The math just simply doesn’t work

I posted a chart after Halloween showing the number of calories in the small chocolate bars people love to eat as trick or treat items, and beside each different bar – a workout that would burn off those calories. It was in good fun and folks seemed to take it that way, but it does bring about an interesting point.

A good working knowledge of math is essential for breaking the junk food habit. A lady was walking on a treadmill in our gym a few years back and excitedly told me that she had burned 120 calories! She wanted to know how many donut bits she could have now. When I told her the answer (one) she was not impressed! I think this really ties in to a huge assumption people make about exercise and eating – That working out means you can eat whatever you want.

That is simply not true, believe me, I have tried. The fact is you cannot out train a bad diet. Now, of course, I know that you are immediately thinking of a certain person who can pound back anything they want, and they are lean as a post. Great! That is an Ectomorph body type and being lean isn’t necessarily healthy, it just means they have a fast burn rate for calories and they aren’t like most of us. The fact remains true – good training cannot turn a bad diet into good nutrition, nor can it negate all the excessive, empty calories.

Take last weekend for example – in my final long prep run for the Ultraman World Championships that I am training for (Nov. 29 – Dec. 1), I ran 60 kms. It was a difficult day to run; wind, slush, snow, cold, etc.

But we got it done, my running partner and my friend driving crew for us. It took six hours and 24 minutes to complete, and we ran along the highway from Sylvan Lake to near Caroline. In that time, I burned around 600 calories per hour (based on my size, heart rate, speed etc). So that means I spent around 3,900 calories out running. While I run, I take in calories too through an electrolyte and carbohydrate drink, as well as a maltodextrin gel each hour. That gets me 300 calories per hour, plus I had a few other carefully planned snacks, like a Hammer Nutrition energy bar at the halfway point. So I brought in around 2200 calories from my nutrition plan, leaving a deficit of around 1,700 calories. Woo hoo! Let’s eat!

With a whopping run of six and a half hours I should be able to eat whatever I want for the rest of the day right? Wrong. After my run, I want to get in some quality nutrition to kick start my recovery, so chicken, rice and veggies is in order! I had a good serving, which was around 500 calories, plus a large glass of lemonade at 200 calories. That leaves 1000 calories to go.

My cheat meal choice was a small Ben and Jerry’s ice cream Cherry Garcia, One 500ml serving is 1,000 calories. Done. Six and a half hour run, a fairly regular meal, and one large ice cream feeding. That is it. Not a free run at your favourite fast food joint for an all you can eat buffet, not an all day pig out, not a three day justify whatever you like binge session; one small container of ice cream.

This is where we get caught all the time. People exercise for a good solid hour, burning 500 calories, and then justify eating 2,000 calories and I am afraid the math doesn’t work. It never does, and it is why our nation is getting more and more obese every year. We have super easy access to way too many calories, and you could never, ever work out that hard, that often, or that much to compensate. A typical fast food meal is over 1,200 calories, and that is if you do not have dessert.

So we have to make good choices, and set limits on unhealthy food, and for sure, be wary of justifying a good hard workout as an excuse for a binge that will take a whole week of good workouts to recover from.

Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake.