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Make Every Calorie Count: Dialing in Nutrition and Exercise by Tyler Hass

Make Every Calorie Count: Dialing in Nutrition and Exercise by Tyler Hass

The energy balance hypothesis suggests you can achieve perfect health by counterbalancing nutrition choices with physical activity; “calories in, calories out” is a popular motto among proponents of this model for nutrition and exercise.

The hypothesis has enjoyed popularity among public health organizations and large food corporations. In fact, sometimes the two groups work together on initiatives, such as Exercise Is Medicine, to promote the idea that we need to “eat less and move more.” Such arrangements are mutually beneficial, because they allow public health groups to deflect attention from their flawed nutrition guidelines and allow Big Food to keep selling junk food with a clean conscience. Unfortunately, the energy balance model perpetuates dangerous myths about nutrition and exercise. So what is the truth about how to dial in these two mechanisms for improving health?

Nutrition and Exercise as Opposing Forces

Training and nutrition are the two most powerful mechanisms for improving human health, but they exert their influence from opposite directions. Diet supplies energy and is the source of the body’s structural components. Exercise consumes energy and actually breaks down the body in various ways. Our muscles, tendons, and even bones are damaged during exercise, but they grow back stronger in response to the stress. These adaptations, not the stress, are what we’re chasing when we exercise.

Exercise gradually shifts the nutrition dial down as energy is consumed. As glycogen stores diminish, utilizing stored body fat becomes more important. Starting a training session in a low-glycogen or fasted state requires further fat adaptation.

Let’s imagine diet and exercise as two dials that can be set from zero to 10. By manipulating these dials, we can achieve a variety of effects. It would please Big Soda greatly if we would all increase our consumption of their sugary products and then burn off the calories. We could go even further and live the life of an Olympic athlete. At peak training, some athletes consume over 10,000 calories a day, or quadruple that of the average person. Extraordinarily high training volumes keep their body weight steady, but this diet and exercise pattern does not provide a viable long-term plan for good health.

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