I’d like to share with you an article I recently read in Bicycle Magazine that’s excellent “food for thought” (pardon the pun). And not just for cyclists, but for anyone that’s interested in maintaining a healthy weight. It's often suggested that it doesn't matter if the calories you eat comes from a donut, or an apple, because a calorie is a calorie and the body doesn’t know the difference. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Let’s start with some basics. There are 3,500 calories in every pound of body weight and when you exercise you burn a varying amount of calories depending on your activity and intensity. For example, I zap around 9 to 10 calories every minute when I’m riding my bike, which means a guy weighing 159 pounds like myself will burn between 500 and 600 calories on a typical one hour bike ride—roughly the calories in a 6-inch Spicy Italian Subway sub. (If you're heavier, you shed more calories; if you're lighter, you lose less.)
Most people that exercise generally overestimate how many calories they’re burning up during their workout. And if they eat an energy bar and drink a sports drink, they’ve effectively cancelled any calorie burn. According to Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, director of sports nutrition at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “Surveys show that many exercisers overestimate the calories they burn by nearly double and unless every morsel has a food label, it's difficult to know how many calories are consumed and even harder to know how much you're burning." And it goes without saying that your average couch potato has no clue what they’re consuming and unfortunately they couldn’t care less. In fact, the only time they take an interest is when they’re told they have heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.
As mentioned above, a calorie is a measurement of the energy in food. And for years we've been told a calorie is a calorie. According to Bonci, "Foods close to their natural state, such as fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean, whole cuts of meat, require energy from your body to chew and digest them. They create a thermic response, which means you burn calories just processing them."
Bonci and other experts partly blame the preponderance of "lazy calories" for the current obesity epidemic. "Our food is so heavily processed, it's practically predigested," she says. "That fast-food burger you eat from McDonalds has gone through so much pulverization, you barely have to chew. We're losing the ability to burn calories as we naturally would during the eating and digestive process." And many of these same foods are calorie-dense, so there's more for your body to store.
Neither Bonci nor I suggest counting calories as it takes the joy out of eating and ends up a futile venture. Instead, fill your plate with active calories, like those found in fruits and vegetables. Such foods possess more fiber and water, which means you digest them slowly, feel satisfied longer with longer-lasting energy. Consider them as, "free foods" and eat as many as you want.
By simply changing the composition of your plate, you will lose weight without worrying about hunger pangs, counting calories, or bonking episodes if you’re a cyclist like me. Below shows what a "high performance plate" should look like. Structuring your meals this way will allow you to fill up without filling out.
The Performance Plate
- One-quarter to one-third of your meal should consist of active and semiactive calories from protein such as lean meat, skinless poultry, fish, eggs and low-fat dairy.
- One-half should be active calories from fruits and vegetables (for the fill-and-chew factor).
- One-quarter should be active and semiactive calories from whole-grain starches: brown rice, whole-wheat pasta.
- Couch Potato calories should be consumed sparingly; and if you are overweight (BMI greater than 24.8) try your best to avoid them completely.
- Lean meat, fish, poultry
- Leafy greens
- Whole grains
- Beans and legumes
- Fiber-rich cereal
- Whole-grain bread
- Low-fat dairy
Couch Potato Calories
- Pastries, cookies, pies, cakes
- Fatty processed meats
- Chips, pretzels, snack foods
- Fast food
So being mindful of foods that are not only nutritious, but require energy to digest, you won’t have to starve yourself on one of those crazy diet programs that force you to count every calorie while depriving yourself the enjoyment of eating for pleasure as well as nourishment.
Enjoy the Ride....Rob