Exercising to Eat Whatever You Want?
It’s pretty simple: The more active you are, the more calories your body needs. No doubt, this is a major perk – if not a flat-out incentive – to hit the gym as often as possible. This can lead to a popular belief in the endurance world that you can eat whatever you want.
How many calories per day does exercise buy you exactly? Energy requirements vary based on everything from body weight and performance goals to how often and how hard you work out. But, generally speaking, being active earns you about 2,200 to 4,000 calories per day versus 1,500 to 2,500 per day if you don't move much. Endurance athletes can take in a lot more, as much as 7,000 and 8,000 calories a day.
Before you indulge in that bottomless brunch after a bike ride, know this: The average fit person is only allowed between 267 and 648 “empty” calories per day. That's essentially your budget for less nutritious foods. If you only treat yourself once a week, you're golden. But if you order a couple not-so-healthy side dishes, plus a glass of wine and dessert every night, you may be in trouble.
Bottom line: No, you can't “out-exercise” a bad diet. Learn how to eat whatever you want, mindfully.
Elite Athletes: Do You Eat Whatever You Want?
“I don't deny myself anything. I simply strive to eat mindfully, paying attention to how certain foods make me feel," said Spartan Elite Racer Rose Wetzel. "Fried food, for instance, makes my stomach feel off. Whereas with ice cream and baked goods, I feel fine."
“I like to enjoy something sweet at the end of every day. When I'm in the middle of the season, training hard, my body really craves healthy food. That might be something like fruit, dark chocolate, juice, kombucha, or a sugary yogurt. My cheat food, or as I like to call it 'treat' food, is usually ice cream, a cupcake, or a brownie. I have a strong sweet tooth, but luckily I don't have amazing baking skills.”
Change Your Relationship with Food, Change Your Body
You know that food is fuel, but not all fuel is created equal. The right kind (foods packed with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients) helps build strong muscles, assists in recovery, and sustain energy. However, the wrong kind (a diet deficient in crucial nutrients) could impair muscle growth and recovery.
Use these general guidelines for macronutrients (proteins, carbs, fats) to help reframe your relationship with food. You’ll feel better, see the performance results you want, and still be able to enjoy your favorite treats. You can eat whatever you want, within reason.
Customize Your Carb-loading
By now you know not to fear high-quality carbohydrates (“carbs”), such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It's been proven that carbs play many important roles in the body. Carbs provide more energy per minute than any other source of energy. A general rule of thumb: Aim for 5 to 7 grams of carbs per kilogram (g/kg) of body weight a day for regular training and 7 to 10 g/kg of body weight a day for endurance work. For example, a 154-pound endurance athlete can take in between 490 to 700 grams of carbs daily for peak performance.
Once you know your magic number, then it's all about timing. Pre-workout, you want to limit fat, fiber, and protein as they take longer to digest and can cause GI discomfort. Healthy sources of carbs, like a bowl of oatmeal with a banana, can help fill up glycogen stores, boosting performance. Post-workout, your muscles crave carbs. Research shows athletes benefit from about 0.45 to 0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight after a session. For a 150-pound athlete, that’s 68 to 105 grams within 30 minutes. To maximize glycogen storage, eat that amount again about two hours later.
Fun fact for those who love to go hard: A growing body of research suggests that if you consistently train for three or more hours, you could optimize energy by choosing carb sources that provide a mix of sugars: glucose, fructose, and sucrose. Each type of sugar takes a different route before it produces energy. By ingesting carbs from different sources, you’re using different transportation methods, moving different forms of carbs to working muscles, ultimately giving your muscles energy faster than one source of carbs alone. CLIF® BLOKS™ Energy Chews and CLIF® SHOT® Energy Gel include multiples sources of carbohydrates to take advantage of this and give you energy quickly.
Prioritize Your Protein
Active individuals require more protein – the king of repairing and strengthening muscle tissue –than sedentary people. Anywhere from 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg of body weight a day supports metabolic adaptations and muscle repair. That's about 75 to 135 grams of protein a day for a 150-pound person.
Save yourself the math headache, and use the CLIF® BUILDER'S® Protein Calculator to find your ideal amount.
Good news: Most people meet their protein requirements with high-quality sources of the nutrient, including lean meat, fish and poultry, eggs, milk, yogurt, nuts, seeds, and legumes. The bigger issues boil down to both timing and protein types. Post-workout, high-quality protein (about 15 to 25 grams within two hours of exercise) is best practice.
Add whey and casein to your mix. Both come from cow’s milk and have proven effective after exercise. To enhance recovery, use them together: Your body digests whey quickly and breaks down casein more slowly. Get a two-fer from CLIF® Recovery Protein Drink Mix, which contains 10 g protein from whey and casein.
Fit in Your Fats
When it comes to healthy fats (i.e., monounsaturated fats or omega-3 fatty acids), most athletes are game to follow the general Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which suggest about 20 to 35 percent of calories come from fat. While it might not be as potent an energy source as carbohydrates, fat does supply an extra supply of energy. You need abundant stores of healthy fats to improve the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Try to get your daily fats from unsaturated sources, such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and nut butter. Saturated fats, like butter, baked goods, and fatty meats, should make up no more than 10 percent of daily calories.
Don’t overcomplicate things. When you plan meals, go for a hand-sized amount of carbs and a hand-sized amount of protein. For snacks, cut these amounts in half.
In conclusion, eat whatever you want while you're training, within a limit. And like Elite Spartan Racer, Rose Wetzel suggests, your body will crave healthy foods filled with energy-rich calories.
The ideas and suggestions written above are provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. The contents of this article are not intended to make health or nutrition claims about our products. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or nutrition-related activity.