One of the more common questions that I get asked as a personal trainer is…How many calories should I be eating? This is a loaded question with no definitive answer. Big businesses have really capitalized on the confusion surrounding calories, carbs, supplements, weight loss and overall health. Not to sound cynical, but they actually created the confusion. Just a few short generations ago, people were not perplexed about their food choices. It used to be pretty simple. We understood the importance of a healthy breakfast. A cup of coffee was 8-10oz with maybe a shot of creamer and a couple of sugar cubes. We didn’t eat all of our lunches out and dinner was made mostly from scratch. As a whole people enjoyed soda, alcohol and desserts truly in moderation.
All of that has changed for a large percentage of our population. More people are skipping breakfast than ever before or they are replacing it with a breakfast sandwich from a fast food restaurant. Breakfast sandwiches are so popular that even your favorite coffee chains and donut shops have gotten in on the action. The average cup of Joe has gotten so big, that car manufactures had to start making their cup holders bigger. Many people are fooled by the so-called healthier “casual dining” chains that are packed at lunch hour. For the few families who actually sit down and have dinner together, it tends to be pre-packaged foods that are a nutritional disaster. And liquid calories, mostly from soda and alcohol, are being consumed at a rate that far exceeds moderation.
It’s no wonder that heart disease is now the number one killer of all Americans and that obesity levels are at an all-time high. The percentage of people that are genetically destined to become unhealthy is very minimal. Anybody looking for permanent weight loss is unlikely to achieve it by simply “cutting back” on their crappy food choices. The quality of your food is much more significant than the quantity. Nobody ever became overweight because they ate too many apples!
For anyone wanting to know how many calories they should consume, we have to first examine the quality of their food. One-hundred calories of a soda is not the same as 100 calories of berries. The sugar in soda is not the same as the sugar in berries. For all of you calorie/point counters chomping down on a 100 calorie snack pack, you have been misled. See, not only do healthy foods contain a wealth of cancer and disease fighting antioxidants, but they also elevate your metabolism and turn you into a fat burning machine. A balanced diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, fiber, lean protein, unsaturated fats and water is a winning combination in which you will never have to count a calorie again!
The bottom line is focus on the quality of your food and the quantity will take care of itself.
“Really Tim, what’s the catch?”
There has been a growing trend in the workout world towards High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), sometimes referred to as Tabata training. The workouts are quick, effective and tough! Its methods apply to anyone whose goals are to lose bodyfat, increase muscle (without bulking up) and increase their cardiovascular capacity.
So what’s the catch? There isn’t a catch, but there is an explanation. The average gym enthusiast makes the following time-wasting mistakes…
- Isolating muscle groups
- Separating their Strength and Cardio
- Too much downtime
Let’s take a closer look at each of these. I’ll use the legs as an example of why isolating can be a waste. In their never-ending quest to re-invent the wheel (and turn a profit), most manufacturers of workout equipment offer several different pieces of leg equipment. All of which are typically taught during an initial so-called orientation. Inner thighs, outer thighs, hip-extension, hip-flexion, leg-extension, leg-curl, standing calf-raise, seated-calf raise and enough leg press variations that only an engineer can understand. Rather than burn up precious time and increase your risk of injury, a simple exercise called a squat (or deep-knee bend as they were called in gym class) will hit every lower body muscle simultaneously.
As to my second point of separating strength and cardio…see for yourself. Do a one-minute set of squats and see if you’re winded. Your heart doesn’t distinguish the difference between squats and a Treadmill. All your ticker knows is that it’s working harder.
Downtime is wasted time! Efficiency is the name of the game here. In the previous example of doing one minute of squats, follow it up immediately with one minute of push-ups. While your legs are resting, the muscles in your upper body are working. Repeat this superset five times total and you have a ten minute workout.
The example of squats/push-ups is just one of endless combinations you can come up with. Try doing as many jumping jacks as you can in ten minutes and you’ll never look at an elliptical machine the same way again. There are countless ways to exercise and stay healthy. A good old fashioned 30-60 minute workout is still a great thing. I use my gym time as a form of meditation to escape the outside world. But, when my time is limited there is no excuse for not getting in a 10 minute blast!
In today’s environment of political correctness and feelings of entitlement, I’d like to revisit the age old adage of “No Pain, No Gain”. Even fitness professionals shy away from this Neanderthal saying that sets off images of muscle-bound men yelling at one another in a dingy gym. We hide behind words like discomfort, challenging, difficult, trying, etc…And even many adults feel deserved of things that they didn’t earn.
The harsh reality is that change can be painful. Whether you’re trying to quit smoking, lose weight or develop a more positive attitude, there isn’t a quick fix answer. It is a never-ending process that does get easier with time. The initial stages of change are often the toughest. But it’s during these times that we can really conquer our demons that are holding us back from achieving something worthwhile. Rather than run from the pain, embrace it and overcome it! In other words, the pain portion is a necessary part of the process.
The more pain that we endure when we are trying to accomplish something, the more we appreciate our gains when they are realized. Blocking the true barriers out of your mind is only a temporary solution that will result in long-term failure. This is why most people who lose weight gain it back.
In most areas of fitness, people keep trying to reinvent the wheel with gadgets, drugs, questionable diets and workout methods. There hasn’t been any evolution to the human body for quite a while. The heart, lungs, brain, knee joint etc. functions the exact same way today as they did 500 years ago. Let’s get back to the basics in the gym and follow a basic diet that is nearly absent of processed and fast foods and stop looking for the magic bullet once and for all. As far as your approach and attitude…No Pain, No Gain!