You Cannot Cancel Out Food With Cardio!

By on August 1, 2014

So many times I hear women say they have to go run off that extra protein bar they ate.  Or they will have to do an extra session of spin class because they overate the night before.  I get it.  I’ve been there.  Even today it’s difficult not to fall back into that mindset.

Calories in does not exactly equal calories out.  It’s not quite that simple.  Yes, calories are a unit of measurement of energy and in that regard calories expended must be greater than calories consumed or else calories will be stored.  They could be stored as fat unless they are used to build muscle (with lots of strength training) so naturally, most women think they want to burn them off.

But if your goal is to achieve a lean body with visible muscle then doing a bunch of cardio to make up for extra food eaten is the opposite of what you want to do.  Too much cardio has some negative side effects such as…

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  • Overtraining (increased heart rate, tiredness, decreased immune function, chronic muscle soreness and fatigue)
  • Pain, inflammation and decline of joints
  • Possible metabolic damage

You need lots and lots of calories to fuel your body to do it’s functional activities like make your heart beat, keep your immune system up and running, help you digest food.  You need even more calories to go through your daily activities such as take a shower or drive a car.  Then, the calories you use to go for a run or circuit train are extra.  (If you do not know your BMR, I highly recommend you get it here.)

So let’s say (to make things simple) your BMR is 1400, but once your factor in your daily life activities it is 2100.  Then once you factor in a circuit training and HIIT workout, you burn 2500 calories a day.  But let’s say you are trying so hard to lose weight so you are only eating 1400 calories a day.  First, this is dangerous because you are in an 1100 calorie deficit each day.  (But I won’t go into why today, that is for another blog.)  This is not something that you can sustain for very long, and you give into your cravings and you eat a 200 calorie protein bar, so now you panic because you have eaten 1600 calories, which is 200 more than you want, so you do an extra spin class later.

Now you are in an even greater calorie deficit because you will probably burn more than 200 calories in that spin class.  Now your immune system is not functioning properly.  You are very tired and cranky and your body just feel downright lethargic.  You are getting so upset that you just can’t lose the weight.  These are all symptoms taking place because your body is not functioning properly without the right amount of energy being put in to what you are trying to force out.

Now, what if your goal is not weight related?  What if you goal is to be able to have visible muscle?  This is a goal I support rather than the scale based goals.  A scale will tell you how much you weigh, but what you weigh does not have a direct indication to your appearance.  What if you had visible abs, lean legs and shoulders and arms that you just can’t stop showing off, but the scale told you that you weighed 8 more pounds than you weigh right now. Which would you take?

Let’s say you pay no attention to the scale and pay more attention to your progress via photographs, and still, all you want is to get rid of extra belly fat or love handles, so you have been doing an extra 30 – 45 minutes of cardio every day.  This is not the answer either.  If you are constantly in a caloric deficit you will never have the extra calories it takes to build lean muscle, and you know from my blog last week, if you want to see lean muscle tone, you have to have muscle.  For those women who have tried to build muscle, you know how hard it is.

Not only is the calorie deficit not allowing you to build muscle, but additionally, you are using it to fuel your cardio.  If your calories do not fuel the cardio you are doing, your body will draw the energy from somewhere, and unfortunately, it will draw from your muscles.  This is why when you see the long distance runner type of body, they are very skinny but not muscular.  This should also explain to you why if your goal is to have a lean physique, training for a long distance race is not what you want to do to achieve that goal.

So getting back to the love handles and belly fat… If you are trying to get rid of these by doing more cardio, you are also forcing your body into fat storage mode.  Your body does not understand that you can walk to the pantry and get some food.  It goes into a panic and protects itself by storing fat, which is most commonly stored in the belly/ hip area.  Between this fat storage survival mode, not having a great amount of muscle, using the muscle you have to fuel your extra cardio and not having extra calories to help build muscle, you are going to go nowhere!!!

Here’s a solution!  Start at the base.  Make sure you are following a nutrition plan that is sustainable.  Once you recognize your BMR, make sure you are eating enough to achieve your goals, while also allowing your body to be well fueled enough so that you do not fall victim to food binges because you are starving.  Next, when you do have days where you are eating a lot of food (think Thanksgiving dinner, special dinners out at a steakhouse, etc) then use that fuel to squat really heavy the next day or let your body balance itself out.  You do not need to do an extra hour of cardio the next day.  Doing that occasionally won’t have terrible side effects, but if this is a regular occurrence, it could, and it’s certainly not going to help you reach your goals!

Now, I’d like some feedback from you.  Have you ever been stuck in this cycle of eating, doing more cardio, only to not get any results?

Leave me a comment below to let me know how YOU got out of this cycle because YOU CANNOT OUT TRAIN A BAD DIET.


The Get in Shape Girl

Originally posted on The Get In Shape Girl.

About Kyra Williams

Kyra, AKA The Get in Shape Girl is a self employed, NASM certified online personal trainer and nutrition expert, USA Weightlifting Coach and has written two cookbooks and a 12 Week Workout Plan available for purchase online. Visit her website at Follow her on Twitter at @getnshapegirl, Instagram at @thegetinshapegirl, and on Facebook:

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You Cannot Cancel Out Food With Cardio!