Monday, October 26, 2015

The 2 Basic Rules of Fitness

I recently posted on Facebook that if I were to break down all of my fitness advice to its core, there are really just two main points:
  • No exercise regimen will deliver results disproportionate to the effort you put in.
  • No diet can circumvent the first law of thermodynamics.
That probably deserves a little more explanation, though. So here goes.

No Exercise Regimen Will Deliver Results Disproportionate to the Effort You Put In
The Internet is awash with all sorts of exercise advice in which a certain "move" or routine will burn a ton of calories. You'll often see clickbait such as "blast," "fry," "sizzle," "torch," etc. The notion, of course, is that by doing X instead of Y, you'll get bigger results with less effort. Sorry, but that's simply not possible.

The amount of calories you burn exercising is a matter of math. It's simply a measure of the energy demand you place on your body. The more energy your muscles ask for, the more fuel your body burns to give it to them. And the more more fuel you burn, the more oxygen you need. So in real basic terms, you can calculate it this way: how much your heart rate is elevated X how long it's elevated X your weight. 

There are some minor variables, such as your body-fat percentage and VO2 max, but those aren't going to make a significant difference for the average Regular Guy. The bottom line: It's about how hard you work, and there's no getting around that.

No Diet Will Circumvent the First Law of Thermodynamics
Every fad diet out there has one thing in common: They all promise to help you lose weight without having to worry about those pesky calories. Atkins, paleo, intermittent fasting, gluten-free... And there are magic foods like Bulletproof coffee, green coffee extract, chia seeds... One little problem: The laws of physics say otherwise. 


The first law of thermodynamics is a bedrock scientific principle: The amount of energy expended cannot exceed the amount of potential energy available. Imagine you're a pioneer living in a log cabin in the Appalachian mountains. Let's say that on an average day, you chop 10 logs a day to add to your wood pile.
  • If you always burn 10 logs, your wood pile will remain exactly the same size. You've added and used exactly the same amount of potential energy. This is akin to burning exactly the number of calories you consume.
  • If you burn 12 logs, your wood pile will dwindle. You've burned more energy than you've added. This is akin to losing weight.
  • If you burn 8 logs, your wood pile will get bigger. You've burned less energy than you've added. This is akin to gaining weight.
You can't burn 8 logs and cut the size of your wood pile. It's a physical impossibility. Likewise, you can't burn fewer calories than you consume and lose weight. Also physically impossible.

So Stick to Basics
Don't twist yourself in knots trying to do some fancy exercise routine. Stop worrying about meal timing, gluten sensitivity, super foods and the like. When you exercise, work hard. Do both cardio and strength training. At the table, make sure you get your macros and micros, and keep your calories in check. Find a calorie calculator if you're not sure how much to eat.  

This is what being a Regular Guy is all about.

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