Exercise – personal experience – part 2

This blog has attracted a few comments – any suggestion that exercise is not going to make a person slim usually does!

I also did a circular to some journalists recently and used a phrase that I have often used to make a point: “we can eat in one minute what can take an hour to burn off”. I gave the example that I could spend an hour in the gym and then have a cappuccino in the cafe and, in terms of calories, I would have not used up as many as I consumed. “Really?” said one journalist. It is meant to be an estimation to make a point, but I thought I’d try it out on my own stats…

This is a good site to use for calories burned doing different things. I find it quite easy to use, it has many activities listed and it helpfully will retain the last activity you put in, so that you can build up a few, as desired. That last bit was particularly helpful for this analysis:

For me – weight 110lbs, I would do the following in an hour in a gym (trying to remember what I did when I last went to a gym about 10-15 years ago!)
– 5 mins stretching
– 10 minutes on the exercise bike
– 10 mins power walking on the treadmill
– 30 mins on the various machines/free weights etc around the gym
– 5 mins stretching
(No time allowed for chatting, drinking and trying to lip read Sky News!)

This would add up to 195 calories (heavier people would clock up more).
A cappuccino (proper milk, chocolate on top) can easily be 200 cals and hence I would not even use up the drink.

PLUS – here’s the killer point that I only worked out last year (and which was the purpose of the original “Exercise – personal experience” blog) – all calculations on calorie burn calculators take into account BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) – what your body would burn anyway if you were lying in bed all day dying of swine flu. Hence exercise has to be viewed as the difference (the extra) between what you would have been doing anyway and what you did do.

If I wrote at the PC for an hour, I would burn 90 calories. Hence I would burn an extra 105 by going to the gym and drink almost double this afterwards and then people think they’ve earned a 300-400 calorie muffin – forget it!

Don’t worry – none of this has much to do with weight loss. Weight loss is about breaking down triglyceride (body fat), which has everything to do with glucose (and hence carbs) and not much to do with calories (unless those calories are empty processed food calories – especially processed carbs).

Eat real food, stay low enough in carb/glucose/glycogen to let you body burn it’s own fat for fuel and then give it no reason not to. That’s what weight loss is about.

13 thoughts on “Exercise – personal experience – part 2

  • If your only burning 200 calories in an hour at the gym your wasting your time.

    If you are properly exercising you can burn 500-1000 calories as you get fitter, my own personal exercise of choice kettlebells is one of the best for this. And that doesnt include EPOC, post exercise burn.

  • It is logical that doing aerobic for burning calories is very inefficient but what about strength training for preserving muscle? Does a good diet in itself create a good enough hormonal environment to stay strong or is there a risk to burn muscle too, without the stimulus from training? Also, are there hormonal benefits of training?
    Thank you for the blog.:)

  • Hi

    I used to work as a sales Rep, door to door, and because of this walked five hours a day, for five days a week, I did this for about 6 years. My legs became very strong, and I was physcially fit, but none of this exercise enabled me to eat copious amounts and not put on weight. I maintained a slim body by healthy eating, and by not over eating. When I tell people about how much exercise I used to get, they seem to think that I would have been able to eat loads of food all the time. But that was not the case at all. Although exercise does you good, can help your fitness,heart,and stamina, but it is what you eat which will crucially decide whether you are overweight or not.

  • I know that exercising doesn’t do much in the way of losing weight, but does that mean we should keep repeating it? I think it would be hard to find 2 people who both eat healthy food but one sits on the couch all day and maybe goes for a walk and the other uses his muscle and heart a’s nature intended (I hear the words- early humans weren’t eating processed foods thrown around a lot on here. They didn’t go for brisk walks once a day either) and they’re both exactly as healthy. I love this diet, but exercise not being crucial to one thing in your life shouldn’t even need to be mentioned. People don’t need less excuses to get off the couch, they need more. With that said, I love The diet, Zoe. :)

  • help:-} I have taken up Nordic Walking which i love, but i cant seem to get my food correct and start to feel light headed half way round. i usually eat organic yogurt in the morning or eggs before i go but its not working. I am worried that if i have porridge i won’t lose any wight. Any suggestions?


  • Thanks for that. I certainly go for pork and crackling when I have it after training.

    The reason it doesn’t make sense to me is that if I just ignore it (ie don’t eat carbs in those 30 minutes) it doesn’t appear to affect my performance the next day.

    The whole low carb thing is taking off a little with endurance athletes especially the one I come into contact with and there’s a real appetite for someone really explaining how this more natural way of eating works for endurance athletes. I’m sure there’s a tonne of misinformation out there – for instance the huge requirement for carbs – I do long training sessions on low carb.

