You Can’t Out Exercise a Bad Diet: Here’s a Smarter Approach

by | Jun 10, 2021 | Wellbeing | 2 comments

you can't out exercise a bad ideaIf you’d told twenty-year-old me that you can’t out exercise a bad diet I’d have laughed and said, “That’s what you think!”

Back then I thought I could eat whatever I liked because I exercised everyday. It was a nice idea in theory, but who was I kidding?

An hour of moving dumbbells around wasn’t going to offset the slab of chocolate I’d eaten in place of the healthy vegan breakfast

Never mind the pizza I ate for lunch or the three beers I drank instead of dinner.

Nutrition wasn’t foremost on my mind. All I wanted to know was how long it takes to get ripped and whether free weights were better than machines for muscle tone and definition.

My diet is much healthier nowadays and I’ve also traded my gym gear for minimalist running shoes and yoga pants. But until a couple of years ago my late night snacking habit was still in full swing. I was working out like a demon though, so no harm, no foul, right?

Um, no. 

The truth is, the harder you train, the better you have to eat. When you’re putting your body through its paces at the gym or racking up mileage on the road, you’re asking a lot of it. It’s going to need a serious nutrient top-up in return.

A bag of Reece’s Pieces for breakfast isn’t going to aid the recovery process. And for that matter, neither is eating a plate of cookies after dinner (even if they are vegan). Your body needs to be free from junk so it can work on digesting the good stuff you’ve eaten.

You Need to Focus on Nutrient-Rich Foods

It doesn’t matter if you’re an ultra-athlete or an aqua-aerobics enthusiast, you need to nourish your body. Choosing nutrient-rich foods over the kind of junk I was indulging in will keep the pounds off and you healthy.

Nutrient-rich foods are high in vitamins and minerals and generally lower in calories than their processed counterparts. Focus on incorporating more plant-based whole foods into your diet and eat the ‘fun stuff’ (donuts, pizza, etc.) sparingly. You only have to look to the world’s oldest people to see how well this approach works.

The 80/20 Weight Loss Approach

Weight loss is 80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise. Bah humbug, right? How cool would it be if we could eat whatever we liked and then offset the calories by going for a run. Sadly, that’s not how it works.

Holly Lofton, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine and director of the weight management program at New York University’s Langone Medical Center confirms this, “Essentially, you’d need to run seven to 10 miles a day to lose one pound a week.The average person can’t keep this up, especially without increasing their caloric intake.

Exercise vs. Diet (Chicken or Egg?)

Okay, so if diet plays such a big role in weight loss, do you even have to exercise at all? I mean, why not binge-watch the latest Netflix series and snack on celery sticks instead?

First, who even eats celery sticks? And second, it’s not a case of exercise or diet, the two go hand in hand. Exercise builds muscle, burns fat and improves bone density, while a healthy diet ensures you get the proper nutrients.

It does have to be all or nothing though. Aim to eat well and exercise well during the week and then take it a little easier on the weekend. That doesn’t mean going crazy (I see you reaching for the family-size bag of Hershey’s Kisses). Indulge in a pizza or have an ice-cream, that’s what cheat days are for.

Then, when tomorrow rolls around it’s back to business as usual. You eat well, you break a sweat and you feel great. No more trying to out exercise a bad diet, because we both know that doesn’t work.

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

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  1. Mari R

    Hi Ang and Sporty,
    I always feel your big energy in your articles especially the ones on wellbeing. I’m curious about how you went through the change in eating habits. Most people have hard time ditching the food they grew up with.

    • Ang

      Hey Mari

      This post give a brief overview of how we started on our healthy journey. But essentially it was a slow process of figuring out what works for us and trying different diets. I think because we did it so slowly (it’s been over 20 years so far) it’s been relatively easy to ditch the unhealthy stuff and focus on eating whole foods that keep us feeling good.

      I’m super chuffed to hear that you feel the energy in the posts, because it’s something we’re passionate about. 🙂


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