Common wisdom suggests that exercising will cause a person to lose weight. Superficially this makes sense. A 150 pound person at rest will use about 60 calories an hour. If this person jogs at 5 mph for an hour, he or she will use an additional 540 calories per hour. Because a pound of fat represents 3500 calories, a faithful jogger should lose a pound every 6.5 days. However, as exercisers can attest, this does not seem to work out in the real world. Why would that be?
1. Vigorous exercise can produce physical stress. Stress in turn causes the release of cortisol, which stimulates carbohydrate synthesis (gluconeogenesis) for quick energy. Gluconeogenesis produces an elevation in blood glucose which then stimulates insulin release. If this sequence happens repeatedly during days and months of an ongoing exercise program, it becomes more and more likely that the chronically physically-stressed person will start gaining weight.
2. Vigorous exercise can cause fatigue. The person who exercises may be expending more calories during his workout, but if he becomes exhausted by his efforts, he may compensate by conserving energy (being more sedentary or even napping) during his other daily activities.
3. Exercise in the form of resistance training may cause the exerciser to overestimate how much energy his body consumes post-exercise. A 2006 article by Ralph La Forge states that, for the non-athlete, the excess post-workout oxygen consumption is less than 100 calories per day.
4. Vigorous exercise may cause the body's homeostatis mechanisms for fat storage to overcompensate. Exercise activates the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL) in muscle tissue, allowing muscles to take up fatty acids as fuel. Once the exercise stops, the activity of LPL in muscle decreases and the activity of LPL in fat tissue increases. Calories will be pulled into fat cells and stored there to prepare for the next round of exercise. Although an individual's appetite might be depressed immediately after a workout session, later in the day there may be a more-than-compensatory drive to eat to replace lost fat stores.
5. Exercise plus frequent meals can cause weight gain. Eating frequently prevents both leptin levels and insulin levels from returning to baseline. As earlier posts have discussed, persistently elevated leptin levels can hinder satiety signals and cause excess consumption of calories. Elevated insulin levels will produce storage of those excess calories as muscle and as fat. Underweight bodybuilders use exercise plus frequent meals as a method to gain weight. However, without careful monitoring, overweight body builders can also gain weight on this regimen.
Exercise is a good thing. It can strengthen the heart and lungs, elevate mood, create a better physique and improve stamina. But for a number of very good reasons, exercise by itself does not necessarily produce weight loss, and if the circumstances are right, it may even result in weight gain.