    One thing I wonder whether you can clear up. If someone eats excess carbs what is the process they go through. Am I right in thinking the insulin released means the sugars in the blood not taken up by the muscles or stored in the liver is converted to fat in the liver and then picked up by the fat cells for storage.

    Look forward to hearing what Bruce adds


    • Hi Steven – yes is the answer to the final question. Here’s an extract from one of the “Diet & Health today” e-zines we do in the club every fortnight. This came from a presentation that Barry Groves did at the Weston Price Foundation conference in London March 2011.

      “In the slide below” (sorry – I can’t post it on here – but the words describe what’s happening), “Barry highlights the normal range for our blood glucose levels – 0.8 to 1.1 grams of glucose per litre of blood. Let’s say we wake up with our blood glucose levels at the lower end of normal (which would be likely after our overnight ‘fast’), then an average person with an average of 5 litres of blood has 5 times 0.8 grams of glucose in their blood stream = 4 grams. With glucose approximating to 4 calories per gram, this equates to about 16 calories of glucose.
      If the same person were at the upper end of the normal blood glucose range – 1.1 grams per litre, they would have 5.5 grams of glucose in their blood stream i.e. 22 calories.
      OMG! Any more than 6 calories of glucose for breakfast and we are out of the normal blood glucose range, the pancreas is being woken up to release insulin to get us back to normal and the high/low blood glucose has started for most modern humans. No wonder we (in the club) find that we are doing best on a bacon and egg breakfast! Those having a great, fat breakfast leave the pancreas well alone until they have some salad/veg at lunchtime.”

      I quote this to show the tiny amount of glucose that the blood stream can tolerate before it does exactly what you say – clear it out of the blood stream. Any glucose beyond this tiny amount is turned into glycogen by insulin and then stored in the liver. If not used in c. a 24 hr period, it is stored as fat elsewhere in the body. (Noting that fat – triglyceride – can only be stored when glycerol is available to form the triglyceride structure and insulin is needed to store fat in the fat cells. So, eat loads of glucose every day (the eatbadly plate) and you have both glycerol and insulin continually available and you are continually able to store fat.)

      I like the low carb fuel plan for endurance exercise – I’ve heard of people doing this! How you balance carbs/glucose going in and trying to use it before insulin takes it out of the blood stream, I don’t know! Must be close to hypos a lot of the time!

      Best wishes – Zoe

    • Hi Steven – here is what Bruce adds – I asked him about the glycogen window particularly:

      “The ability of the muscle to resynthesise glycogen after exercise is dependent on the diet. During the recovery if adequate carbs are ingested (0.7gCHO /kg body wt) the maximum rate of resynthesis approximates 7to10mmol/kg net weight with minimum synthesis occuring without carb ingestion(sorry smiles).
      Recent studies on the Glycemic Index and its effect of post exercise carbohydrate consumption suggest that it may not be a factor as long as sufficient carbs are consumed these will stimulate insulin and will likely increase glycogen repletion. However there is evidence that following 90mins of endurance exercise the consumption of low glycemic index carbs improves performance during a similar exercise the following day. This could be the result of glycogen sparing resulting from an increase in fatty acid oxidation. Until such claims have been clearly and scientifically established athletes should more carefully consider the amount rather than the type of carbohydrate ingested post exercise. Carbohydrate ingestion post exercise has been repeatedly shown to increase post-exercise glycogen repletion.”

      This is the guy who has worked with everyone from Steve Ovett to Steve Redgrave, so he is very much coming from the angle of eating for optimal performance. I only care about eating to help people reach and maintain a healthy weight and we have such great rows, because these two reasons for eating, in many ways, could hardly be more different!

      Hope this helps!
      Best wishes – Zoe
      p.s. the reference to “smiles” is that he can’t resist pointing out every time carbs are ‘good’ for something. I do the same back with fat!

  • Hi Jean,

    The weight-loss can be explained by the fact that you have created a calorie deficit. This works in the short term like the fact that Weight Watchers does – However, the body will soon learn to expect the lower level of calories available for energy and will do its level best to function at this lower level. To then lose more weight; you will need to increase this calorie deficit even more (by eating less or exercising more) and again your body will reset its metabolism.

    The best way to lose weight is to ditch sugar and processed foods and not mix fats and carbs – give the body a chance to use up its fat reserves.

    I lost 43lbs in 9 months eating like a pig but eating real food and cutting back carbs.

    I have never felt as healthy as I do now – My snoring and reflux stopped litereally overnight.

    I walk now as it is kind to the knees and doesn’t make me hungry.



    • Many thanks for this Mat & Hi Jean! Mat is right – this is just the same as if you had created a short term calorie deficit and we know that they do work short term (rarely beyond 6 months). Here’s the chart for 80 weight loss studies – some exercise alone (the yellow line) and many diet and exercise. At about 6 months regain starts whenever/however a calorie deficit has occurred. Not always – but a 1959 study showed that it happens in 98% of cases. We sincerely hope that you’re in the 2%!

