Have you, or someone you know, started an exercise regimen lately? Has the immediate results seemed to have slowed after a few weeks in? Well it turns out, according to a study recently published in Current Biology, that our bodies are great at adapting to stimuli that we place on it. This may either be a blessing or a curse.
Warning, incoming science jargon:
“After adjusting for body size and composition, total energy expenditure was positively correlated with physical activity, but the relationship was markedly stronger over the lower range of physical activity. For subjects in the upper range of physical activity, total energy expenditure plateaued, supporting a Constrained total energy expenditure model. Body fat percentage and activity intensity appear to modulate the metabolic response to physical activity. Models of energy balance employed in public health [ 1–3 ] should be revised to better reflect the constrained nature of total energy expenditure and the complex effects of physical activity on metabolic physiology.”
What does this mean? Well, just as our bodies adapt to stimulus like resistance training by building stronger muscles and connective tissues, we also seem to adapt to intense exercise by getting better and better at managing energy.
So, if you are not necessarily witnessing the “results” you were hoping for with exercise alone (losing weight, decreasing body fat), then increasing the amount of exercise you do, or the intensity of exercise you do may not be the answer. What this study is telling us, is that just because your work ethic has been multiplied, doesn’t mean your energy output (i.e. calories burned) has been multiplied by the same amount. Maybe the "calories in vs. calories out" isn't as accurate as we once thought.
Don’t take this an excuse to either a), cancel your gym membership, or b), work less hard in the gym, because that is not the intention of this blog at all. In fact, I am always advocating routine and intense exercise for optimal health. What I am, saying, however, is that if you are not getting the results you are looking for when it comes to weight loss or body composition, then pushing your body harder and harder isn’t necessarily the answer.
Instead, focus on your dietary needs and what you're doing for exercise instead of how much or how hard.
Maybe you are eating too much. Maybe you are not eating enough of the right things. I know I sound like a broken record at times, but both diet and exercise are equal players in this game to optimal health.
Another thing I see it all the time when individuals believe that, "this amount of effort is only getting me this far, so I must have to increase the amount of time I workout to get where I want to be." We now know that this is simply not the case. Not only that, but there is this misconception that breathing heavy and sweating profusely is in direct correlation with how many calories are being burned. Keep in mind that a body with muscle has a higher resting metabolic rate than not, so working on improving your strength and muscle mass can be just as beneficial, if not more beneficial than simply cardio alone.
Tyler Robbins B.Sc. CSCS
Director of Fitness
Head of CrossFit