Since we are about to head into our year end stretch of feasting and celebrating we thought what better topic to discuss than the importance of making sure our nutrition stays in line with our goals. We all know that this is the time of year that our calorie intake increases and, for many, consistency in the gym starts to decrease. It’s simple to see that this is a recipe for disaster. While we all can agree that working out less and eating more will lead to unwanted results, many of us may have the notion in our head that as long as we workout hard over the next few months that this should at the least offset the extra increase in calories. We figure at least we won’t gain any weight right? Unfortunately that may not be the case.
Let’s discuss this using math (see there is an application for math in our everyday life!). Lets assume your baseline metabolism is 1,500 calories per day, meaning at rest without any activity your body would burn 1,500 calories to just stay alive. Now we add in normal daily activity (we’ll call that 500 calories) a 45 minute weight training workout (let’s say another 500 calories) and 30 minutes of cardio to top it all off (let say 350 calories). Without exercise you will burn 2,000 calories, but with exercise you will burn 2,850. So assuming we are consistent in working out 3 times a week, every single week including holidays, you will burn on average of 2,364 calories a day. So as long as you don’t exceed that number we should avoid gaining weight. The problem here is just how easy it is to overeat if we do not track what we eat.
Let’s start with Thanksgiving next month. The Calorie Control Council estimates that the average American will consume roughly 4,500 calories during a traditional Thanksgiving meal, not including breakfast and any late evening eating after the festivities have ended. Lets call it 5,500 calories that day to be safe, meaning if you didn’t work out on Thanksgiving you would have consumed an extra 3,500 calories over what you need. But that’s just one day right? While that is a fair statement, how many of us attend multiple parties and dinners during the time around Thanksgiving and leading into the New Year? How many of these 3,000, 4,000 or more calorie events will we actually partake in? And let’s not forget how much Halloween candy we already polished off before these events started. Ok, so there still may only be a handful of these binge type days in our near future-as long as we are good every other day we should still be ok right? Maybe.
Unfortunately, in the weeks to follow there will likely be temptations all around us, from eggnog to peppermint bark and tons of baked goodies. What many of us will fall victim to, is not realizing exactly how much snacking we may do. A cookie here, a cup of apple cider there really adds up. There will be chips and pie and candy galore surrounding us the next two months and we need to have willpower if we are going to stay on track towards our goals. If we go back to our original calculations above we know that for every additional 350 calories we consume over what we burn we would need 30 minutes of cardio minimum, and that’s true cardio not going for a leisurely walk, to burn it off. So lets look at what some of favorite holiday foods in terms of calories look like and what it would take to work them off:
1 Cup of Eggnog-344 calories (30-35 minutes of Jogging)
½ Cup of Stuffing 439 Calories (67 minutes of cycling)
1 Slice of Pecan Pie-532 calories (2hours and 28 minutes of walking)
4 Small Sugar Cookies-340 Calories (40 minutes of the stair climber)
1 cup of Scalloped Potatoes – 228 Calories (19 minutes of swimming)
3 Slices of Honey Glazed Ham – 360 Calories (30-35 minutes on a rowing machine)
Many of us are probably looking at the list above and realizing that we may indeed consume all of those things in the course of one day and that those items together total 2,243 calories when eaten in those specific dosages. It’s quite scary how easy the extra calories can add up on us if we’re not careful. How many of us have it in us to go for a 5-hour run to work off all the excess we ate? I don’t. This is why we say that you can’t out exercise bad nutrition. It’s not only talking about calorically dense junk food, but also talking about just eating extra in general. It is significantly easier to intake extra than it is to adjust our exercise output to match those extra calories. So what do we do? We have to keep track! If we aren’t paying attention to what we are taking in there is no way, when it is all said and done, that we will have an accurate picture of how our nutrition truly was. Now during the holidays this may be less possible than during other times, and this is where portion control and limiting social eating and drinking can help keep your intake to a sustainable level, but even then it will take great willpower.
Now we understand that we focused our attention on the holidays, but being that time of year we knew it would resonate with those reading this. In reality being smart about our eating, and watching our intake to ensure we do not get too far away from our target zone, is a year round process. Ask anyone who doesn’t keep track of their food intake and you’ll likely find that they are not experiencing the results they want even though they are busting their butt in the gym. Think about that bowl of ice cream or stop at the fast food joint you make from time to time. How many calories does that set you back? Did it put you over your daily goal, and if so by how much? In the end every time we eat something it should be with the mindset “is this worth it?” and “what will it cost me to work this off?”. Truth be told, a little indulgence here and there will likely not derail you, but consistently doing so without accounting for it will. At the end of the day, you are working hard to reach your goals, but working out and doing cardio will only get you so far. Nutrition is both the propeller and the anchor depending on how you approach it.