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Are All Calories Created Equal?

Are All Calories Created Equal?

Spring is a time when many people rededicate themselves to their athletic pursuits. This is usually accompanied by soreness as their bodies readjust to the renewed demands. This soreness should last no more than a day, especially if the intensity level is gradually increased.

For many, however, this soreness will last for days, never completely dissipating before the next workout. In these cases, it’s useful to look at diet as a possible cause of the trouble.

Muscles like to burn fat. One of the great benefits of exercise is that it lubricates our fat-burning machinery. There is, however, a caveat: in order to adequately burn fats, we need to have several requirements in place. Our bodies must have adequate B vitamins, essential fatty acids, magnesium, lipoic acid, and oxygen delivery to the muscle tissues.

The first four of these should be in our diets, but many people consume diets laden with refined sugars and damaged fats, which actually deplete our bodies of these nutrients. So when we haul our poorly-nourished bodies off the couch to run for the first time since October, we are bereft of the nutrients needed to burn fats.

So what do our bodies do? They burn sugars.

The amount of energy in our bodies stored as sugar is a tiny fraction of the amount of energy we have stored as fat, even in the leanest person you know. Blood sugar and glycogen (stored sugar) reserves run out quickly when we do not burn fats during exercise. It’s this phenomenon that leads to “hitting the wall” in marathons and other endurance sports. But burning primarily sugars during even moderate exercise often leads to muscle stiffness and aches that last for days.

After a dysfunctional exercise session such as this, it’s common to be really hungry or thirsty for sweets. We rationalize this as our body’s need to replenish the calories burned during exercise. But eating sweets during (read: Gatorade) or soon after exercise just exacerbates the problem.

When we eat something sweet, our bodies make insulin to move sugar from the bloodstream into our cells. But a blast of insulin during, or soon after, a workout causes our bodies to stop burning fats and start storing fats. The body gets the message that there’s plenty of food around and we should store some as fat for leaner times. This is what happens in people who don’t lose (or even gain) weight when they exercise.

The last factor, oxygen delivery, is accomplished by warming up slowly and not pushing our bodies too hard too quickly.

So eat a diet that’s low in sugars, and high in vegetables and good fats such as olive oil. Moderate amounts of organic meats and non-gluten grains such as brown rice are other excellent sources of nutrients needed to burn fats.

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