Why running to Starbucks doesn’t make sense

In the weekends the cafes are packed with hoards of cyclists and Nike heeled Mom’s enjoying a “well deserved” latte and muffin.  Surely these lycra clad coffee drinkers are entitled to a sweet treat with all the exercise they’ve done that morning?  Or, perhaps not.

I hate the concept of counting calories.  I think it’s an extrememly narrow way of looking at eating (calories are about energy and not nutrition) and keeping track of calories is as complicated as heck.  But, I’m going to talk calories here for just a minute to illustrate my point.

Say a 130 pound (around 60kg) woman runs 4 miles (6.5 km) with her Saturday morning running buddy before hitting the cafe.  She’s burned, maybe, just over 300 calories.  She orders a latte (190 calories) and a zucchini walnut muffin (490) calories.  Devours them both before heading home for lunch (the muffin being full of sugar and not particularly nutritionally dense doesn’t fill her up for long).

We don’t need to be mathematically gifted to work out that consuming 680 calories for morning tea, after only burning 300 or so in a 40 minute run if continued can become a problem.  In this example our hypothetical runner didn’t even put sugar in her latte or order one of those fancy flavored drinks which can be twice the calories of a normal latte.

My husband and I after the Muddy Buddy. Being a light weight, even with all the obstacles we had to climb up, over and under I probably only burned 300 calories in the entire race. Not even a muffin’s worth of energy!

For most of us we over estimate how much energy we’ve burned and under estimate how plentifully we can “reward” ourselves.  This can be why it’s possible to be fat and fit.  Unless we pay attention to what we are eating it doesn’t matter how much we exercise, exercise, exercise.  Working out in isolation will not bring us long term health.  Neither will it allow us to achieve a healthy weight range if we are not paying attention to our food.

What’s the Burn? A Calorie Calculator
You can use the formulas below to determine your calorie-burn while running and walking. The “Net Calorie Burn” measures calories burned, minus basal metabolism. Scientists consider this the best way to evaluate the actual calorie-burn of any exercise. The walking formulas apply to speeds of 3 to 4 mph. At 5 mph and faster, walking burns more calories than running.
Your Total Calorie Burn/Mile
Your Net Calorie Burn/Mile
.75 x your weight (in lbs.)
.63 x your weight
.53 x your weight

.30 x your weight

Adapted from “Energy Expenditure of Walking and Running,” Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise, Cameron et al, Dec. 2004.


(for my metric friends, to convert kilos to pounds multiply by 2.2, to convert kilometers to miles divide by 1.6).

I copied this chart from a Runner’s World article here and I like it because it is clear and simple.  Of course how many calories you burn in a workout isn’t just about body weight, but also the workout intensity, conditioning and our own genetic make up but this gives a good guide.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say here.  Regular exercise makes TOTAL sense for health.  Exercise followed by lattes and muffins, however, does not.

I also don’t mean to pick on Starbucks.  You could always meet your cycling buddies there and have a plain coffee or tea (they have an excellent range).  The conversation with your training partner, I assure you, will be just as good.   

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7 Responses to Why running to Starbucks doesn’t make sense

  1. Apparently the link between weight loss and exercise was based on a non-scientific article that hit the press in the early 1970s. It triggered such a huge fitness industry that people have been a bit coy about pointing out that – as you say – you have to do a heck of a lot of exercise to lose weight through exercise alone. Exercise is essential – proven, among other things, to delay the onset of Alzheimers, improve mood for those with a tendency for depression and to be a factor in the prevention of some cancers. What you eat has the greater effect on your weight. Pity about that, really, when eating is so pleasurable!

  2. Bree says:

    I mean seriously if you are going for a run to a coffee shop make it a good one… not Starbucks!

  3. VJ says:

    That table is really interesting.

    I think the other trap that marketers get you into is have a Powerade/Gatorade/Whateverade to replace what you lose running – and why not have more sugar than you burnt while you’re at it?

    • runningmelon says:

      Yeah – if you are out for a long time electrolytes need to be replaced but for what most of us do, a short run or friendly game of something, they are unnecessary.

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