You Can’t Out-Exercise a Bad Diet

There are several pieces that make up a healthy lifestyle: Exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress management, social support, health education, and attitude. The two main components that we deal with are exercise and nutrition.

Even though exercise is important for many reasons, you can exercise to the moon and back but still be overweight because of a poor diet. Or you could be of normal weight and still be unhealthy because of a poor diet. Exercise itself is only one component of weight loss — nutrition is key. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet!

If you are trying to lose weight, exercise alone will not be enough. Exercise is what sustains weight loss, but a supportive nutrition plan is what drives it. In the last 30 years, the percentage of people who exercise regularly has stayed about the same, while the percentage of individuals who are overweight has skyrocketed. Clearly there is something else going on here: It’s the food that we eat!

Don’t get me wrong, exercise does have many wonderful health benefits besides aiding weight loss. Regular exercise reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and cancer. Plus it’s a great healthy outlet for stress management!

But no amount of exercise can counteract consistent indulgences. Justifying a bad meal or snack with exercise just doesn’t work with the amount of training that most of us do.

Not to mention the fact that all calories are not created equal. It’s not as simple as calories in vs. calories out. Different types of calories affect our appetite, fat storage, and metabolism differently. Calories are important, but you first want to focus on the quality of the food you are consuming.

junk food diet

You can’t fuel your body with junk and expect it to perform. Just like you wouldn’t expect your car to run without proper fuel, you can’t expect your body to perform with junky fuel. Processed carbohydrates and sugar give you a sugar high, but then an energy crash. They do not give your body the building blocks that it needs to build a healthy body. You won’t be improve your results week after week without eating quality protein, vegetables, healthy fats, and the right amount of carbohydrates for your activity level.

You won’t have the energy to train if you aren’t eating enough calories and/or carbohydrates. Under-eating will leave you without the energy your body needs. A very restrictive diet paired with hardcore training could leave you breaking down muscle for energy. You may also become deficient in healthy fats and other nutrients.

You won’t have the motivation to train if you aren’t eating right. Diet and exercise are a feedback loop. When you eat well, the more energy you have and the more motivated you are to exercise. And when you have great workouts, you are more motivated to eat well! Not eating high-quality, nutrient-dense foods can leave you feeling tired and bogged down – not exactly how you want to feel in order to get after it in the gym.

out-exercise bad diet

If you eat poorly, you are more likely to get sick. Poor nutrition can lead to a weakened immune system. The bulk of your immune system is housed in your gut. Therefore, if you are constantly eating foods that cause inflammation and lead to leaky gut (sugar, alcohol, processed carbohydrates, chemical sweeteners and preservatives) you are much more likely to become sick.

Eating a low-quality diet it can also lead to micronutrient deficiencies and increased inflammation throughout your body, both of which can make you more susceptible to injury. Studies have shown that not getting an adequate amount of healthy fats into your diet may raise your chances for overuse injuries (such as stress fractures and tendonitis), as well as not allowing your body to protect itself in order to stay healthy.

Until you have some foundational nutrition habits in place at least 75% of the time, don’t get bogged down or worried about how many grams of X you’re eating. Small changes over time lead to the big changes, and consistency with the basics is key.

Here are two of the foundational concepts of healthy nutrition:

  1. Eat protein with each meal. Aim for about a palm-sized portion (20-30 grams) of meat, fish, poultry, or egg every time you eat.
  2. Most of your carbs should come from vegetables. Eat at least one serving of vegetables with each meal. Vegetables are high in fiber and packed with nutrients to support your body in many ways.

    If you want to notch-up your carbohydrate practices, eat starchy carbohydrates (potatoes, bread, rice) only after your strength training sessions. To optimize fat loss, have this be the only meal that contains starchy carbohydrates. The amount you need will depend on your goals, the level of intensity at which you train, and your total daily calorie burn. A starting point for women with the goal of losing fat would be approximately 1/2 to 3/4 cup and for men 1 to 1 1/2 cups.

    When it comes to carbohydrates, less is not always better! Just watch out for too much. You’ll need to adjust based on how you are looking, feeling, and performing.

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