Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Great Exercise Debate

Everyone in the world of health and fitness is talking about John Cloud's article in Time magazine, "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin." Mr. Cloud makes the claim that "fiery spurts of vigorous exercise could lead to weight gain." He writes that he is more hungry on the days that he does cardio and therefore, he eats more on those days. He also feels that he is more sedentary during his non-exercise hours than he would be if he didn't exercise.

This attention-grabbing headline may have sold some magazines, but the article has been criticized as one of the most poorly researched pieces of all time. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world, released a statement as a rebuttal to Mr. Cloud's article. Janet Rankin, Ph.D, FACSM, an expert in nutrition and exercise put it this way: "A practical response to the claim that exercise makes you eat more and gain weight is to look around. If this were the case, wouldn't those who regularly exercise be the fattest? Obviously that isn't the case."

I am in complete agreement with the ACSM, of course. My dear husband (DH) and I have been known to eat a cookie and then comment, "Well that cancelled out this morning's workout." Exercising does not give you license to eat whatever you want - at least not if you hope to lose weight or maintain your weight. When I'm working out on the elliptical or treadmill, I often think back to 2001 when I was completing my AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Associate of America) group exercise instructor certification. I remember being on the treadmill for 30 minutes and then our instructor telling us how many calories we had burned and what it equated to in terms of food. It wasn't much.

We have some great twenty-somethings who work in my office and who seem to have speedier metabolisms than those of us who are headed to the big 4-0. When they offer me chips, my response is usually, "Oh, no thanks, I get up waaaaayyy too early in the morning for that." You see, I have a choice: beauty sleep or early morning workouts. And I usually pick the latter. So if I eat chips at 3 pm, my snack has cancelled out my spin class and I lost out on precious sleep so I have to buy more of my $100 eye cream. Not good.

I agree with Mr. Cloud that I often feel hungrier on the days that I take Spin or when I run. But it is no license to eat high calorie snacks with low NuVal scores. I often reach for one of my Top Ten Favorite Foods and I try to incorporate protein throughout the day. When I get home from the gym in the early morning, my DH is usually whipping up some scrambled eggs following his basement gym workout. His recipe is 4 eggs whites, 1 egg and a little skim milk. Eggs have a NuVal score of 33. We pair them up with a cereal that contains protein and we're good to go.

I've always been more of a veggie girl than a carnivore, but I know that protein is important and I do eat it in all forms. I wrote a lot about some non-meat protein sources (skim milk, greek yogurt, chick peas, almonds) in my Top Ten Post, so here is some information on Meat and Seafood. As you can imagine, Seafood has the higher median score at 81, compared with a median of 28 for Meat.

Here are some sample seafood scores:
Salmon Fillet 87
Cod Fillet 82
Shrimp 75
Haddock 64
Lobster 36

and some meat scores:
Skinless Turkey Breast 48
Boneless Chicken Breast 39
Beef Tenderloin 30
Ground Sirloin (90% lean) 30
Ground Chuck (80% lean) 26

In this day and age, when obesity statistics are off the charts and most Americans do not meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity, the Time headline was probably the last thing we needed. I often think of the people in the movie WALL-E. As the centuries wore on and life got more automated, they got fatter and fatter. They could barely lift up their Slurpees, never mind sit up. Thanks for the advice Mr. Cloud, but I think I'll stick to my plan!


  1. I also am not a huge fan of the meat proteins. I do love Groundsmart though. It is made by Lightlife and can be found at WholeFoods and Stop and Shop in the produce section. It is a vegetable protein and has very little calories. It contains lots of protein and it tastes good. I make burritos with the Joseph's Flax seed wraps (from the top ten list)a third of a package of Groundsmart a bit of Cabot Lite cheese and a few jalapenos. Cook for ome minute in the microwave and presto... Mexican lunch done healthy packed with protein. Whole Foods has the taco flavor which I find best! JLM

  2. Well said Melissa. And when I am working out on a regular basis, I don't really crave high-fat snacks. My body just wants healthier, lighter food, like veggies, fruit, or fish.