I decided to put a theory to test over the weekend. It’s a theory put to the test in many studies before but I thought I’d try it for myself and it was to find out, as the title says…

What is the Cost of Exercise?

There could be many answers to this, one being ‘divorce’ as I’m sure my excessive marathon running in the latter part of last century lead me down that route! Anyway, that’s another story.

The answer I wanted to find here was what is the cost of exercise post training session on food consumption and energy levels?

Energy costs. All energy expenditure comes with a price. Drive your car, it costs petrol. Turn on a light, it costs electricity. Heat your home, it costs gas. Why should the energy you expend in the gym be any different? If you attend a class or perform a gym workout then it is going to cost you and the question I want to raise is how much is it going to cost and with what currency are you going to pay for it?

I exercise/train most days. I’m wired that way. It doesn’t take much for me to get motivated and to get up and do it when I have the energy and as a result I eat accordingly to suit that. Whether you exercise most days or never at all, you will operate in a similar way. You take on what energy you need for what you are going to expend and this is how we, other animals and cars & aeroplanes work.

What I did this weekend was to expend energy beyond my normal levels to see how someone wishing to lose weight through exercise generally goes about it based on the approach of ‘go to the gym, eat salad and cut out chocolate & takeaways’.

I usually workout seven of every eight days with three of those sessions being real quality efforts requiring me to push beyond my capabilities to reach new targets. These are very demanding as they ask your body to go somewhere it hasn’t been before; they are both physically and mentally challenging and extremely exhausting. When completed, they are very rewarding too. The other sessions are of a high standard but maintenance based. Because I have operated like that for many years (give or take holidays, slack or extra enthusiastic weeks and competition preparation) I eat accordingly and will consume food when I feel the need to.

This weekend I stepped it up. Those three quality training sessions I might do over eight days I did over 31 hours. 9am Saturday, 7.30am Sunday and 3pm Sunday. And wow! Did I know about it? In fact I’m not sure I’ll ever do anything like that again as it totally floored me. Two big sprinting sessions either side of a barbell and plyometrics set. They were tough by anyone’s standards.

I behaved as normal pre and post workouts and ate as normal and it wasn’t until around 8pm on the Sunday that I began to feel a difference. I became tired and my body started to ache. I went to bed at 10pm and found it difficult to sleep because of the discomfort. It was the next day though that what I predicted, happened.

I woke at 5.45am and felt as if I’d been run over by something Fred Dibnah might cruise around in. My body ached and it was a struggle to put my socks on. It took a good hour to start feeling normal and exercise demonstrations at work were challenging for me. My first meal of the day was large. As it wasn’t a scheduled rest day I was planning a training session even though I knew it would be light. The first opportunity to take the session passed by as I wasn’t ready. I ate some more. Sometimes on a Monday afternoon I get chance to come home for a rest so at 2pm I did and had a much larger lunch than normal. I then lay on the settee and slept for two hours. On waking I felt even more rigid but was determined to perk up and join in the Kettlebell class I teach at 6pm. I didn’t because I had no energy and when the class finished I came home and ate some more before going to bed around 9.30pm.

Now fortunately for me I have a fairly good idea of what to eat and more or less everything I consumed after the last training session was on the approved list for retaining/gaining muscle and ensuring no extra body fat was gained so what should happen is that I will recover well, my body repairs itself and grows muscle plus uses fat as a fuel source as a result of doing so. It was hard but was worth it.

It’s here that I want you to take particular note of what happened after these sessions. I ate more, was lethargic in my daily routine and I slept more than usual. That isn’t the usual way I spend a day but…

eating more calories, lethargy and sleeping was the currency in which I paid for my exercise.

That is the answer I was looking for.

If you decide you want to lose weight / body fat and you go about it with the approach of I’m going to bust my ass in the gym and eat salad afterwards then two things are going to happen: you are going to (at some point) get bloody hungry and you are going to have to rest. Your body will do all it can to keep itself at a set point so if you alter the balance then it tries its best to restore itself and if you expend too much energy then it will make you replace it. YOU have no choice in the matter and willpower will do nothing against it because it wants to conserve fuel and energy.

I am at the point now where if I see an obese person new to exercising bust a gut in the gym I worry because I know there will be a price to pay and that is rest and more food consumption. There will be an initial weight loss but, as I’ve mentioned many times before, 95% of dieters regain their weight and more and exercising plus calorie restriction is a sure fire way of keeping that ridiculous statistic alive and well.

Does this apply to you? Are you getting fatter after every gym visit? Understanding how the body reacts to energy expenditure and nutrient consumption & timing is crucial to achieving the result you want. Simply doing what you believe to be right is failing far too frequently yet we seem to accept it and blame ourselves for not trying hard enough.

Body composition testing, blood work, food diaries and educating yourself are three ways to give you a fighting chance of doing the right thing. Don’t keep expecting a different result from repeating the same practice!