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Your BEAST MODE Is Probably Not That Beastly

(aka Does Your Training Actually Warrant Increased Food Intake?)

I often see friends and clients, adjust their food intake due to all the “intense training” that they are doing. Often, it’s training like CrossFit, strength training, weight lifting or something similar. Yet… just because something SOUNDS intense does not actually make it intense.

How do you measure “intense”? Do you use objective indicators of intensity, or do you simply judge how hard something was by the soundtrack in the background?

If that’s the case, check out this gem recently recommended by a friend:

I use some sort of heart-rate / GPS device for my training on and off – just like I do everything else, really. In the past couple of days, I have had the pleasure of EXTRA detailed workout and movement information – compliments of Garmin VivoActive with the chest strap. Looking at daily summaries reminded me once again how misleading our perception of our own training is.

*For reference, my resting heart rate is in mid-50s, and my max heart rate (aka I’m gonna drop dead any second and pass out) is somewhere in the 190s.

Here are just FEW activities from the past 48 hours:

AN HOUR of barbell work during an Olympic lifting class. – average heart rate: 98 – calories burned: 215

AN HOUR of walking through the woods, WHILE talking on the phone (the last part is important, because it implies that I had to walk slowly enough to maintain a comfortable conversation – this is one of the most common ways to measure perceived effort of any physical activity). – average heart rate: 104 – calories burned: 267

THIRTY MINUTES of pretty leisurely moderate effort trail running: – average heart rate: 142 – calories burned: 258

So, given that an HOUR OF BARBELL WORK took me less energy than an hour of leisurely walking, it hardly warrants a big pasta dinner to “replenish all those carbs” BEAST MODE STYLE.

In a similar fashion, I have burned more calories in a YOGA class than I have in many CrossFit classes. Yet, many of us continue to view “I do CrossFit four to five times a week” as INTENSE training schedule.

In a typical CrossFit class, you’d listen to your coach explain the WOD for the first five minutes or so, then walk around the box for the next ten minutes, assembling the equipment you need for the strength component. Then you would spend the next twenty minutes (if you are lucky) working on a strength complex of some kind – 5 sets of 5 reps on back squats, or perhaps, working your way up to a heavy snatch. Then, more listening and walking around the gym, preparing for a conditioning workout, and finally, an all-out five to twelve minute workout at the end of the class – a multi-movement chipper, a couplet or whatever else is on the board that day.

One of the reasons I stopped doing CrossFit as my MAIN training modality was just that – it was not a lot of bang for my buck. I could accomplish way more in an hour on my own.

When it comes to body composition, and weight, caloric balance is still the king. And, no matter how intensely you exercise, exercising for seven minutes (hello, AMRAP WOD) is simply not going to compare to sustaining a moderate effort for 30-45 minutes doing pretty much anything else. [I am intentionally leaving out EPOC out of discussion, and, yes, higher intensity WILL result in higher excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.] When I start doing ONLY short really intense workouts as my primary training, my overall caloric expenditure goes down, and if I do not adjust my food intake DOWN, I gain weight.

So… using a device with a chest strap or another objective measure for a week or two to assess energy expenditure across various activities can be a great awareness exercise.

IF your goal is fat loss / weight loss, assess how intense your training ACTUALLY is, before adjusting your food intake to account for “all that energy burned”. And, IF your goal is muscle gain / weight gain, then… stop with the running.

Hugs, SOLO


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