and moderation in our food and beverage choices will supply us with the nutrition we need for health while keeping us within our calorie budget. Coupling low-fat, low-calorie choices from the Five Food Groups with regular activity will help ensure that we maintain our health and achieve/maintain an appropriate weight.
Nutritionist Pro, Axxya Systems (nutrition analysis software).
Adapted: Ainsworth BE, et al. 2011 compendium of physical activities: A second update of codes and MET values. Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise. 2011;43:1575.