There has long been a myth that if you exercise enough, you can eat whatever you want without implication. We’ve probably all heard someone say “I better hit the gym tomorrow after eating this burger and milkshake tonight.” However, exercise alone is not sufficient when it comes to general health, performance or weight loss. And not only does exercise burn off only a small fraction of the calories we consume (less than 10-30 percent), the quality of the calories we consume will impact our quality of exercise. For optimal health, you need to combine exercise with a nutrient-rich eating plan.
Exercise is important, but not a stand-alone solution. Let’s be clear that the role of exercise in a healthy lifestyle should not be underestimated. Not only will exercise help you build and maintain both strong muscles and bones, and help with weight loss, it can also help reduce the risk of chronic disease, and boost one’s mood, among many other benefits. The problem arises when we believe that exercise is the be-all and end-all. If one exercises because they think it will fully compensate for a bad diet, they’re in for a rude awakening. It’s much easier to consume calories than to spend them—it could take you an hour on the exercise bike to “burn off” a brownie you consumed in three minutes. You simply can’t outrun a bad diet.
It’s not as simple as calories in calories out. While 300 calories of dessert and 300 calories of salmon do have the same energy potential, the quality of that energy source and the impact it has on your health and performance vary greatly. And because of these varying biological effects, counting all calories equally is not the optimal metric when it comes to good health or performance. Any athlete will tell you that the quality of their food directly impacts the quality of their workout, recovery, and overall health because we derive energy, satisfaction and nutrients differently from different types of food.