Exercise and Food Compensation: Exploring Diet-Related Beliefs and Behaviors of Regular Exercisers

in Journal of Physical Activity and Health
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Background:

The goal of this qualitative study is to identify common beliefs and behaviors related to exercise and diet.

Methods:

Data were collected in focus group discussions with regular exercisers who were physically active between 1 and 5 h per week. Exercise objectives, beliefs and behaviors regarding food intake before, during, and after exercise, consumption of sport supplements, and dietary patterns on sedentary days were explored. All focus groups were audio-taped and transcribed verbatim. Transcripts were analyzed using a grounded theory approach.

Results:

Participants reported that they reward themselves for being active by consuming food. Other exercisers had specific beliefs about dietary needs and how to compensate for exercise-induced losses along with exercise-related food likes and dislikes. The participants’ food intake also depended on their personal exercise objectives, such as the goal of performing well in competitions. External and physiological factors also played a role in determining participants’ dietary patterns.

Conclusions:

Results of this study show that exercising and dietary patterns are closely intertwined. In addition, we articulate new hypotheses and outline a research agenda that can help improve how regular exercisers eat.

Dohle (simone.dohle@uni-koeln.de) is with the Dept of Psychology, University of Cologne, Germany. Zehnder is with the Dept of Health Science and Technology, Consumer Behavior, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland. Wansink is with the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.