      Gary Taubes in “Why we get fat” also talks about “The elusive benefits of exercise” in Chapter 3. My favourite observation in this chapter is as follows – Paul Williams and Peter Wood published a study in 2006 – they had been studying 13,000 runners over many years and noticed that all tended to get fatter year after year. Williams and Wood came to the conclusion that runners needed to run further and further every year to stay the same weight. This fascinated me because it’s the ‘do more’ equivalent of ‘eat less’. It is so obvious that you can’t think why this hasn’t been spotted before. Calorie counters get to the point that they need to continually eat less to maintain weight, let alone to lose any more. Why would it be different for those trying to maintain weight by doing more? A brilliant study and observation.

      Hope this is interesting!
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  • I’m really puzzled by this. After years of staying the same weight (more than I wanted to be) and getting very little exercise, I bought a treadmill and began exercising on it regularly. This was five months ago. As my fitness improved I was able to increase the speed and length of my treadmilling up to an hour per day (minimum five days per week). I have not changed my diet but during the time I have been regularly using the treadmill I have gradually lost 18lbs. I can’t account for this weight loss with any reason other than the exercising.

  • Zoe,
    You are so right. I am a full time Ironman Triathlete regularly training hard for 30+ hours a week. Based on this people think I could eat what I like. I need to be lean for my racing and I promise you the amount of exercise I do has nothing to do with making me lean – thats all down to diet. In the off season my hours will go up as will my weight due to me relaxing my diet and eating more fattening carbs.
    Those machines in gyms also seem to massively over estimate calories burnt so their users feel justified in that post session mars bar refuel.
    I don’t know whether you’ve come across this idea of the glycogen window. It’s something touted regularly by sports nutrition companies. The idea is that your body is primed to refuel your muscles in the 30 minutes after exercise so you should eat some carbs immediately to refuel. This has never made sense to me but wondered whether you knew if there was any basis behind it ?
    Thanks for your great work

    • Hi Steven – many thanks for sharing this. One of my best (female) friends also does iron men triathlete things and she fascinates me!

      I have seen things on a glycogen window. I may not be the best person to answer this – as my passion and expertise is in weight loss rather than fueling for exercise. However I will share what I have picked up and – more importantly – I have my sparring partner coming for dinner next Saturday and he has trained athletes for optimal performance since Steve Ovett and Seb Coe through to (more recently) Gatland’s Welsh rugby team! He’s pretty awesome in this area, so I will ask him. He’ll love the idea that he can shut me up for a while!

      I’ve picked up 2 windows:
      1) A 30 min one when the aim seems to be to get glycogen back in to the body rapidly. We can store approximately 100 grams of glycogen in the liver and 250-400 grams in the muscles. (The glycogen in the muscles can only be used by the muscles, but the glycogen in the liver can be used wherever energy is needed by the body). How much each individual can store depends on their natural abilities (some may just be better at this than others) and we can train our bodies to get better at storing and using glycogen by doing it regularly. The idea would be, therefore, that an endurance test (like the ones you do) will run down the glycogen stores to virtually empty and you will want to replenish this quickly a) to stop the ‘burn’ that you will get in muscles when they are literally running on empty and b) to train the body to restock glycogen quickly and effectively. I guess the 30 min window theory is that your muscles and liver are literally crying out for glucose at this time – so this would be a good time to answer the call.

      2) There is then an ‘up to 4 hr’ window commonly talked about and this seems very important for more than just glycogen. The body needs repair after endurance work outs – muscle repair, cell repair, joint repair etc. You may have even got into a catabolic state (muscle breakdown) and this is important to stop and reverse. The body will welcome protein and fat at this time to start the jobs of cell repair.
      This is where many companies have jumped on the bandwagon and try to convince people that they need a protein shake after their workout. The ingredients list on these things are horrific and unnatural (you will know I’m a huge fan of natural!) Hence, I would say – make your own protein shake with whisked raw eggs and milk or natural yoghurt (ideally bio/live for the cultures). Or get a chicken breast (with the skin on) or pork and crackling into you, during the 4 hour window, if you can stomach a proper meal after an iron man!

      The glycogen window doesn’t make sense from a weight loss point of view – hence why I so often say that eating for weight loss and eating for exercise are so different. There are low carbers who fuel on things like butter, not carbs, but I have seen a study showing their performance won’t quite match that of those fueling on carbs. Unnatural activity (iron men thingies) requires unnatural fuel (carbs!) That’s why I walk the dog and then have an omelette for breakfast!

      I’ll let you know what Bruce adds
      Very best wishes – Zoe

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