Is Exercise Making You Fat?


You may think the more you workout, the more weight you’ll lose.

Before I became a dietitian, I thought that too.

Today, I know otherwise. I’ve seen person after person who works out hard  (1 plus hours per day), and the weight still doesn’t come off.  When I started working with the San Francisco Marathon Training Team, I was astonished. People were gaining weight more than they were losing weight.


Basically, folks tend to:

  1. Overestimate how many calories they’re really burning
  2. Eat more as a reward
  3. Eat more because they’re hungrier
  4. Focus mainly on exercise and not nutrition for weight loss
  5. Eat too much of the healthy stuff

5 Things to do to Make Exercise Help You Lose Weight

1.) Leave the nutrition and exercise pieces separate:  Consult with a dietitian or use a calorie counting app to get an idea of how many calories you need per day to reach your goal weight. Use this number as a barometer. Ignore the exercise calories here. Don’t add them in. For example, if the elliptical says you burned 700 calories, and you need 1,400 calories to lose weight, don’t add 700 calories to your 1,400 daily calorie needs for weight loss. Once you start adding how many calories you burned exercising into your daily needs, things get messy. An extra 100 or so calories on big workout days, ain’t no thing. But, an extra 700 is a big thing! NOTE: ladies, don’t go below 1,200 calories per day and men, don’t go below 1,500 calories per day. This does not make for a happy metabolism and these levels require medical supervision.

2.) Eat to achieve your goal:Repeat after me, “I eat to live. I don’t live to eat.” Trust me, I get the whole eating a bit more because I worked out thing. And in some cases, you have a little more flexibility for sure. But, if you have a treat or reward after every time you workout, you may be erasing your workout. For example, if you run for 30 minutes, you’re burning about 300 calories. Think about 100 calories per 10 minutes of heart-pumping sweaty exercise (this is a total approximate!).  300 calories = 1 cup low-fat ice cream OR 1/2 cup trail mix OR 3/4 cup quinoa with some olive oil OR 15 tortilla chips with a 3-4 tablespoons of guac. See where I’m going here? Plus, the body isn’t as simple as a mathematical equation. Remember, it’s not just about calories. It’s about when you eat, what you eat, and how much you eat. If you eat 700 calories all in one sitting at night, and you need 1,300 calories to lose weight, I’m 99.9% sure you won’t lose weight. Why? I’m not sure. But, I’ve seen it with hundreds of clients. And by the way, that’s kinda how sumo wrestlers eat. One big meal and then sleep … please, do me and YOU a favor, don’t be a sumo!

3.) Knock off the hunger (for REAL!): To stop the post-workout hunger, you want to eat within 30-60 minutes after a sweat session. Don’t miss this! If you do, you may be hungrier all day and not be able to kick that hungry feeling. Make it happen! And, get in a combo of protein + carbs. Examples: 1 hardboiled egg + banana; smoothie (1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt + 1 small banana + 1 cup berries + 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk); whole-grain sandwich with 2 slices bread + 3-4 ounces turkey or chicken + lettuce/tomato/cucs + mustard with a piece of fruit; 3 ounces baked sweet potato + 4 ounces grilled chicken + roasted broccoli. Lastly, be sure to plan your food around your exercise. What I mean by this is don’t have another snack or meal in addition to what you’d normally have. Make your already planned snack or meal fit into that 30-60 minute post-workout window.

4.) Remember, the GOLDEN RULE: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen pre-clients dish out hundreds of dollars for trainers. They love their workouts and adore their trainers, but they’re not really losing the weight they thought they would. Why? Because weight loss is over 80% nutrition. Weight maintenance is exercise + nutrition, so you need to surely learn how to do both, but if you don’t get the nutrition piece squared away, you’ll find yourself spinning your wheels.

5.) Get real with your portions:  I had one client who was eating over 3,000 calories per day in nuts and nut butter. Nut butter in a smoothie. Nuts as a morning and afternoon snack. Peanut butter after dinner. The doctor told him nuts were healthy, so he took the challenge and started eating more. Another client swapped butter for olive oil. Not realizing that olive oil is 120 calories per tablespoon, olive oil was all over her veggies, stir-fry dishes, and the list goes on. I can say the same thing about quinoa, beans, brown rice, etc. I often find that when clients start exercising, they eat healthier. And since, they’re hungrier and often not getting the timing right, they eat more. Bottom line: there’s a difference between eating for health and eating for weight loss. If you’re not losing weight, check your portions.

Keep it healthy and keep it sweaty! :)

What’s your favorite post-workout snack?


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9 Responses to “Is Exercise Making You Fat?”

  1. Emma says:

    Corinne! Love the site and this article!

    I have finally learned over the years how important after workout snacks are, my favorite is a whole wheat tortilla with natural peanut butter and sliced bananas or apples.
    Also if I’m doing something really sweaty like heated yoga or anything outside in the summer (i live in Austin,tx) Drinking anything with electrolytes is really helpful especially if you can’t have a snack after.

  2. Sara Hannan says:

    As always such great reminders!!! x0

  3. Jenny says:

    I carry fruit in my bag. I might eat an apple or orange. Sometimes I will eat a peanut butter granola bar or a Luna Bar. Also, I may drink chocolate coconut milk.

  4. Kim says:

    very helpful article. ..em.. i dont have a post workout snack. m usually 2 full from drinking water throughout my exercise..

  5. Sarah T says:

    God this puts so much into perspective. I hope I don’t come off as too much of a whiner, but it’s SO DIFFICULT. I am a sucker for the eat healthy food but eat more of it thing. I can’t seem to find the right balance.

  6. Meredith says:

    I love 3 slices of turkey, a slice of lettuce and mustard rolled up after a workout. Or, I’ll have a banana w/ natural peanut butter!

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