We have looked at these two subjects separately, but just as you can spend a lot of time making a fire and a lot of money buying narcotics, it’s not until you put them together that the magic happens.
Despite all I have written, there really is one single key to weight loss: Use more calories than you consume. A normal guy of average height and weight needs to consume about 2,000 calories a day to maintain his weight (for the ladies it’s about 1,800), so if you end your day having taken in less than that you will lose weight. This can be done by working out or by not eating as much. The weight-loss will be slow (which is not a bad thing) and your overall lifestyle won’t change that much considering that a doughnut is about 250 calories. All you have to do is not eat that damn doughnut.
Oh, but isn’t that easier said than done. It’s not the one doughnut that’s the problem, it’s the entire box of them that you eat without getting up from bed because you always keep a box on your nightstand . . . . not that I ever did anything like that . . . . . . . ahem . . .
Using the slow method above will lead to losing about one pound per week, which is absolutely fine. But if you want to lose more than 50 lbs., going the slow route will have you completely changed in a year or more. I know I have said you have to be in this for the long haul, but you should also feel like you’re accomplishing something without feeling like you have to give up everything you have ever loved about food for the rest of time. Because the overweight and obese have a surplus of fat on their bodies, the only way to burn through it all effectively and feel better about yourself sooner is to work on both fronts: have a controlled, low calorie diet that provides you with the bare essentials for, like, staying alive or whatever, and a rigorous exercise regime that will start eating away at all extra body you have.
But tackling these two subjects (three when you count all of the mental stuff you’re going to have to go through) can be daunting and make the road ahead seem more like a completely vertical climb up five miles of smooth glass. For instance, walking one mile burns about 100 calories. One pound of fat contains about 3,500 calories. You’d have to walk 35 miles to lose one pound of fat. If you’re aiming for 50, that’s about two and a half months of continuous, non-stop walking. And we haven’t even started talking about food!
To lose a lot of weight, you must marry the two sides, combine your battles of the bulge into one fight. I am sad to say, seriously, that one of the best ways to do this is to count your calories. I used to rail against this practice as I thought it was too nit-picky: if you eat right and work out, you’ll be fine. Incidentally, I was fat at the time and stayed that way until I took my head out of my butt. This practice not only helps you keep track of everything that you consume (the importance of which I will talk about in a later post), but also starts to link your food with your actions.
Let’s take that donut that I was talking about and use it here. A normal glazed donut comes out to around 250 calories. On the flip side, jogging at a steady pace for a half hour burns about the same amount of calories. One donut = 30 minute jog. This is an important change in perception. Start looking at all the food you eat in terms of how long it would take and how hard you would have to work to burn it off. Once you’ve got a balanced, low-calorie diet, understand that anything you eat/drink on top of that will have to be exercised off for you to lose weight. This is great for me as I am far more lazy than I am hungry, but it’s still hard to put into action.
Water + Exercise
Why I should have to tell anyone again, or ever, is beyond me, but you need to be drinking water before, during, and after working out. You should be drinking water ALL GODDAMNED DAY, but it is especially important when exercising. Staying hydrated helps your body maintain its temperature, and by “helping” I mean “entirely depends on”.
Let’s use that “Your body is a car” analogy from my post way back when: When your coolant system is completely shot, do you continue to drive your car? No, because if you did your engine would overheat, seize, and your car would be out of commission while it’s getting fixed at the mechanic’s. And it’s a good chance it’s ruined altogether. That’s what will happen to you if you don’t drink water while working out. But instead of an engine, it’s your heart. Instead of a mechanic, it’s an EMT. Instead of “seizing”, it’s “dead right there on the pavement with you face in some dog doo-doo”.
Drinking water before exercising insures you don’t run out of steam (steam? Water? Oh ho, I’m so clever) before you’re done; drinking water during will help you cool down and give you a boost of energy; and drinking it after will help you replenish all the disgusting liquids that have seeped out of you during the work out, and that way you don’t faint later. Just make sure to not drink too much water all at once. It’s not that it’s dangerous so much as it is uncomfortable exercising with a belly full of water. A medium mouthful every now and then will suffice.
Carbs + Exercise
In theory, you don’t need to eat anything before you work out. If you’re on a balanced diet, your fat and muscles contain all the glucose you need stored and ready, so eating before exercising is not necessary. But when you exercise your blood sugar level drops tremendously within the first 15 minutes of working out, and if you are sensitive to the changes in your blood sugar (and the odds are if you’re large), that drop is going to make you feel extremely fatigued even when your body has ample enough energy to finish the job. So to counteract this effect you can eat some carbohydrates before working out.
In general, you want to stay away from simple carbs as they turn into sugar and storable fat easily, but in this case that is exactly what we want. We need food that is going to be digested and metabolized quickly so that it is the first thing that is burned when working out, and simple carbs fit the bill. This doesn’t mean you get to “load up” on carbs, however. We’ve all seen movies showing people eating huge plates of pasta before exercising, but unless you are an athlete who is going to be training vigorously for 90 minutes or more, carb-loading is doing nothing except working against yourself.
Instead, go for something light and simple: A piece of toast (but not whole grain), pretzels, or high-glycemic fruits like pineapple, bananas, and watermelon. You want to make sure it’s no more than 200 calories, and that you eat it a half-hour to an hour before exercising.
Protein + Exercise
As I said here and here (I’m getting all meta up in this joint today), muscles are protein. They are made of it and need more of it to stay healthy. When you work out, you tax your muscles something fierce and they will scream out for a little rest (aka – sore muscles). Eating protein within a half hour after working out will make your body direct all the protein consumed straight to your muscles to sate those screams. You will still be sore, but you will recover faster and your muscles will grow stronger.
Protein bars and shakes can be a good way to do this, but beware – many protein shakes and bars have as much (and sometimes far more) calories as an actual milkshake or candy bar. Look for protein powders that are made of whey and a bar that offers about 5 grams of protein, few carbs and very little fat. In the end, your body doesn’t care where the protein comes from, so also consider a hard boiled egg or a salad with chicken.
Food During Exercise
In a normal routine lasting about half an hour, you won’t need to have anything more than a bottle of water. If your routine goes on longer than an hour, you might want to consider a small snack or perhaps a sports drink (basically a mixture of water, salt and carbs) to help you reach the end of the work-out. You should be eating even less than the pre-game snack but it should still be made of simple carbohydrates. You can also switch from water to a sports drink if it’s a hot day or you tend to sweat more than a normal person, but the same warning with the protein shakes/bars goes here as some sports drinks contain loads of sugar.
I know it’s a lot of math and calculating and may seem somewhat complicated, but the food/exercise combination is a natural pair. Food is energy, and energy is meant to be used. If you want to lose weight, you’ll never think of these two as separate entities.