Mariella Sawyer is our day to day dietician and also a professional triathlete. So when it comes to nutrition and exercise, she knows what she’s talking about! Here she discusses seven widely believed myths and common mistakes you may be making with nutrition and exercise.
“ You exercise often so surely you can eat what you want!”
“ I went to gym at 5 am today so I can grab that double dessert”
Heard any of those lines before?
The answer is probably yes.
We are exposed to so much information out there – especially when it comes to exercising and what to eat. Most of us are striving to live a healthy, active life but all the information out there can be confusing.
As with most things, there is no ‘one fit for all’ when it comes to the human body. Our bodies are very complex and each one functions and responds differently.
But there are some general guidelines we can stick to help us address those exercise and nutrition ‘myths’ and common mistakes.
I exercise a lot so I can eat whatever
It is very common for people to think that you can eat whatever you please, as long as you exercise enough. Whether it be hamburgers, pizza or pancakes. Unfortunately, if you are wanting to lose weight, that is not the case. This is because we eat a lot of calories quicker than we think – especially when it comes to processed foods high in fat and sugar, and the amount of exercise we would need to do to ‘burn’ those ingested calories is often a lot higher than what we actually end up doing. So we end up over-estimating the actual amount of calories we burnt. Therefore if you are wanting to lose weight, diet is a big factor that you need to take into consideration. Adopting the “I trained really hard so I deserve that extra dessert mentality” also may put you at risk of developing an unhealthy relationship with food. Exercising does not come without nutrition and nutrition does not come without exercise.
- One 55g Bar-One for example has 228kcal
- Big mac 540kcal + Medium coke 220kcal + Medium fries 340kcal = Total for a medium McMeal: 1100kcal – that is about half of what an average individual should consume in a day – VERY vaguely speaking
We also cannot generalize when it comes to the amount of calories we burn in a session. If two people do the exact same session, this does not mean that they will burn the same amount of calories. Without getting into much detail, this is because everyone’s heart rate and fitness varies during training and for one person the prescribed session may be at low intensity, but for another person, the exact same session may be causing them to have their heart in their throat.
So when it comes to calories expended vs calories consumed, we cannot assume that only because we exercise regularly, that we can eat what we want. Not only is this important if you want to lose weight, but also if you want to stay healthy.
I’m exercising so I do not have to eat that much healthy food
Exercise is an important part of health and should not be neglected, but we also need to take care of our bodies by eating healthy, nutrient dense foods, when it comes to recovering from the exercise. This also means getting adequate rest and fuelling our bodies right for optimum performance and recovery. If we neglect this aspect of exercising, we will be faced with injuries and illness.
Think of your body as a car. If you drive your car a lot, at high revs, you will need to make sure it is functioning well by servicing it regularly and giving it the correct oil etc. If you didn’t do that, it would probably break down sooner rather than later. And the exact same will happen to your body if you do not fuel it correctly. It will happen in the form of illness because our bodies cannot fight off infections to the best of its ability, or also injury because we are not giving it the nutrients it needs to recover well.
The calories are only one part of the equation. In order for our bodies to function at their best, we also need vitamins and minerals – think of them as the oil for the car – and those are not found in processed foods, but rather in unrefined, wholesome food.
Therefore it is important that we don’t only focus on calories, but also the nutrients in the actual food because our bodies need both to function well.
I will burn more fat and get fitter if I do not eat before exercising
Another mistake that most make is not fueling correctly before exercising. It is thought that this will burn more fat, however this is not the case. Firstly, you will be tired, hungry and experience low blood sugar levels, which will result in you not being able to perform to the best of your ability. But surely that is something to strive for? Again, think of the car. If you do not fill up with petrol before driving it, it will go nowhere.
When we go and exercise, we want to be able to give our best, and get a good workout done. With a low blood sugar, this will not happen and you are robbing yourself from many gains you could have received, had you fuelled your body correctly in the first place.
By eating something before training, you are giving your body the chance to perform and it will also get your metabolism going, which, if you are wanting to lose weight, is something you want to happen.
Some nice food options or snacks to have before exercising would be peanut butter on toast, some yogurt with fruit, veggies with hummus, oats, or eggs on toast to name a few.
Not only will you have bigger success with what you are trying to achieve with exercise, but you will also actually enjoy it and not be plagued with feelings of hangry nausea. 😉
I need sports drinks during exercise
During exercise, many feel that they require a sports drink such as powerade, energade or BCAA’s or a during a workout, a shake. But truth be told, unless you are training at high intensity for more than 90 minutes or in high heat or humidity, you do not need it and water will do just fine. The sports drinks are very high in sugar and will result in the consumption of unnecessary calories.
The best post-exercise meal is a protein shake
When it comes to refuelling after a session, many run to post-exercise products such as protein shakes to recover. Generally speaking, you do not require those and would be better off just eating whole foods. These products are overly processed and they do not contain anything that we cannot get from whole foods. Also, protein is not the only nutrient our bodies require after exercising to build muscle and recover. As mentioned above, our bodies require carbohydrates to replace glycogen stores and vitamins and minerals along with fat too. Water is also important to rehydrate.
Not eating after exercising will help me reach my goals quicker
Having said the above, it is important not to skip eating after exercising because of the fear of ‘regaining’ what was just burnt while training. Through making sure that we refuel correctly, we are giving our body the best ability to recover and grow in strength, form muscles and adapt to the stress we just exposed it to etc.
However, as mentioned above, eating too much after exercise, unless you are training several times a day, could end up working against you because you are eating more than your body needs.
So if you are training once a day, for about an hour, you can recover efficiently by eating a meal soon after exercising. Eg. breakfast after a morning session or dinner after a late afternoon session. You do not have to add a whole extra meal.
Also beware of grabbing a quick protein smoothie or other as you leave gym, only to go home to eat more. As mentioned above, unless you are training several times a day, you do not require that much and it may result in excessive calorie consumption which could potentially result in weight gain.
I will weigh less if I exercise more
This is a common mistake made by many. Exercising and eating well does not always mean you will lose a lot of weight because you are likely to build muscle, which means you will slim out and become more toned, but your body weight may not necessarily go down. So do not focus on the scale as much as you do on how you feel and whether your clothes are getting a bit looser and you’re getting more toned 😉
So in summary it is important not to overthink it too much unless you are a high performance athlete, training several times a day, every day of the week.
Stick to whole foods, make sure you have something to eat before exercise and after but do not overindulge, stay away from processed supplements, sugary sports drinks and never underestimate the importance of letting your body rest and recover so that you can reap the rewards from your training.
Mariella is the registered dietitian at DayToDay. When not working alongside Chef Gino, she is giving talks on healthy eating and competing in triathlons