You just finished your best 10K to date and you are making your way through the finish line and the abundance of fuel and hydration options. Since you ran really hard, you grab a bagel, banana, and a bottle of water. You drink the water, eat half the bagel and the whole banana and then head home to clean up before you go to brunch with your team.
At brunch, you order a cheeseburger, fries, and a beer, because, well, it is Saturday, and you had a good run, and you earned it. After all, one of the reasons you run is so you can eat what you want, right? So you clean your plate and then head home to nap before you go about the rest of your Saturday. And you figure it you overdid it, you can just make up for it with exercise tomorrow.
Although the energy expended during that 10K does add up, and is substantially more than if you had a leisurely Saturday morning lazing in bed and on the couch, the average person doesn’t expend enough energy on a typical short or mid-distance run to justify treating every meal and snack thereafter like a celebration. In fact, the average 150 pound person burns about 100 calories per mile. Whether walking or running. If you run, you just use the energy faster. There are some considerations that will affect your caloric expenditure – how efficient you are (if you are new to running, you will expend a little more energy in the beginning than when your body becomes acclimated to the activity), how fast you run (you do expend slightly more energy the faster you run), and your body weight (more body weight means more energy expenditure). But none of these factors add up to that many extra calories over the course of a 10K.
So, really, can you outrun a cheeseburger?
A typical 4oz fast food cheeseburger is about 300 calories (the size you get in a kids meal), but most restaurant cheeseburgers are 8 ounces and start at 800-900 calories and go up from there. And, don’t forget the fries. A small fast food order of fries is over 200 calories, but most restaurant fries orders take up half the plate and add at least 500 calories. On the low end, a restaurant cheeseburger and fries give you at least 1300 additional calories for the day. As a 150 pound person, you burned about 600 calories in your 10K, but you consumed over 1300 in one meal, not including that beer (12oz light beers can be 100-125 and regular beers are 150-200 and up), or the banana (100-125 calories) and half bagel (200 calories per half) that you ate at the finish line.
So, you burned about 600 calories in your 10K but consumed about 1700 to 1800 calories. Since it seems that you can’t really outrun that cheeseburger, what can you do? You can have the banana and water post-race, eat half the burger and fries, and stick to a light beer and bring your total caloric consumption to a more reasonable, 800-900 calories. They might not be the most heart healthy calories you’ve ever eaten, but they suddenly become more reasonable when you compare the energy you expended during your run vs the energy you have taken in for the day. Go celebrate your running successes and enjoy (half) of that cheeseburger!