(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on July 19th, 2012)
One of the most common questions I have been asked since becoming a doctor is, “Why do I feel so crappy after I run?” This has always been asked by patients who have just started to exercise. They often notice that they actually gain a little weight when this happens too. This can be incredibly discouraging for anyone who is trying to make this difficult life change so let me break it down for you so that we can get rid of that frustration that stops so many people from continuing with the exercise they need.
First we need to look at one of the peripheral roles fat plays in the body. Fat is fairly inert and will not react with many things. Because of this, fat cells are used as the storage space for toxic chemicals that our bodies do not know how to handle. This is a highly efficient way to corner and trap these harmful chemicals so that they cannot damage our bodies. That is, until we start to mobilize and breakdown our fat.
When we engage in cardiovascular exercise we “burn” fat, which means that fat is brought out of storage comes to the liver and is broken down for energy. But when our fat is released from our cells, this also releases the trapped toxins along with them. This puts the toxins back into our blood stream and forces our bodies to deal with these chemicals in a different way while our metabolism is ramped up from the exercise and so not allowing fat to be stored in our cells. This re-introduction of chemicals into circulation is what causes that “crappy” feeling that many people get. It is our body experiencing the effects of these foreign toxins.
This leads to the other main mechanism our bodies employ to deal with irritating and harmful chemicals in our blood. We try to dilute the concentration of these chemicals to decrease their potential for damage. To do this we hold onto water in our blood. This accounts for the weight “gained” during these first few rounds of cardiovascular exercise.
Now, I’m sure that many of you are thinking, “But if we are just releasing toxins into our bodies than isn’t this exercise actually BAD for us?” The answer is no. Yes, we are releasing chemicals into our blood but we are forcing our bodies to deal with them rather than hide them away and forget about them. By forcing these chemicals to stay in our blood stream while our metabolism is high this forces the toxins to be filtered through our kidneys and liver multiple times thus increasing their likelihood of leaving the body.
So how do we make sure this does not keep happening? Well, that is the other half of this difficult life change and my favourite topic to pontificate on; Diet. Through clean eating we decrease the amount of environmental toxins we are being exposed to and thus decrease the need for our bodies to deal with these toxins. Also, as cardio becomes more and more of a staple in our lives our metabolism will remain at a high enough level to handle most of what we can throw at it without forcing it into fat storage. Not that I recommend throwing a heavy toxic load at ourselves.
So there you have it. This initial barrier to regular exercise that so many people hit is not a “strange reaction to exercise” but our bodies dealing with those old chemicals that they swept under the rug. I know it sucks and I know it’s discouraging but I strongly urge you to keep going and push through that barrier. The other side is worth it.
Thanks for reading,