I spent the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with my HUGE extended family in the midwest. Several times over the weekend, an aunt or cousin would turn to me and say, “Oh, I’d love to eat like that if I burned as many calories as you do,” and things of that nature.

I do eat a lot…

A shrimp maybe, but definitely not a bird.

A shrimp maybe, but definitely not a bird.

I’m not a bird, after all.

What gets to me about this isn’t the assumption that I must do tons of fat-burning cardio to stay lean (I don’t), but rather the fact that many people seem to believe that the point of exercise is to burn the calories that they take in. What a waste!

Athletes eat a lot because we put those calories to work! And here’s the thing: it’s probably not different for you.

It’s okay to watch what you eat when you’re trying to lose weight, but just know that eating will help you reach your goals, not prevent it. Rather than feeling antagonistic towards food– as if it were something to be avoided, as if calories might cause actual HARM to their body– an athlete eats with the intent to make their bodie as high-performance as possible. You may have heard the battle-cry that “Food is Fuel”? Well, a direct corollary of that is that you don’t burn fuel for no reason.

Think about food like money. Money is useless if you never spend it on anything, and calories are the same. Sure, you probably don’t want to take in a dramatic excess of calories that you’re going to end up storing as fat. But by the same token, you don’t bring home your paycheck just to set it on the kitchen table and light it on fire, do you?

No. You don’t burn money, and you don’t burn calories. You spend money– and if you’re really smart, you invest it. You invest money in the people, projects, and things that will make your life better.

Couldn’t you view food the same way?

Calories are a measure of the energy stored in the food you eat. They’re not just energy for workouts, but even more importantly, calories are fuel for running your body’s essential functions like breathing, digesting, blinking, maintaining a consistent internal temperature, and thinking. And don’t underestimate that last one: although your brain is only about 2% of your total body weight, it consumes about 20% of the calories allotted to basic functions. (Consider this when you’re tempted to go on a starvation diet just to fit into a pair of old jeans.) All of this means that your body actually goes through a lot of calories even if you don’t do anything but sit at your desk and work all day.

Food becomes fuel during digestion when your body breaks down the burrito you had for lunch into it’s component macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. These are broken down even further and used by the body for cell repair, growth, energy and other critical processes.

Building muscle is another very important process that requires a lot of calories to run. And muscle does all kinds of kickass things besides just helping you to pick up heavy things: it protects your joints, helps prevent injury during everyday tasks, gives you a great shape, increases your resting metabolic rate (which helps with fat loss), fights osteoporosis, helps maintain blood sugar stability, and improves posture and balance.

So what I mean when I say that I don’t burn calories is that I eat with the intent that my body will use those calories for things that are important to my quality of life, like thinking, building muscle and getting stronger, and having energy for work and play.

Take a second to think about what the food you eat does for you. How does your body feel after you have a great meal versus before it? Do you have more energy? Are you in a better more? More focused? Less sore? Now consider how your body feels when you miss a meal, don’t eat enough, or eat something shitty (yes, that’s a technical term). I bet you feel lethargic and foggy-headed. Maybe you’re low energy… but you sleep worse. When you workout, you wont feel as strong or have the coordination to execute movements as precisely.

Now with that in mind, would you make nutritional choices differently? You bet your ass you would! And if you need any help figuring out how how to navigate the nutritional choices that will make your body run well and look great, I’ve got your back. Just drop me a line and I’ll help you design a nutritional program that will have you running at full power in no time.

So, if you want to be smoking hot, stop burning calories. Start eating like you plan to invest those babies in the body of your dreams!

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