Diet or Exercise: What’s More Important for Weight Loss?
In the health and fitness world, there’s no greater debate than diet vs. exercise. What gets you the fastest, most sustainable results? Can you lose weight without exercise?
You may have heard, “You can’t outtrain a bad diet,” and while that’s technically true, it’s also confusing. What if you’re training as hard as Venus Williams? What exactly does a “bad diet” look like? What are you ultimately trying to achieve? And what are you willing to sacrifice to achieve it?
If you feel like you have to decide between consistently tracking your macros and logging regular strength-training workouts, why choose? Both have benefits far beyond weight loss. And even if a change in body composition is your goal, you’ll still want to prioritize both for optimal results.
The Importance of Nutrition
First, let’s get one thing out of the way: If we’re strictly talking the number on the scale, diet beats exercise every time. But you’re so much more than your weight! So while a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you consume) is essential for weight loss, eating well means so much more than counting calories.
That’s because not all calories are used the same way in your body. The quality of the food you eat and the distribution of your macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) both play a role in your overall health and physical goals.
Broadly speaking, your body needs protein for muscle repair and growth, carbohydrates for energy and fat for optimal organ function and hormone production. Tracking your macros (like in the Fit Body app) can help make sure you’re getting all the nutrition you need. And that helps you feel and perform your best (and, yes, can also result in weight loss).
The Importance of Exercise
So if diet beats exercise for weight loss, you don’t need to worry about exercise, right? Wrong. While diet may have an edge, it’s not a golden ticket to your “dream body.”
Back to the concept of a caloric deficit: Eating the right amount is only half the equation. Burning calories is the other half, and that means exercise. The next question, naturally is: “Should you prioritize cardio or strength training?”
And the answer, again, is both. It might seem an unsatisfying answer, but here’s why a combination of cardio and strength make up an ideal workout routine. Generally, cardio burns lots of calories during your workout. You run, cycle, swim or find another way to sweat it out, and bam! You’ve burned 200 to 300 calories in 30 minutes (depending on your body weight and intensity level).
But with strength training, you’re increasing your muscle mass, and since muscle takes more energy (read: calories) to maintain than fat, you’ll burn more calories throughout the day. Plus, since muscle is denser than fat, it takes up less space. So, you may find that your clothes fit better even as your weight stays the same.
The best place to start: Pick a compound move to focus on. Compound moves are multi-joint exercises that use more than one muscle group and joint at a time. For this reason, compound moves are what contribute the most to helping you improve your strength and see progress.
Compound move examples:
- Lower body: squat, deadlift, hip thrust, lunge
- Upper body: pull-up, push-up, shoulder press, chest press
- Core: plank and side plank (as well as other plank variations), leg raise, reverse crunch
The Bottom Line
A combination of a balanced diet, cardio and strength training — with an emphasis on strength training — results in a calorie deficit, burns calories and builds lean muscle mass to help kickstart your metabolism, which can ultimately lead to healthy weight loss and changes in body composition.
But that doesn’t mean you need to perfectly hit your macros every day and hit the gym six times a week. Find a strategy that helps you fuel your body properly, while moving and exercising in a way that makes you feel good. After all, you’re not going to stick with a plan that’s too restrictive or isn’t enjoyable.