Exercise and Diet; which one is more important?


As humans, we have a tendency to want to seek out the most direct route to our goals. And why not? Isn’t the most direct way the most efficient in the end? Sure it is. But as we all know, the waters we swim in are not always crystal clear. This goes especially for the fitness realm. You’ve probably had a friend or a Facebook article tell you that you should lift light weights for lots of reps, that carbs are the devil, or that you should keep eating the same and simply start exercising. Others may tell you that exercise doesn’t matter at all and all you need to do to achieve your wildest dreams is go vegan. So, do I need to lift weights? Do I need to chuck all of my bread in the trash? Which one is more important than the other? Exercise or diet?

The Importance of Diet

In most cases, people are either coming to us seeking help with weight loss or weight/muscle gain. A perfect starting point is finding out a person’s basal metabolic rate (BMR). Simply put, the BMR is the number of calories your body burns daily just to keep you alive. This number can be found by getting your measurements taken, in combination with other metrics (I won’t go deep into it here to keep things brief, but feel free to Google if interested). In this case, we will use a 2,000 calorie BMR for our example. From here, we simply do a bit of math and take things in the desired direction. 

Do we want to lose weight? Well, I know that I burn 2,000 calories daily to just survive. Then after a week of tracking my calories, let’s say I discover that I eat about 2,000 calories on a daily basis, which has allowed me to maintain weight. From there, it is all about getting myself to a deficit. Over the course of a week, a person can lose 1 pound per week by being in a 3,500 calorie deficit (on average, 500 calories less per day). It’s a good idea to gradually remove a small amount at a time, especially if someone is starting to workout multiple times a week, as they will burn more calories per day through exercise. Not to mention, we need to make sure that the deficit is not a major detriment to exercise, which will burn additional calories. Keep that in mind as we head toward the end of this article here.

Want to gain weight and increase strength? Time to add on some extra calories, especially in the form of protein and carbs. Exercise is not required for a person to lose weight, but for a person to gain weight AND muscle, it absolutely is. How else can I grow a pair of aesthetic arms without hitting my daily dose of skull crushers and curls?

The Function of Exercise

No matter if it’s heavy weights or light weights, all exercise is a form of calorie expenditure in itself. Just make sure you’re doing enough to force your body to adapt. If this part is confusing to you, finding a good coach/trainer may be a great idea. Want to lose weight while also looking great in a swimsuit? Lifting weights definitely won’t hurt the cause. Specific changes are made by controlling how much you’re taking in vs. burning off, in the form of controlling calories and exercise. To wrap things up:

  1. Yes, you can lose weight while occasionally enjoying some of your favorite treats. Just make sure you’re in a deficit. 
  2. Yes, you can lose weight while lifting heavy weights. If I’m not a broken record yet, let me put the nail in the coffin here. Get into a deficit.
  3. A surplus can make you stronger by proxy of weight gain, but if you have goals surrounding aesthetics or function, resistance training is key.
  4. Exercise itself is simply calorie expenditure, no matter how heavy. Know your goals and choose an exercise program that fits your vision.

What’s the Answer?

So, which one is more important: exercise or diet? For the most efficient route possible, your calories need to match your goals. You can lose weight without exercising, but you can definitely exercise without losing weight. However, a steady exercise routine is absolutely recommended for general health reasons. Weight and/or strength gain can come from a surplus, but again, especially for strength, a training program to match your goals is optimal. Know your goal, do the math, and pick the path that will lead you to long term success.

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