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    You Can't Out-train a Bad Diet

    I see it all the time (and I've even tried to prove the addage wrong myself): trying to out-train a bad diet.  The thinking goes a little like this: "I don't really need to eat that strictly.  My exercise routine will be able to make up for the way I eat"  That thinking makes sense in a give-and-take sort of way, the only problem is most people just don't understand the physiology involved in such an approach to body transformation.  The body has a very specific reaction to food intake, and no matter how well-intentioned the plan, failure is just a matter of fact.

    Here's what I used to do: eat whatever I wanted in whatever amounts I chose thinking that my exercise regimen would offset the dietary deficiencies.  I would jump on a treadmill or stairstepper for 30-45 minutes or throw weights around for an hour expecting that my efforts would somehow miraculously result in 6-pack abs and 9% body fat.  Imagine my frustration when it failed to manifest.  So I thought about it for a while.  Maybe if I cut back on my portions (eating less bad food), I'll see results.  Indeed I was right.  I did lose some fat, but I could never get that last bit off to gain definition.  I had great muscles under a layer of fat just thick enough to keep those muscles hidden from clear view. 

    "Maybe," I thought, "I am just doomed to be fat and never ripped."

    Or maybe I was just dumb as a bag of hammers.  Ah, yes.  Ignorance is bliss!

    The first problem with the "out-train the diet" approach stems from the fact that people have a great tendency to underestimate the number of calories they consume on any given day while totally over-estimating the amount of calories they burn.  How many calories are in a slice of pizza?  A cheeseburger?  A bowl of ice cream?  Chances are you don't know right off the top of your head; I certainly don't, but what I do know is that more than a "few extra minutes" on the treadmill will be required to offset the calories that are consumed.

    Let's do a little figuring here.  Looking at the McDonald's website, we find that a quarter pounder with cheese comes in at about 510 calories.  To offset the calories (at least 300 of them, which would be the difference between a cup of lowfat cottage cheese and the QPwC), a 200-pound man would have to run at 4mph for 50 minutes.  So much for a few extra minutes, huh?  Personally, I'd rather spend the 50 minutes with my wife than the treadmill.

    Chances are that QPwC wasn't all alone. It had company, right? Medium fries? Medium soda? That one meal comes in at about 1100 calories (about half of the recommended 2000 calorie daily intake), assuming you don't refill your drink once or twice. That kind of caloric intake isn't a problem - if you want to trot at 4 mph for over 2 hours. Sounds like aton of fun, doesn't it!

    Hold it!  There's more to this whole scenario.  When we eat something like a QPwC, our bodies get a whole lot of bad stuff in one sitting: white flour in the bun with a fantastic 26g of fat (w/ 12g being saturated fats).  When the sandwich is consumed, the white flour causes a profound insulin spike.  All that insulin is looking for something to do, so it grabs onto the digested burger and begins transporting it to the various points of necessity throughout the body.  Once all the muscle glycogen (sugar) is stocked up, the excess needs to go somewhere, so the insulin promptly delivers it to the hips, thighs, butt, and belly.  Unless you're actually running on the treadmill while eating the QPwC, chances are all the extra storage will be kept in fatty deposits.

    When I was trying to out train my diet, I had done the math and discovered that I was actually consuming nearly 5000 calories per day.  Taking my base metabolic rate (about 1900 calories) plus exercise and work related movement (another 1200 or so calories) meant that I was experiencing a caloric excess of about 1500 calories per day.  Beyond that, I was bowling about 20 games a week (which does burn a lot of calories).  There was enough of a caloric excess such that I was gaining a little fat weight over time.  The same would be true for most average people: three overly dense meals at 1000 calories each plus snacks, non-water beverages, and desserts means only one thing: fat.  I don't care how much you exercise; there will be no 6-pack at the end of this dietary plan.

    Further, people who try to out-train their poor diet have another tendency: to eat 3 meals that are separated by longer time periods.  Breakfast at 8:00, lunch at noon, and dinner at 5.  The natural results of such an eating schedule are spikes in blood sugar, spikes in insulin, and crashes between meals.  Crashes mean no energy, a fact which results in mediocre workouts.  Since you really cannot lift harder or run faster as a result of having energy crashes, there's no way your workouts are going to offer the results you want.

    Let's face it: achieving a lean, muscular frame is the result of proper food intake and an effective exercise regimen.  Leaving out either of the two necessary elements will yield results, but they will not be the desired results.  You can try every trick in the world, and even invent a few new ones, but the facts remain: proper eating and effective exercise are the keys to great health and a fantastic body.