Weight Loss Tuesday, Part 9

Bike stats! In the last week, I rode 224.38 miles. I lost 3.8 pounds – I gained weight last time, and I did want to reverse THAT trend, thus the two hundred miles of riding in a week. I didn’t lift but. . . 224.38 miles on my bike in seven days! Forgive me that “lapse!”

In the coming week, I won’t get much riding done.  I messed up the XStream a bit – the problem with fiddling with things is somethings you get in over your head.  The bike isn’t damaged, but if I ride it in its current state it could become damaged, and since I’m going to be leaving Thursday for InConJunction. . . well, it won’t get fixed until next week.  My workout next week will be light.

Since starting eight weeks ago, I have lost a total of 19.7 lbs – ten pounds a month is great, of course, and I’m thrilled with that result! Map My Ride says I used 17,782 calories, but. . . I’m going to quit counting calorie data. I’ll still count weight and time, and I might track other things, too, but calories? Nope.

(I will also move to Strava because that’s what all the cool cyclists use.)

I’m not going to keep counting calories expended due to exercise during exercise because I have learned that there is no standard for counting calories.  Without a standard, counting them becomes meaningless, because I have no idea what, exactly, is being counted!

Making things worse, few places are honest about their technique to estimate calorie loss, and none are transparent about their assumptions. How do they determine VO2 max? EPOC? Without knowing how the various sites count calories or the assumptions they use, it is impossible to judge their accuracy.

Plus, I continue to learn about the process, and I have found that human bodies process calories very differently. Even if we knew all the assumptions, for any given person, they could be inaccurate or incomplete.

Sedentary people – particularly if they have been sedentary for a long time – have trained their bodies to retain fat and abjure muscle mass. It can be fixed, but not easily. Of course, highly active people have trained their bodies to prioritize muscle and to expend fat.

When an active person engages in exercise, it’s fairly different than when a sedentary person does the same level of training. The more fit person’s body will respond to the exercise by repairing the damage of the exercise, building new muscle, expanding cardiovascular capabilities, all of that good stuff. It’ll use the body resources to do this, such as fat. The regular exercise has trained their bodies to do this. So, for a fit person, a bout of intense exercise has a lasting metabolic effect where their bodies tend to lose fat mass to keep themselves fit.

When a sedentary person engages in exercise, mostly their body freaks out. Their bodies are not trained for fitness. Extended periods of sedentary activity in the pre-modern world was a sign of crisis, usually starvation. When pre-modern humans remained in one place for a long time, it was almost always because they were in a food-limited situation – a famine, or snow-bound during winter. The biological response to sedentary behavior is to slow everything down by sacrificing muscle mass while preserving fat stores. It was only when the person started engaging in regular physical activity – the famine ends, the snows melt – that their metabolism would pick up and return to its more active state.

As a result, the number of calories burned will be highly variable from person to person. An active person will not only exert the initial effort but will keep in an elevated state while their body recovers from the exertion by building muscle mass and losing fat. A sedentary person’s body, after infrequent exercise, goes back to its “low power” state as soon as possible, to keep preserving fat against calamity.

The exercise of counting calories is pointless as done with online calorie estimators. There are just too many variables.

With just heart rate data, a person could find out – to a fair degree of certainty – how many calories they used. But they’d need to use a lifestyle tracker, something that constantly monitored their heart rate. Heart rate is highly correlated with oxygen use, after all, which is the basis of the estimation. Like I said, it’s pretty good, though, without an accurate V02 max, it will simply be an estimate. But a useful and consistent one. However, it is that level of effort that would be required to understand how many calories your body is using, even roughly.

For this point forward, I’m going to track the data that leads to fitness – time exercising, the intensity of effort (as determined by heart rate), cadence, amount lifted, miles ridden, stuff like that. At the same time, I’m going to try to keep improving my diet. By maximizing my effort, I will build a better body. I will count calorie intake, and if I start to gain unacceptable weight, I will adjust my calorie input downward. But counting how many calories used in exercise are pointless. It is a metric that tells us nothing particularly useful.

So, while I didn’t go to October, I did find out what I wanted to find out – why calorie counts are different on different platforms. Even more than making different assumptions, they count different things. If you want accurate data about your calorie consumption, get a lifestyle heart rate monitor, like a sports watch, which would also let you count calories accurately. But, for my purposes, since I am exercising so much, mostly all I need to do is keep an eye on my diet (y’know, don’t buy five pound bags of peanuts) and show consistency with my exercise habits!

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