Junk Miles and Calories


Junk Miles and Calories – Sports vs Physique Nutrition by Jose Antonio PhD.

An Ephemeral Summary

  • Physique nutrition peeps focus on burning calories.
  • Performance nutrition peeps focus on getting better at a sport or activity.
  • Performance athletes should NOT burn extra calories.
  • There’s a term in distance running called “junk miles.”
  • We should add the term “junk calories” or “junk training” to the performance sports world (i.e. burning calories that serves no useful purpose).

The genesis of this article stems from my third cup of coffee (my fingers won’t keep still) and a talk given by Shawn Arent PhD at the ISSN-London conference titled “Physique vs Sports Nutrition – Are They Contradictory?” What’s interesting is how sports (i.e. performance) and physique nutrition have clearly diverged, particularly on one issue.pole vaulter

What’s the issue? Calories. How many times have you heard or read variations of the following: “RMR is higher when you blah blah.” “HIIT is better than SSC because your RMR is higher longer.” “You got to do this strategy and that strategy because you burn more frickin’ calories.”

The physique world’s obsession with calories is kinda funny actually. I mean it must really suck to have to ‘count’ your calories. I’d need an abacus to figure out how many calories I get from white rice alone. But I guess it goes hand in hand with the myriad of diet programs that basically focus on creating a caloric deficit. Folks who train for looks focus on burning calories the way a runway model focuses on her next meal of bread sticks and cheese. Feel the burn! Yowsah!

Yet in the performance world, you actually do not want to burn extra calories. Nobody in their right mind would tell an athlete, “okay, after you’re done bustin’ your ass on the field, in the gym, or wherever, I want to you to burn even more calories by walking around, doing non-exercise activities (i.e. NEAT), blah blah. In fact, you want to burn as few calories as possible once you’re done training. Why? Because you need to recover. The best thing for performance athletes to do after training is what? If you answered “nothing” go to the head of the class. I’d suggest the best thing to do is sit on your ass and watch Game of Thrones. Or even better, take a nap.Physique

There’s a term used in distance running called “junk miles” (i.e., run training that serves no specific purpose other than to up your mileage). Every workout (and this applies to ALL performance athletes) should have a specific goal in mind. To exercise (for the sake of exercise) is NOT how performance athletes should train. Distance runners, for instance, should not waste time and energy doing “junk miles” (i.e., running that has no specific goal). Each run should have a goal. Is it steady-state or LSD (long slow distance)? Is it SIT (sprint interval training)? Is it fartlek, a tempo run etc.? Training should be specific and goal-oriented. Baseball players train for hitting, fielding, base running etc. Going to the beach and playing ‘catch’ is junk training. No competitive baseball player in their right mind would do that. Other speed-power athletes (e.g., high jump, long jump, pole vault, sprints etc) should also avoid doing junk training just to burn calories.London_Olympics_Beach_Volleyball_Women_t1930

In Conclusion

  • In the physique world, it must really suck to count calories in/calories out.
  • In the performance world, if you train your ass off and eat well most of the time, believe it or not, body composition (i.e. physique) takes care of itself most of the time.
  • I’ve had athletes come to my lab who are weight stable with body fat percentages in the mid- to low-teens (some in the single digits).
  • None of them count calories.
  • In fact, they don’t really count anything.
  • They just train like maniacs and eat food.