Can you out-exercise a silly season diet?

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Is your calendar filling up with more late nights and events that mean you are eating out more frequently? Missed a few workouts already? It is no surprise that healthy meals and exercise can take a back seat when life gets a lot more social over the Christmas period, but at a time of year when the calories are free flowing, try not to call it quits on your training completely. While you cannot out-exercise a bad diet, there are still plenty of benefits that come with maintaining, if not increasing, your exercise over the next few weeks.

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Enjoy your Chrissy parties, just don’t forget to move as well. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Energy in versus energy out

If we consider the energy balance equation, in which energy in versus energy out determines whether we are losing, gaining or maintaining our weight, it makes sense to simply sweat out extra calories with some extra training. As reasonable as this sounds, unfortunately physiology and metabolism are complicated, and it doesn’t quite work this way. Specifically, when we eat food or consume alcohol the body processes and stores the macronutrients (alcohol, fats, carbs and proteins) differently, with it preferentially burning alcohol first — as it is seen as a toxin — followed by a mix of sugars and stored fat. This means that if you consume a high-fat, high-calorie meal with alcohol, much of the time immediately post-meal will be spent processing the alcohol, while the calories from the food are more likely to be stored.

Keep in mind that a 40-60 minutes training session or run will burn 300-600 calories (depending on your body size, gender and training intensity) and a restaurant meal will contain at least 800-1000 calories.

In food terms this means that if you enjoy three or four fried canapés at an event along with two-to-three glasses of bubbles, or the equivalent of 800-1000 calories it becomes almost impossible to keep burning this many extra calories unless you want to spend many hours in a cycle class.

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Regular movement will help you stay on track. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Despite this there are still many other benefits of maintaining your training over the holiday period.

Your digestion and energy levels will be better; you will keep your muscles healthy and help keep your glucose and insulin levels regulated, and your training may actually help you to make better diet choices. Research has found that people involved in a high intensity exercise program naturally appear to make healthier food choices, like eating more fruits and vegetables, and choose lower fat varieties of food.

In addition to these benefits, let’s not forget that what exercise also does is burn extra calories. And if you maintain or even increase your exercise at times when you are consuming extra calories, it will ultimately support you in achieving a calorie deficit overall, helping to prevent weight gain.

The missing link here for many of us, is that there can be a massive difference between how many calories we burn exercising, and the ease in which we overconsume high fat, high calorie party foods.  

Read more: Here’s how much sugar is in your favourite Aussie ice-creams

So, how much exercise should I be doing?

Check your daily step count! (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Getting a minimum of 10,000 steps in a day is a good start, especially if you have a sedentary job or work from home. This translates into at least 40-60 minutes of walking each day. This is the minimum amount of movement humans need for weight control, health and well-being. Looking for ways to increase your daily movement by walking to local shops or restaurants, using public transport rather than opting for car rides and parking further away from events and locations are all easy ways to boost your incidental activity.

Keep in mind that a 40-60 minutes training session or run will burn 300-600 calories (depending on your body size, gender and training intensity) and a restaurant meal will contain at least 800-1000 calories.

Author Susie Burrell is a leading Australian dietitian and nutritionist, founder of Shape Me, co-host of The Nutrition Couch podcast and prominent media spokesperson, with regular appearances in both print and television media commenting on all areas of diet, weight loss and nutrition.

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