Can too much exercise actually make you fat? According to some experts… it certainly can. Scientists are increasingly recognizing that exercise alone often doesn’t help you lose weight. Even worse, there’s evidence that it could even be making you fatter.
You’ve probably heard it time and time again. It’s all about calories. If you burn more calories than you eat you’ll lose weight.
Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Calories in vs calories out is definitely important, but it’s only a piece of the puzzle.
There’s also other factors which play an important role like metabolism, hormones and WHERE those calories are coming from.
Here are three possible reasons why too much exercise may be causing you to get fatter.
Exercise is making you eat more
Depending on the type of exercise that you do, working out could be causing you to eat way more extra calories than you are actually burning during your workouts.
Most of us tend to miscalculate the amount of calories that we burn during our workouts… often by an enormous amount. Besides that, we also tend to hugely underestimate the amount of calories we consume.
Say you go for a 30 minute jog. You come back all sweaty and exhausted (and probably hungry) thinking: ‘I just burnt a lot of calories… time to reward myself. Lets eat!’
The truth is those 30 minutes of jogging probably burnt around 300 calories, depending on your weight. If you’re over 150 lbs it will be a bit more, if you’re under, a bit less.
You know what’s also around 300 calories?
- 1 avocado
- 2/3 of a piece of apple pie
- 2 regular beers
- 1 medium slice of cheese pizza
Any one of these is all it would take to completely undo all the hard work you put in during your workout in terms of fat loss.
Now here’s the problem…
Long workouts tend to put us in a psychological frame of mind that causes us to overeat. We come back after a long intense workout feeling we can just eat whatever and however much we want.
The result is a crazy binge that causes us to consume many times more calories than we actually burned during our workout. This form of self reward is generally called ‘compensation’ by sports scientists.
Always remember… you CANT out-exercise a bad diet!
Now, don’t be mistaken. It’s a good thing to eat something after your workouts. As a matter of fact, your body needs carbs to replenish its energy resources as well as protein to repair the muscle tissue that was damaged during your workout.
The problem with the most of us lies in the TYPES of foods we eat after our workouts.
Instead of grabbing junk food or a highly processed energy bar, try eating real, whole foods that are rich in natural protein, carbs, fiber and nutrients.
In other words, at the end of the day, you’re probably not burning as many calories during your workouts as you think you that are. If you don’t fill up on the right foods you’re probably setting yourself up for a horrible binge down the road.
Another reason your long workouts may be making you fatter is…
You’re stressed out
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it’s not just calories in / calories out. Hormones also play an important role when it comes to burning fat and losing weight.
If you are doing long hours of strenuous workouts week in and week out, your body senses that as a stress. The result is an increased production of cortisol… the stress hormone.
Elevated cortisol levels can lead to an increase in appetite and can cause cravings for sweet, high-fat, and salty foods. It also causes the body to produce less testosterone, which leads to a decrease in muscle mass… which in turn leads to your body burning fewer calories.
Not only does increased cortisol secretion promote weight gain. Numerous studies show that it also affects WHERE this extra fat is packed on… namely your belly.
Belly fat has also been referred to as ‘toxic fat’ because it is strongly correlated with the development of cardiovascular disease like heart attacks and strokes.
Your cortisol levels rising is your body’s way of saying ‘Hey, I’m stressed out right now’.
The thing is, your body doesn’t know that you’re going for a nice 10 mile run in the park with a friend. As far as it is concerned you might just as easily be running 10 miles to escape from a lion.
The result is that it jumps into survival mode, storing fat, retaining water and slowing your metabolism and lots of other processes in your body way down.
You’re setting yourself up for long-term fat gain
Have you ever seen someone (or maybe this is you) who went from being a couch potato to being a marathon runner in a very short time, losing a bunch of weight in the process… and the next time you see them they’d gained all that weight back plus more?
Most people who lose a lot of weight very quickly are doing so in an unsastainable manner. The problem is that your body will only let you get away with that for a short time, maybe a couple of months to a year.
There’s going to be a rebound if you’re overdoing it with your workouts.
This goes for long steady state cardio as well as high intensity training like HIIT. Too much of a good thing is usually… well, not a good thing.
Now, all this doesn’t mean that you should just stop working out! There’s more to exercise than just weight loss. Your body needs exercise to maintain muscle mass and bone density and a host of other important processes.
However, if your killing yourself in the gym for hours on end week in week out and not getting the results you were hoping for then maybe it’s time to tone down your workouts a bit.
You don’t need long grueling workouts to get amazing results. Some of my favorite inspirational examples of what a few 30 minute weekly workouts can do are Steve and Becky Holman (Old School New Body). They are in their 50’s and still look better than most people in their 30’s.
And remember, you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Eating the right foods is 80% of the battle. For a great nutrition guide on how to eat whole, natural foods for fat loss, I recommend The Fat Burning Kitchen by Mike Geary. You can read my review here.