Going to the gym can make you fat

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Even corporate gyms are dipping their toes into the video stream. Photo: Leon Nicholas

London - You have stuck resolutely to your fitness plan, making it to the gym even when you are so stressed that you don’t have time to eat properly before you go.

You grab an energy bar, bust a gut for 45 minutes and then return home to collapse on the sofa and refuel with a big dinner.

All the effort, you might think, should mean you see pounds melting away.

So why aren’t you seeing any results?

We all know exercise is good for our health; it replaces fatty tissue with taut muscle. But what if exercise is actually making you fatter?

Research overwhelmingly suggests that significant weight loss cannot be achieved by exercise alone and that, in some cases, working out is the root cause of extra pounds.

Here’s why and what you can do about it.

YOU’RE WORKING UP AN APPETITE

Part of the problem is what scientists refer to as “compensation”.

There is no doubt exercise burns calories, but at the kind of level most of us work out, it also stimulates hunger.

The more moderate activity we do, the more we eat, effectively cancelling out the weight loss benefits.

Linia Patel, a sports dietician with the British Dietetic Association, says it’s a misnomer that exercise is a green light to increase the calories.

“Appetite often soars when you exercise a lot,” Patel says. “You need to make sure you eat enough, but stop before you get to the point where you aren’t burning excess energy off.”

Professor John Blundell and a team of bio-psychologists at the University of Leeds looked at the dietary responses of a group of overweight men and women who were led through a workout programme designed to burn around 500 calories per session.

Outside of the gym, they were allowed to eat as much food as they liked.

After 12 weeks, almost two-thirds of the subjects lost some weight, but more than one-third hadn’t lost a single pound.

TURN IT AROUND: An hour of fairly vigorous aerobic exercise, such as running or cycling, has been shown to suppress appetite far more effectively than 90 minutes of weight training.

It reduces levels of the so-called ‘hunger hormones’ ghrelin and peptide YY.

YOU CAN’T BURN OFF A BIG FEED

Food releases insulin, another hormone that blunts fat-burning, into the bloodstream, so eating immediately before or during a workout will limit the calorie-gobbling benefits.

Cardio-fasting - avoiding food before training - is an approach that has been popular among body builders and weightlifters for years.

Some studies have shown that a kilogram of fat is burned off sooner during morning exercise carried out after an overnight fast than when doing the same exercise after lunch.

“By temporarily avoiding food, in particular simple sugars and refined carbs, you can prime your body to use fat as a fuel, which will really help weight loss.”

Team GB sports nutritionist James Collins says. “To best activate these mechanisms that burn fat and tone muscle, you need to mix and match your workouts.

“Include some resistance or weights as well as hard cardiovascular work.”

TURN IT AROUND: Ideally, Collins says, you should perform a mini-fast for two to four hours before hitting the gym so that fat burning will peak.

Exercising on a relatively empty stomach will also temporarily blunt your appetite so that you eat les when you finish.

ENERGY BARS ARE STUFFED WITH SUGAR

Energy bars and sports drinks, which are comprised mostly of sugar, are designed for intense activity lasting 90 minutes or longer.

But, experts say that only athletes in hard training need to use them regularly.

For the rest of us, the calories (140-350 per serving) these products contain are potential barriers to fat loss.

James Collins says: “A mistake many people make is to consume sports drinks or energy bars during, or just before, a hard workout. They then wonder why they aren’t losing weight.”

TURN IT AROUND: Have a bowl of porridge made with water a couple of hours before a workout and take either 500ml of water or squash with a tiny pinch of salt an hour before and during exercise.

YOU’RE DOING THE WRONG WORKOUT

John Brewer, professor of sport at the University of Bedfordshire, says too many people wrongly assume weight will tumble off once they start going to the gym.

“In reality, it’s not that easy,” he says. “To lose 1kg of body fat, you need to burn about 8,000 calories - so that’s around 80 miles of running you need to cover just to lose one kilo in weight.”

Dr John Briffa, author of Escape The Diet Trap, agrees that the kind of plodding, slow-paced aerobic activity most people consider a good workout is simply not going to shift the pounds.

TURN IT AROUND: Cut the duration of your workout, to 20 to -30 minutes, but increase the intensity. 30-60 second “sprints” on a bike or running are the best way to shed fat.

BUT THERE IS SOME GOOD NEWS

James Collins says the fitter you are, the better your body becomes at utilising stress hormones and other natural chemicals that aid weight loss.

He insists exercise does help shed weight, but that it is far easier to consume calories than expend them.

Typically, people burn 200 to-300 calories in a 30-minute gym workout, but a typical shop-bought frappucino afterwards would replace a lot of those calories immediately.

“You won’t shed much if your diet is poor,” Collins says. “Exercise needs to be part of a lifestyle overhaul if it is to work,” he says. - Daily Mail

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