There are many different theories and recommendations for nutritional and dietary manipulations that are assumed to enhance the results from your workout.
There is pre and post workout nutrition which includes some sort of protein and amino acid cocktail.
There is also post workout carbohydrate loading in an effort to get the muscles to supercompensate with higher glycogen storage.
Then there are numerous theories how to manipulate your hormonal profile through diet and exercise to get the body to look and react a certain way.
Most of this is just pseudoscience that doesn’t add up to much when put to the test scientifically, or it applies in very specific situations for very short time frames and is only detectable in elite level athletes using scientific equipment to measure the changes.
In other words, you’ll never notice or feel or experience any of these changes in your day to day life even if you follow most of these recommendations to a ‘T’.
I think the real effect that diet and exercise can have is creating a positive effect on each other through accountability and ritual.
It seems to be easier to stick to a diet plan on the days that you workout because you’ve built some structure and positive ritual into your day.
You workout, you feel good about working out, the workout itself feels good, and this starts a movement of positive momentum.
You start to feel accountable to yourself and that you’re moving in a positive direction. All of this positive empowering feeling helps you stick to whatever diet plan you had for the day. Maybe the momentum and accountability from the workout helps you avoid having two slices of pizza for lunch and instead you opt for something with less calories.
The thinking is simple…you just don’t want to ‘ruin’ the workout by having a lousy meal or by eating something that isn’t part of your plan or that doesn’t contribute to getting you to your body shape and fitness goals.
Conversely on days when you don’t have a workout scheduled (or days when you miss your workout because of some other circumstance) it seems easy to fall off of the diet wagon as well. Missing the workout begets missing on your diet.
So not only do you miss the workout, but you also decide that you might as well go for all you can eat pizza and wings and finish it off with a quart of ice cream.
Even though you can’t out exercise a bad diet, you can certainly use your workout as a source of momentum and positive ritual to stick to your diet plan.
I’d go as far as to say even a 20 min walk is still enough to build up that momentum for the day to help you stay on track with your eating.
I think one of the major reasons so many people struggle with their diet is simply because we are terribly sedentary and we are losing touch with part of what it means to be human and alive…and that is physical activity.
The sedentary life that many people are now living is uncharted and unprecedented. There has never been a time in human history when people have been this sedentary. We are just not adapted well to this lifestyle. We were built to move and until the industrial revolution we had to spend most of our days in very active jobs.
I’d even go as far as to suggest it’s also part of why so many people have sleeping problems and issues with depression…We just don’t move enough.
Getting back to the core of what we are (built to move) is a vital step to getting in shape and staying in shape.
The effect exercise can have on your diet is more to do with feeling good and building momentum than it has to do with glycogen or protein synthesis or any of that pseudo-scientific stuff.
Getting up and moving more is the easiest and most effective way to stay on track with your diet.
Think of it as building an upward spiral of positive momentum that eventually fuels itself. You’ll know you are there when you have an urge to workout and cannot do without it.