When the "I don't have to worry about it" diet is full of junk food, sodas, "sports" drinks, caffeine, and processed food, no amount of exercise can undo what those foods are doing to the body.

No plan for healthy living can be complete without incorporating frequent exercise. And no exercise plan is complete without addressing nutrition.

How many of us have been guilty of doing this? You excercise hard one day, and you follow it up later with a less than ideal meal with the thought, “I excercised today, so I can afford it.” I’ll raise my hand here.

We’re all for allowing cheats, but what’s not so good is when people continue to eat a very poor diet on a regular basis and justify it with “I exercise so I can eat whatever I want and not worry about it.”

When the “I don’t have to worry about it” diet is full of junk food, sodas, “sports” drinks, caffeine, and processed food, no amount of exercise can undo what those foods are doing to the body. I think most people know that when you exercise, you break down muscles, which is followed by a rebuilding process during recovery. When rebuilding time comes, what we eat is the only material our body has available to work with. Anything built with low-quality materials simply won’t last.

Exercise’s benefits are seen beyond physical aspects, and studies have shown that your activity level or duration don’t need to be extreme to get those benefits. But what’s surprised me is how many very active athletes I meet who do extreme activities yet continue to eat some of the worst foods man has ever invented. And on occasion I might say something along the lines of being surprised at their diet based on what activities they do. The most common type of response is, “I don’t want to worry about the stuff. I’m in shape so I don’t have to.” If only they knew what was going on in the inside.

We’ve never seen a fascination with running like what exists here in Austin. It’s as if being a runner is what makes you an Austinite. Since neither Kelli or I are runners, more than once we’ve got a stern look from a very poor eating, fairly overweight individual when we mention that we’re not really into it. The assumption is that the running is what makes a person healthy, with no thought to nutrition or results with the entire body in mind.

Just after we settled in Austin I joined one of the outdoor exercising “boot camps” that are spopular here. We do stuff I’ve either never done or haven’t done since high school sports ended. Those camps are hard; so hard that I can say I’m easily in the best shape I’ve ever been. Even in that crowd, the Friday afternoon camps are popular because the trainer brings beer as a reward when it’s over.

Then there are the monthly ‘happy hours’ where after an evening camp, everyone meets at a local Tex-Mex restaurant where the all-you-can-eat greasy chips with artificial cheese dips and fried wings with corn syrup based BBQ sauce are provided free of charge, followed by the drinks that make everyone ‘happy.’

Disregarding what I’ve learned about nutrition over the last 3 years, I still can’t fathom how beer or cheese dips sound appealing after pushing your body to near exhaustion. Considering what I do know about nutrition, it can be sad to see people hold themselves back from achieving their fitness or weight loss goals because they’re simply not willing to make the necessary food changes. I’ll hear many express frustration and wonder why they struggle, but with no desire to look at the real source of what’s holding them back.

We live in a stressful, toxic world. Your body can only tolerate so much abuse. Excercise has the potential to delay body breakdowns, but it can’t do so forever. What’s true for a high performance sports car is true for our bodies. Our ‘vehicle’ will perform much better and last much longer if we give it the proper fuel and perform routine maintenance. The best fuel for our bodies, for extreme athletes and for everyone, is high quality, high octane whole foods that provide the macro- and micro-nutrients are bodies are designed to run on.

By all means, life is meant to be enjoyed. The message here is not to forever avoid a good time socializing with friends, or never drinking ‘happy’ drinks and snacking on less that ideal food. But we do need to know that exercise can only go so far in protecting our bodies, and that there are much better ways to nourish our bodies than what we hear in fancy marketing message.

Instead of brightly colored, high sugar “sports” drinks, a better alternative would be the now-popular coconut water, or just regular water for that matter, mindful to replenish lost salt and electrolytes as well. Going for a longer endurance exercise? Instead of fake goos and gels, try blending dates with water to make your own high energy sports gel. And rather than a beer at the end of a game, gorging on high glucose, easy to digest fruit is the better way to go. You’ll hydrate faster and won’t have to worry about feeling sick later on.

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