McDermott: Your body, the accountant

McDermott: Your body, the accountant

Scott McDermott’s column about health and wellness

It’s that time of year when we need to all be gathering papers to bring to the accountant’s office so that everything will be ready to pay our taxes. It brings to mind that I have often compared the body to an accountant.

The human body is really cool in a lot of ways and one of those is how efficient it is overall. If we understand how it all works, we can play the game in our own favour.

The most obvious element we can relate to an accountant is with regards to food intake. Calories in, minus calories burned equals fat and muscle gained or lost. We use this all the time in order to get to our goals.

It’s kind of fun when I do a body composition analysis on someone and ask them with a little eyebrow raise and a note in my voice if they are eating according to plan, including all the snacks and protein. When they confess they have been skipping snacks and meals and going light on protein I inevitably get asked how I know. It’s just math.

We know from the numbers (ages, height, weight, gender, exercise habits, etc.), exactly how much you should be eating and of what macronutrients. When you don’t do that, we see muscle drop and sometimes, fat increase. We can also tell if you have been drinking enough water.

The body is an accountant. It does not care what your goals are, it only works with the math it is given. If you do not eat enough food, specifically protein, then you lose muscle. The budget cannot afford, and therefore, does not allow keeping it.

If you skip breakfast and try to attack your day on nothing, the body will reduce muscle in order to balance the budget.Eat too much food and move too little and you will end up with a budget surplus (fat) and unlike money, fat is not so easy to spend!

The next most obvious place this applies is with movement and exercise. If you have a high output of movement through exercise or daily living, then you use up more fuel, just like a car. You then require more quality food to keep up with that output level.

Your body, the accountant, is automatically keeping score and if you do not provide enough fuel to support your activity, then changes to the budget are made. Yes, fat may be used as a fuel source, but more readily, muscle size is reduced because muscles are expensive and need to be fed.

You cannot keep what you do not support. Your body, the accountant, will also reduce your metabolism and slow you down, so that you do not burn so much fuel all the time. It will make you want to sleep more too (you hardly burn any fuel when you sleep). We try to override that with coffee and energy drinks, and that will work for a while, until your body, the accountant runs out of energy chemicals in your endocrine system and then you will be really tired all the time. Again, it’s just math.

Your body, the accountant, is always looking for the easiest way to do everything, and that also applies to exercise. If you start running for example, at first you will burn a lot of calories and fat and build muscles that are good at running assuming you feed yourself well and recover from training. After a while though, you will become really efficient and the changes will slow or stop.Your body no longer needs to adapt, and simply becomes more efficient.

The same applies to strength training. At the start, you lift heavy weights and get really sore, and adaptation is fast and noticeable. Then, after a while of lifting the same weights and doing the same old routine, you hit a plateau. Your body, the accountant, loves plateaus! Things are perfect according to the body, because you are the most efficient and everything is balanced. You have enough muscle to do the task at hand, and enough fuel to accomplish it.

In order to break through a running plateau, you need to start introducing hills, speed work, longer runs, and playing with intensity. This forces the body to adapt. Same goes for strength training: Heavier weights and shorter sets, or lighter weights with higher repetitions, or big compound movements, drop sets, pyramid patterns, and so many other things have been designed to force your body, the accountant, to adapt.

Feed your body well, with healthy, real food, and challenge it through exercise that varies in duration, intensity and design. Make sure you get enough rest to recover and drink plenty of water to make it all work efficiently and you will enjoy a well balanced body that is happily running a balanced budget.

Happy Training!