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Fat-Burning Myth-Busters

Kick-start your weight loss, boost your metabolism and run faster by getting your facts straight about nutrition.

Fruit and Nut Energy Bars.As a runner, you’re already ahead of non-runners when it comes to kicking extra pounds. According to the experts, running is one of the most effective forms of exercise for anyone looking to boost their metabolism and blast fat. In fact, depending on your gender, body type and pace, you stand to burn a whopping 500 to 1,300 calories per hour of running.

But just because you’re running doesn’t automatically entitle you to a marathoner’s lithe, lean physique. If you’re like most weekend warriors, lightening your load would definitely make logging those last few kilometres much easier, but getting there isn’t quite so simple. While ramping up the intensity of your training session is one way to incinerate extra fat and calories, focusing on how you’re fuelling your body guarantees that you’ll be able to blast past your plateau and keep your training on course. Whether you’re trying to transform your body entirely or simply looking to lean out for race day, here are some myth-busters to help you kick-start your weight loss, boost your metabolism and get you running faster.

MYTH: Your body burns extra fat, which means you lose more weight, when you run on an empty stomach.

REALITY: Just like the engine in your car, when your body has minimal fuel in the tank, it’s not going to function at an optimal level. “I often hear this myth,” says Tristaca Caldwell, a registered dietitian and professor in the School of Nutrition and Dietetics at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., “but you’ll lose muscle as well,” which makes it a challenge to drop a few pounds. According to Caldwell, most runners are not getting enough calories, and 80 per cent of athletes aren’t getting enough of their calories from the right source: carbohydrates. Runners need both simple and complex carbohydrates to fuel their bodies, but Caldwell also cautions runners against eating too many overall calories from carbs, even before a big race. “[Carbo-loading] can be effective for long endurance runners,” Caldwell says, “but really even a half-marathon runner can be fuelled from their regular daily diet.”

TIP: Even if you’re running to lose a few pounds, Caldwell recommends minimizing your unhealthy food intake rather than carbohydrates. In order to create the calorie deficit you need for weight loss, reduce your post-run calorie intake rather than skimping prior to your run. That way your body will have the fuel required to function at a high intensity needed to burn the extra calories.

MYTH: Skipping a meal or snack isn’t as big a deal as missing a run.

REALITY: Just as mapping out your route or scheduling your weekly runs keeps your training on course, maintaining a regular eating plan keeps your metabolism running strong. “I always recommend planning meals around your exercise when possible,” says Nicole Springle, registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic Canada in Toronto, and an official provider of nutrition services for the Coaching Association of Canada’s Sport Nutrition Advisory Council. “Adjusting the timing of your meals will optimize your energy and recovery.” For early risers, downing a glass of juice or sports drink before heading out the door will help elevate blood-sugar levels, which are generally quite low first thing in the morning. This will prevent lethargy from the overnight fasting.

But it’s not enough to top up your blood-glucose levels with simple carbohydrates. When you’re scheduling your runs later in the day, it’s more important to eat complex carbohydrates, including snacks such as whole-grain toast with nut butters. These will replenish your glycogen stores that help fuel your running in the long haul. Caldwell says that many athletes fail to realize that the last meal they’re eating, even if it was the night before, has just as much impact on their run as the snack they grab before hitting the road.

TIP: Make the most of your pre-run meal by including whole grains, such as wild rice, multigrain bread and whole-wheat couscous with grilled chicken, tofu or lean beef. Grab a banana, fruit juice or yogurt for a quick post-run energy hit.

MYTH: Avoiding fats at all costs is a one-way ticket to a lean body.

GET REAL: “Fat-phobic runners will miss out on important antioxidants,” Springle says. Antioxidants, including vitamin C and E, offer your body protection by neutralizing the oxidation process that happens within a runner’s body. And don’t count on a few vitamin tablets to meet your recommended daily allowance. Recent research shows that high-dose supplements may cause your body to stop producing its own antioxidants. As a marathon runner herself, Springle ensures she’s getting enough healthy fats by snacking on a handful of almonds or sunflower seeds. You can also top up your lunchtime salad with a tablespoon of safflower oil to hit your recommended daily dose of vitamin E. Not all fats are created equal, and whether you’re aiming to lose a few or maintain your race weight, you have to make every calorie count. “One thing that can help runners is getting omega-3s,” explains Caldwell. “This fatty acid helps to decrease muscle inflammation and soreness, especially if you are just starting to run.”

TIP: Consider the types of fats you’re consuming and go for monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. Caldwell says that even choosing one per cent milk over skim will help to increase your intake of healthy fats.

MYTH: Raising a few celebratory cold ones in honour of besting your PB won’t undo the hours you’ve logged to get there.

REALITY: While studies tout the benefits of moderate alcohol intake at a recommended maximum of two drinks per day, you would do best to think twice before kicking back a third or fourth. According to Springle, alcohol significantly affects your training in a number of ways. Beyond derailing your weight-loss plan, drinking increases your recovery time, decreases your immunity and disrupts your sleep time. Caldwell says she sees some clients who train hard during the week, then decide to make their weekends limitless. The weekend is almost one third of your week, so having no limits for that length of time can put a real dent in any progress you make during the rest of your week. “It’s not to say you can’t have a glass of wine,” Caldwell says, “but if you want to impose an energy deficit for weight loss, the calories you put in your body have to count.”

TIP: It’s simple: wine, beer and yes, that dirty martini, olives and all, are calorie-dense and devoid of nutritional value. “Even if weight isn’t an issue, alcohol puts your metabolism on hold,” Caldwell says, “which means that carbohydrates will digest more slowly, making it difficult to maintain your glycogen stores.”

RECIPE : Fruit and Nut Energy Bars

These tasty bars are a good source of vitamin E and healthy fats.


Dry Ingredients
2 cups

½ cup

¼ cup

¼ cup

¼ cup

1 tsp

1 ½ cup

½ cup500 ml

125 ml

60 ml

60 ml

60 ml

5 ml

375 ml

125 mlwhole-wheat flour

packed brown sugar

skim milk powder

wheat germ

sliced almonds

baking powder

dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots

unsalted sunflower seedsWet Ingredients ½ cup

½ cup

1/3 cup

2125 ml

125 ml

80 mlsafflower oil


nut butter

egg whites


1.  In bowl, combine flour, sugar, skim milk powder, wheat germ, almonds and baking powder

2.  Stir in cranberries and sunflower seeds.

3.  In a separate bowl, combine egg whites, oil, molasses and nut butter

4.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, blending well.

5.  Spread in a greased 9-inch (23 cm) square cake pan.

6.  Bake in a 350 F (180 C) oven for 35 minutes or until browned and firm to the touch.

7.  Let cool completely and cut into 24 bars. Bars can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Makes 24 bars

Nutrition Information for one bar:

Calories: 210

Total fat: 10 g

Saturated fat: 1 g

Monounsaturated fat: 4.5 g

Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.5 g

Carbohydrates: 26 g

Fibre: 2.5 g

Sugar: 14 g

Protein: 5 g

Sodium: 62 mg

Cholesterol: 16 mg