No matter what your goal may be: weight-loss, muscle gain, maintenance; there’s more to it than just exercise. Adequate sleep, proper water intake, physical exertion and balanced nutrition all play a part in the development of each of these goals, but are any more important than the rest?
The answer to that is not a simple yes or no. There must be a balance between them to achieve noticeable and lasting results, however, it is important to note that one cannot out-train a poor diet. The nutritional component to any fitness related goal can ultimately be the deal breaker – or – maker.
Is it possible to lose weight just from exercise? Yes, absolutely. But, it takes significantly more energy expenditure [aka physical effort] and time to lose weight only through exercise than it does to incorporate the nutritional component. You could work yourself to the bone five days a week and still not be seeing the results you want if you’re not conscientious of what you are putting into your mouth. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% training? This statement isn’t meant to scare you into following an extremely rigid diet that has you feeling miserable and starved. It’s to represent a weight loss approach to complement your existing cardiovascular and resistance training routine by cutting the majority of the “calories to burn” via your food intake over the course of the week. Simply put, you reduce the overall number of calories you are consuming each day by just enough so that your body is in a caloric deficit, while avoiding the constant hunger throughout the day that some crash diets can cause. The way to avoid the hunger pangs are to consume high fiber and nutrient dense foods that keep you full and fuel your body properly so that you can maintain your current exercise plan.
Here’s an example: your goal is to lose 2 pounds a week. You need to burn 3,500 calories x 2 = 7,000 calories each week, equating to 1,000 calories burned per day. There’s a few ways you can do it.
Option 1: go to the gym and run 10 miles, every day
Option 2: go to the gym and spend approximately 1 hour lifting and 1+ hour doing intense cardio
Option 3: go to the gym for 1 hour, reduce daily caloric intake by 600 ish calories (that's one frozen blended coffee from Starbucks!)
Which of these options sounds ideal for you? Chances are you either don’t have 2+ hours to spend at the gym every day, including weekends, or simply don’t want to spend that much time working out. Are you wondering what approximately 600 calories looks like yet?
1 large flavored coffee & 1 muffin, 1 medium soda & 1 burrito, 1 cup of ice-cream & 1 small slice of pizza, 3 margaritas or 5 beers, 1 king sized candy bar & 2 Red Bulls
Maybe now you’re wondering how you’re not going to starve all day long? Take a look at what 100 calories looks like:
1 medium sweet potato, 3 medium cucumbers, ½ an avocado, 52 grapes, 1 large apple, 15 almonds, 4.2oz of tuna, 3 oz of chicken breast, 2 slices of bacon, ½ cup of brown rice, 3 rice cakes, etc.
Contrary to popular belief, it is actually possible to eat less calories but more [volume/quantity] food, when you are eating the right kinds of foods!
“But, what if I’m looking to gain muscle mass?”
For those of you looking to gain mass – keep lifting! You need to continue to stress the muscles under load in order for them to grow, but nutrition is going to be key because you are going to have to eat more than you’re used to. Mathematically, the number of calories in [consumed] being greater than the number of calories out [expended] leads to weight gain. So, it will be very important to eat foods that are nutritionally dense to help build muscle without adding on extra body fat, known as a clean bulk [as opposed to ‘dirty bulk’ where you eat whatever you want in order to gain weight].
“I don’t fit in either of those categories, I’m just trying to stay the way I am.”
This is what is known as the maintenance phase, doing enough exercise and eating properly to keep your current shape and weight. Check in with yourself, are you hungry throughout the day? Are you sick of eating the same exact thing every single day? Perhaps you love what is already working for you! Whether you fall into those categories or not, chances are there’s still room to make changes in the types of foods you’re eating that will no doubt contribute to more energy and a general sense of feeling better.
“So…how do I know where to start?”
Excellent question. If you are under supervision of a medical professional for a health condition, please ask them for a referral for a Registered Dietician or Nutritionist. If you just need some suggestions on types of foods and are not looking for a meal plan, reach out to a health and fitness professional for a consultation. Certified nutrition coaches can teach you about food, how to easily prepare meals, and other tips and tricks to navigate the food realm so that you can make those necessary choices based on the knowledge you've gained.
There’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy what you’re eating and the exercise you’re doing, after all, at the end of the day, the goal is to enjoy life!