Does running regularly give one license to eat?
I don’t know the definitive answer to this question, but I suspect the answer is probably no. Even for those among us who have a healthy body mass index (BMI) and who have achieved a high level of cardiorespiratory fitness.
I used to run with a fairly hard-core, fit group of runners (many of whom would win races or finish near the top in their age category) until I got injured; I still run regularly, but I now also participate in other sports for cross-training to mitigate the risk of further injury. Anyway, when I used to run with this group of talented runners, it was customary to hit the local pub twice a week following a run for beer, a burger & fries or big plate of pasta. Although I didn’t personally partake in this food/beverage post-work-out feasting ritual, I did (and still do) regularly indulge in a fair amount of dark chocolate.
With all this unchecked eating/drinking among runners/athletes I knew, I often found myself wondering whether the running really undid these regular dietary splurges. Despite the amount and type of food consumed, the runners didn’t seem to gain weight (that I could see), but was there anything else adverse happening inside their bodies, metabolically? I don’t know, but it’s a question I’d love to know the answer to.
Many years ago, as part of a Master’s in Nutrition, I did a study of people with untreated high cholesterol to see if prescribing a cholesterol-lowering medication (in this case, a statin drug) affected whether people adopted the concurrently recommended ‘usual’ lifestyle advice given for eating healthy and exercising regularly. My hypothesis (or hunch) was that if people were given a pill, which they believed would control their cholesterol, they wouldn’t see the need to eat healthy or exercise regularly. My study was small (53 people), single-blind (participants didn’t know whether they were receiving a statin or placebo, but the investigators did), and only conducted at one site, so the findings have important limitations. Nonetheless, we did not find any appreciable differences between groups in any of the parameters we investigated, including weight, food intake, or exercise after 12 weeks, suggesting that maybe the presence of a pill didn’t affect behavior. It’s only one study, though, and a small one at that. Had I gone on to do a PhD, I would’ve liked to probe this question further in a larger, longer, more detailed study, perhaps in another group of patients, where we would also look at hormone levels and other endpoints.
Regardless, I have now been sensitized to my own dietary indiscretions after reading that the amount of exercise I do likely doesn’t completely vanquish all those chocolate (and other indiscriminate) calories I consume like I hoped it would. (See http://www.weightymatters.ca/) I’ll still exercise regularly, because I love it, but I won’t count on it for undoing the bad dietary choices I make.