Debunking the Myth that Workouts Burn Calories

Myogenics Fitness

An article in yesterday’s Sunday NYT features a study that dispels the common assumption that doing more activity helps us lose weight.

The common assumption is that people in modern societies are overweight largely because we move around less than people in generations past–and definitely less than in the hunter-gatherer societies from which we evolved.

Researchers tested this assumption by studying actual hunter-gatherers in Northern Tanzania. While these people WERE more active, their bodies didn’t expend more calories than sedentary Western people.

How could that be?

It appears that our bodies may adapt to increased activity by expending less energy during our rest times. You can view more details of the study here.

So, if working out doesn’t burn more net calories, and if our lack of activity isn’t what is keeping us pudgy, then what is?

The most likely suspect: our diet.

Action Step:

Cut way back on dietary sugars and carbohydrates.

The single thing we can do to make the biggest impact may be to eliminate sugars and refined carbohydrates (such as breads, cereals, and pastas).

These carbohydrates have drug-like effects that prevent our bodies from using our own body fat for energy. Our fat cells become one-way storage deposits; they take in fat, but don’t release it when our bodies need energy. Thus, we become ever hungrier even as we are storing more fat.

The good news is that to the extent we reduce sugar and carbohydrate consumption, our fat cells effectively become two-way streets that can provide lots of energy all day. This makes us less hungry, it makes us feel great, and it makes it far easier to lose weight and look sexy in our bathing suits.

To learn more details about these dietary ideas, watch this youtube video.

To health and life,


P.S. To assist with having a lean, attractive, strong body, the exercise we need is more intense exercise. Don’t exercise to burn calories; that doesn’t work. And if your workout is intense enough, once a week is sufficient – perhaps even optimal.

2 Responses to “Debunking the Myth that Workouts Burn Calories”

  1. Michael Blanchard

    I’m struggling to understand this study, I admit. What the study implies is that a person who is very active every day does not burn significantly more calories than a person who is sedentary all day. Perhaps this is a function of the body’s ability over time to adapt to different levels of activity? But why, then, do athletes like runners, cyclists, dancers, etc. eat more calories per day yet stay lean? Certainly it can’t be the case that I burn the same number of calories on a day I sit all day vs. a day when I run a marathon. Can it?

    Don’t get me wrong – diet is clearly a huge problem, and maybe the only problem worth focusing on when it comes to solving the obesity epidemic. But I’d still like to understand how you can say exercise doesn’t burn calories. It’s a bit like the Pose Running folks saying that with proper form, running requires no energy. Physics just doesn’t support these claims.

  2. Chad Morris

    Michael, thanks for your thoughts. This is an interesting topic that deserves a more thorough treatment. I hope to write more soon; and I hope you’ll find these ideas as illuminating and useful as I have.

    For now my short response is: we cannot assume that one’s basal metabolism is a fixed quantity that is unaffected by increases and decreases in metabolic activity due to running, cycling, dancing, etc. Data suggest that local increases in metabolic activity to facilitate running, swimming, etc., may effect decreases in the rest of one’s metabolism that eventually make up for the extra energy expenditure. Such metabolic conservation may be indicated by increases in hunger and lethargy–which continue until and unless extra food is consumed to make up the deficit…or until the deficit is made up over time. Thus, athletes could eat more and not gain weight. But if they chose not to eat more they might end up just feeling miserable and lethargic–rather than losing weight.

    To what extent, and under what conditions, this effect happens–and doesn’t happen–is an interesting metabolic question. There are many possibilities that are consistent with the laws of physics.

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