If you just started an exercise plan or are getting your butt in gear by working out more consistently, you may need to change how you fuel your body to get the most out of it. Common nutrition mistakes such as drinking your calories or eating too much postworkout may be the reason why you can't lose weight (or inches) even though you're giving it your all. Although getting fit isn't just about the scale, it's still an important factor, so we'll break down 5 common problems—and how to fix them—to get you back on the path to results.
Problem 1: You have no idea how many calories you're really eating
It's common to think more exercise = more calories. But if you're trying to lose weight, you may be adding on as many calories as you're burning—or more. "Think about the food that you're eating to fuel your workouts and ask yourself how it fits into your total calorie allotment for the day," advises Felicia Stoler, MS, RD, a nutritionist and exercise physiologist. Just because you hit the cardio hard today doesn't automatically mean you can supersize dinner. "Most people have no idea how much they're really eating." To get honest with yourself about your calorie needs, write down everything you eat for a day (yes, even that handful of nuts you're holding right now) or use a site like MyFitnessPal®. You'll probably be surprised by your final number.
Problem 2: You're hydrating with a sports drink
If you're doing a hard, prolonged workout, then hydrating with a sports drink can be a good thing, but for your standard, at-home program, you're usually better off with water. Sports drinks contain about 50 calories per 8 oz., and 14 grams of sugar (about 3.5 teaspoons). Your body will probably burn though that in an hour-long workout, but then you won't be mobilizing fat stores as much. As for the electrolytes, yes, an hour-long program depletes them, but it's nothing a good recovery drink can't fix.
Problem 3: You're addicted to that preworkout snack
As long as they're getting enough balanced calories in their diet, the average person should have all the glycogen stores they need to get through an hour-long workout, even first thing in the morning. Eating something beforehand might give your performance a little boost, but if you skip it you're better off—teaching your body how to mobilize fat stores for energy (just like in Problem 2). The exception to this is if you "bonk" or run out of glycogen and blood sugar partway through your workout. When this happens, you don't just feel a little pooped; you feel as though you've just run into a brick wall. If this happens, 50–100 calories of simple carbs, 10 minutes before you start, should fix it. Half a banana would be ideal. If you're looking for a boost with minimal calories, Beachbody's E&E Energy and Endurance® Formula or a strong cup of coffee are two great ergogenic aids.
Problem 4: You're eliminating all carbs
So many exercisers try to eliminate starchy carbs—including whole grains and starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn—when they're trying to lose weight. But it's water weight you're losing, not fat. Not only that, the strategy can backfire. Depleting carbs from your diet means that you have to tap into your lean protein stores for energy, which ultimately can decrease your lean muscle mass. Muscle is critical for upping your metabolism—and burning more calories even while you sit around—so you may see your weight plateau. The lesson? Don't be afraid to incorporate some whole grains and starchy veggies into your daily diet.
Problem 5: You're not working out hard enough
If you notice you come home from a run only to find that you're noticeably hungrier, consider upping the intensity of that run. A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity looked at sedentary, overweight men who either worked out at a moderate pace for 30 minutes or completed a high-intensity interval workout for the same amount of time.1 Those who did the intense interval exercise ate less at a subsequent meal, as well as the next day. Not every workout should be an intense interval session, but fitting in one or two a week can help turn the dial down on your appetite.
- High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise Attenuates Ad-Libitium Energy Intake