A healthy diet and exercise typically go hand and hand, but sometimes you just want to splurge on a burger and fries. Burning off calories you consume from one high-calorie meal is possible, but if you find you're constantly eating poorly, exercise may not be enough to avoid weight gain.
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All Calories Count
Calories are a unit of measurement that describes the energy food provides you with each day. How many calories you need depends on factors such as age, gender, weight and activity level. However many people aim for around 2,000 calories a day as a goal. People looking to lose weight may need to consume less than they burn off.
You may have heard of or have even tried counting calories for weight loss. The principle is simple: You need to burn more calories each day than you consume. Exercise after eating too much may help you minimize the impact of a heavy meal on your daily caloric intake.
However, in the long term, it is important to remember that where your calories come from can make a big difference in your weight and overall health. And though an infrequent heavy meal may not be a problem, continual over-indulgence can quickly add up to more calories than you can reasonably burn off in a day.
Read more: Recommended Caloric Intake for Weight Loss
Taking Action After a Big Meal
One of the problems with eating a heavy meal is that it can take some time to digest. In general, you should give yourself time to digest and wait a few hours before working out. According to research in Nutrients published in October 2014, having too much food lingering in the stomach can cause stomach upset and performance impairments for athletes during workouts. The article notes that the causes of gastrointestinal problems during exercise include mechanical, ischemic and nutritional factors. In theory, not allowing yourself time to digest may cause cramping if working out too hard after a big meal.
While it's not a good time to do a hard workout, you can help offset it right away by going on a light walk. Gentle exercise can help promote digestion and ease uncomfortable bloating. According to a small study published in Diabetes Care in June 2013, walking after meals helps minimize blood sugar spikes and improve glycemic control.
It's also a good idea after eating a heavy meal to drink water. While it may seem counter intuitive, drinking water can help flush out any excess sodium you may have consumed.
Workout After a Heavy Meal
Once you have waited an adequate amount of time, you should be ready to work out. But what is the best workout to do? Since you've just consumed a large amount of calories, you probably want to do a workout that will burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time. The best type of workout for burning calories often involves cardiovascular activities.
The following are some workouts you may be interested in trying. They can help you burn a lot of calories in a comparably short amount of time. According to Harvard Health, if a 155-pound person does the following activities for 30 minutes, they will burn, on average:
- Running at 5mph – 298 calories
- Playing a basketball game – 298 calories
- Using a rowing machine (vigorously) – 316 calories
- Bicycling at 14mph – 372 calories
- Jumping rope – 372 calories
- Swimming – 223 calories
Burning off calories you consume will vary based on your weight and intensity of the activity. In general, the harder you push yourself the more calories you will burn.
Even a short, high calorie-burning workout is helpful for undoing some of the negative impact of the heavy meal. To gain a pound of fat, Mayo Clinic says you would need to eat and then not burn off 3500 calories.
And if exercise after eating too much isn't your thing, you can try activities that are more enjoyable or even social. For example, if you don't run, try power walking with friends.
If you are new to working out, you should plan to talk to your doctor about your plans to start exercising. Your doctor may be able to advise you on safe, effective workouts given your health history.
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- American Diabetes Association: "Three 15-min Bouts of Moderate Postmeal Walking Significantly Improves 24-h Glycemic Control in Older People at Risk for Impaired Glucose Tolerance"
- Havard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- Nutrients: "Carbohydrate-Dependent, Exercise-Induced Gastrointestinal Distress"