How Under Fueling Can Pack on the Pounds and Ruin Your Metabolism

What do these scenarios have in common?

1.  I ate WAY to much yesterday, so today I skipped breakfast and ran 5 miles to burn off yesterday’s binge.

2.  I just got a super cute new workout outfit, but I don’t want to look fat in it so I didn’t eat anything before I go workout.

3.  I only count calories when I diet (nutritious food vs. junk food is not a consideration).

4.  I barely eat anything all day, then binge on sweets at night.

To lose weight, you need to exercise as much as possible and eat as little as possible, right?  Have you ever skipped meals, felt guilty about the food you ate, or felt that food is a necessary evil and the less you eat of it the better?

Did you know that eating too little can have short-term as well as long-term consequences for your body, your workouts and weight loss results?

During a period of low calorie, underfeeding, your cells start to prime themselves for when you do eat “normally” again, so that they can store fat more quickly and efficiently, particularly in the abdominal region, in preparation for another low-calorie period.  Your metabolism is essentially adjusting to the low calories & over-exercising and your metabolism steadily lowers in order to conserve energy.  The lower your metabolism is, the less efficiently you burn fat.

Chronic under fueling and extremely low calorie diets can cause long-term health issues such as fatigue, a weakened immune system, low-energy during training, porous & brittle bones or bone loss, reduced thyroid function, drop in estrogen levels,  menstrual periods become irregular or cease altogether, hair loss, bad skin, brain fog/memory loss, anxiety and poor sleep.

Fueling Without Getting Fat

Have you ever noticed that even though you have increased your exercise and decreased your calories, your body is “softening”?  Whether it’s intentional or not, poor eating habits and failure to increase food to match exercise intensity (aka. under fueling) can cause you to lose muscle and increase body fat.

A common worry among females is that they will gain weight if they start to eat more.  The truth is, the key to keeping up your metabolism and energy levels up while maintaining a healthy weight and toned physique takes specific training and eating strategies.

Carbohydrates as Fuel

Despite the current popularity the low-carb diets, high-intensity training requires fuel from carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates can raise your maximum training intensity 70 percent( or greater).   If you haven’t consumed enough carbs priori to your workout, your training output will be low (even if you feel like you’re training at a high intensity, you won’t be.)

Protein and Fats

Plant protein and plant-based fats will help keep you feeling full during periods when you are not training, as well as provide the repair and recovery tools your body needs to rebuild.  The more lean muscle your body has, the higher your resting metabolic rate is (that’s right, your metabolism speeds up the more muscle you build!).  Consuming protein at regular intervals throughout the day will be crucial to building lean muscle and preventing muscle breakdown as your body rebuilds and repairs.

4 Tips to Fuel Your Body for Fat Loss

Eating more of the right foods at the right time can help you achieve the training intensity and body results you desire.

1.  Don’t skip meals.  It becomes hard to fit in enough calories when you skip meals. If you work out in the morning, eat fast-digesting carbs (like a banana) before your session and a combination of carbohydrates and protein after your workout (like chicken and sweet potatoes).   Set an alarm on your watch every 3 hours if you forget to eat meals.  Meal prep is also important to keeping you on track.  Set aside an hour each week to cook in bulk.

2.  Eat more carbs.  If you’ve been eating a low-carbohydrate diet for an extended period, see how you feel when you add some carbs prior to your workout.  You should notice a spike in energy, which in turn will generate enhanced performance and by default, a higher burning metabolism.  Save the veggie carbs for times during the day when you are at rest (sitting on the couch or on the computer).

3.  Trust your appetite.  Too often, we ignore our hunger signals and maintain a “diet” mentality and “less is better” attitude.  If you are eating whole foods and training consistently and with intensity, your body’s own hunger signals (thirst, grumbling tummy, salivating mouth) will be your best tool for learning how to properly fuel.  TRUST YOUR HUNGER SIGNALS.  Remember, as you build more muscle, your resting metabolic rate increases, and your body will require more calories for fuel, so trust your hunger signals!

4. Listen to your body.  If, after workouts, you are feeling chronic fatigue, soreness, anxiety, lack of sleep, hair loss, bad skin, GI distress or memory loss, consider changing the types and amounts of food you’re getting — you probably need more, not less and eat a wide variety of foods, not the same day-in-day-out..  Make sure you are getting adequate rest and that all your micronutrient needs are covered (vitamin/mineral).