Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Avoid the Post-Workout Rewards System!

Okay, so yesterday about five miles into a twelve mile run I started to get hungry.  No big deal, I am certainly not going to pass out from being a little hungry during a run of that distance.

The problem was where my thoughts went.  I started to think about "rewarding" myself for a good run with a big juicy double-cheeseburger and fries from the local diner.

So, what's wrong with that?  Lot's of people do that.  I mean, come on!  I did the work, shouldn't I be able to reward myself for all of those calories burned?  What, after all is the point of working so hard if you can't enjoy the fruits of your labor?  Right?

You will not win this particular argument with me so don't bother trying.  I know the truth from personal and observed experiences.  I believe it is one of the major faults with a whole lot of the current weight loss programs on the market today.  They in one way or another offer you a "Cheat day" where as long as you're good the rest of the week, you can eat whatever you want for one day.

There are two problems with this approach.

First, if you're overweight, you didn't get there because you followed the best eating habits in the world.  Let's be honest.  I didn't get overweight because I did what was right for my body.  What did I do?  I ate the wrong foods and I ate them consistently.  Then as a form of appeasement, I'd go out for a run every once in a while and tell myself I was earning that double-cheeseburger and fries!

The rewards system, puts the total focus on food.  It creates a relationship with it that makes it  the total and only objective of exercise.  It even makes eating right the rest of the week something you do just so you can "pig-out" on that one day.  Using this type of system, you may;  in fact if strict enough... absolutely will, lose weight.  The problem is since the relationship is with food and not with exercise and all of its benefits, when you have difficulties in life and stop exercising for a period of time (which will inevitably happen, like it or not), you still have a relationship with food.  And food becomes your source of escape and comfort instead of exercise.

Whether we like it or even admit to it, all human beings operate out of one of two contexts most of the time.  We are either working to avoid pain or to gain pleasure.  You can deny this until you're blue in the face and yet the truth is whatever you are doing is moving you in one of those two directions.

Think about it for a second; when you finally decided to lose weight what was the motivating factor?  Were you tired of being embarrassed by your weight?  Were you afraid you might not be healthy enough to play with your grandchildren?  Or maybe, you wanted the joy of sharing a great moment running a race with your friends and you knew you needed to lose weight to do just that.  What ever your reason(s), you were avoiding pain or seeking pleasure.

What's the point?

For most of us, food has become a quick way to gain instant pleasure.  Even if in the long run, too much of the wrong stuff can cause extreme pain, in the moment when you are seeking escape from the pain of the moment, food offers instant relief.

And so, when you use food as a reward system for exercise you are setting yourself up to never be able to escape the cycle of using it as a tool for release.  And eventually, any gains you have made through exercise will be wiped out as you even substitute food for exercise to find relief in your day to day life.

The second reason to avoid using food as a reward after exercise is really only important if you are truly committed to getting the most out of your exercising body.

The period immediately after exercise, say 30 to 60 minutes, are the critical time for providing your body with the nutrients it needs for recovery.  Whether you are brand new to exercise or have been training for a long time, you need to make sure that you are giving your body exactly what it needs when it needs it. This is especially true during this post-workout time frame.

Post-workout, your body doesn't need just any old food you can throw down.  It needs a decent combination of protein and some high quality carbs.  Depending on your body weight you should being consuming 10 to 25 gms of quality lean protein within the hour after your workout.  This is the time when your body may have during exercise utilized protein (its least popular source of energy) to supplement the other sources of energy in your body depending on the intensity of your workout.  You need to replenish the protein in order for your muscles, tendons and ligaments to fully recover prior to your next workout.

You need the carbs to replenish what are known as glycogen stores in your muscles and liver.  Glycogen is the energy source used most often for quick bursts of strength and also during the initial stages of exercise before your aerobic system kicks into gear.  Glycogen is also utilized by your body when your aerobic system is over-taxed and can't produce energy, but the supply is very limited.  You may have heard of marathoners doing something called "carbo-loading".  The glycogen system is the focus of this practice.

All this being said, how do you avoid the food reward system?

You need to find something else to use as your reward.  And it has to be exciting for you!  Maybe its the shopping trip you're going to take when you reach a certain weight to replenish your closet.  Maybe its the 5k race you're going to complete with your friends and all of the excitement that goes along with that accomplishment.  Maybe its something as simple as rewarding yourself with a dip in the pool after a warm and exhausting workout.  It could even be a quick little nap, that just simply says to you; "Go ahead you've earned it!"

What ever it is you choose, its got to feel rewarding to you and it can't be food!  Sorry, I know that's a tough one but its the truth.  If you're really serious about this, you can't go on attaching everything in your life to food.  If you're not really concerned about enjoying a long and fulfilling active life where you get to enjoy your family and friends and grandchildren in good health, then by all means... eat what ever you want when ever you want.  You might as well get as much of it as you can while you still can!

I'm not saying you can't enjoy the food you eat.  Not by a long stretch.  You have just got to at some point beginning changing what you use to reward yourself and focus on those things instead of the quick escape of food.

Avoid the reward system and you'll find your results sticking around!

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