“Weight loss is made in the kitchen, not the treadmill.” I overheard this comment during the start of my personal training career while working at a local gym many moons ago. To a degree, this was an accurate statement. The context of this conversation referred to the logic of consuming foods aiding weight loss by burning calories via cardiovascular exercise on one of the many units of cardio equipment available at most local gyms. A popular tracking system to achieve weight loss is the concept of calories in vs calories out. Burn more calories throughout the day than are consumed. As rewarding as it is to meet the goals of calories consumed versus calories burned on a Fitbit or wearable fitness technology, simply counting numbers on a digital tracking system isn’t the entire color that fills the big picture of managing weight loss for the long run.
Carbohydrates, proteins, and fat are the big three that are predominantly focused on the back of nutrition labels when counting calories. These substrates are also some of the most viewed data on our wearable fitness tracking gadgets. Carbohydrates are essentially forms of sugar that when ingested, are meant to supply the body with energy for the various activities we participate in. Proteins are the building blocks of our connective tissue such as our bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. They fill in the gaps of stressed muscle sites to repair the spots damaged by vigorous physical activity. Fats are lipids and oils that can either be used as energy at a low physical activity level or can be stored as fat under our skin when they are consumed, and minimal energy is used in a rest and digest period. If weight loss and management is our goal, it would benefit us to understand what their purpose is after they are consumed.
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Nutrition has come a long way. The brouhaha over the suboptimal properties of gluten in our diet has sparked awareness toward our consumption of bread, pastries, cookies, and pasta. Gluten is present mainly in flour. Flour is a processed carbohydrate originating from a wheat plant. We can’t go out to a field, grab a piece of wheat, and start gnawing on it for a food source. The wheat has to be gathered, baked down, powdered, cooked again, and then packaged. Processed foods comprise some of the simplest forms of carbohydrates in the world. Simple and processed carbohydrates don’t take long to be transferred into free-floating sugar to our bloodstream after consumption. As a result, simple carbohydrates trigger an increase in the insulin throughout our bloodstream. Any food that tells our pancreas to secrete insulin has a high glycemic index; the scale that is used as a reference on how much insulin is produced from a specific food. Other foods that are high in the glycemic index are Starbucks beverages and breakfast sandwiches, granola bars, cereal, and rice. Therefore, the more processed our carbohydrates become, the more insulin is being produced in our bodies.
Insulin can be a productive and unproductive hormone that acts as a chemical messenger transmitting the message to utilize sugar in our cells as a form of energy or storage. After completing a challenging workout, our muscles become insulin sensitive. This means that our muscles will welcome insulin to their cells to be utilized as energy and grab onto free-floating proteins and amino acids to repair the muscles stressed by exercise. However, Insulin can be a double-edged sword. If foods yielding a high glycemic index in a non-post exercise or sedentary state are eaten, the insulin will bypass muscle cells and travel to fat cells, telling the fat cells to absorb free-floating sugar to be stored as forms of fat under our skin. If our goal is to lose fat mass, an optimal time to consume our carbohydrates is after our workout routines.
Sedentary activity such as desk work, time commuting in the car, or sitting on the couch to watch the evening news is an ill-advised time to consume carbohydrates. The skeletal muscles are doing little to no work. There is no energy being expended to use the carbohydrates that have just been consumed while sitting. A carbohydrate consumed in a “rest and digest” state will increase insulin in the bloodstream, bypassing skeletal muscle, and be transferred to fat storage. If we go to the gym after our workday to hop on the treadmill and burn three hundred calories, we will be burning those calories only while we are present at the gym. However, the eating habits we may have executed throughout the day could have doubled, if not tripled, the amount of calorie absorption to fat during a low energy expenditure period paired with high glycemic index carbohydrate consumption. Therefore, consuming carbohydrates in a rest and digest period will counteract weight loss effects in the form of storing sugar as subcutaneous fat.
Wearable fitness technology is a useful tool to supplement weight loss efforts by tracking amounts of calories burnt versus consumed. However, understanding how specific foods are metabolized in the body is an important factor to skillfully choosing when to eat certain foods in specific situations throughout your day.
Sean McCawley, the founder and owner of Napa Tenacious Fitness in Napa, CA, welcomes questions and comments. Reach him at 707-287-2727, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website napatenaciousfitness.com.
Photos: Napa’s Vichy students are ‘Stronger Together’ during school jogathon