Do you go to the gym? How many times have you watched someone workout over several months, or even years, and witnessed a drastic body transformation? Unless it’s a great gym and everyone is being expertly coached through the process, I’m guessing the answer will be not many, and maybe even none!
Even if you don’t go to the gym, I’m sure you know someone who does. Have they lost heaps of body fat (notice I didn’t say body weight) by pumping plenty of iron or pushing themselves through gruelling aerobic workouts? Again, you may know someone who has, and I applaud them. But of all the people you know who go to the gym, I’m guessing not many have experienced significant body fat loss.
You see, exercise alone will have very little effect on body fat loss. No matter how hard you push yourself in the Spin class, or how heavy the weights are that you lift, you don’t really burn that many calories. Everyone is different, and the way we use energy stores during exercise will be unique to you.
Bottom line, unless you’re a professional athlete training hard for 3-4 hours every day, exercise alone is virtually useless if fat loss is your goal. Getting your diet right is far more important.
Any studies to back this up?
The University of Texas conducted a study of almost 100 sedentary people to see how exercise alone impacts fat loss. Half of the group carried on living their lives with no exercise, while the other half were given a coach supported 12-week exercise program consisting of three resistance training sessions and two group interval training sessions per week. Their diets continued as normal for both groups. They were between 35-40% body fat, so very overweight.
Any guesses how it turned out?
The exercise group lost an average of just under 0.5kg of body fat and gained just under 1kg of muscle. After 12-weeks of fairly intense and consistent training, their body fat percentage went down by a measly 1%.
Think about how much you would have paid a personal trainer to get those results. Let’s say you got a great rate of $250 per week for the five sessions over the course of 12-weeks. For that 0.5kg loss of body fat, you would have paid $3,000.
Value for money? How would you feel about the personal trainer? How would you feel about exercise after that experience?
(If you really love this stuff, you can read about another similar study with very similar results here).
Does that mean exercise is a waste of time?
Of course not!
Exercise plays a very important and significant role in weight loss and weight maintenance, just not on its own. Studies have shown (see here and here) that losing weight and keeping it off for the long term are much better when a diet AND exercise program are used together. Not only that, but exercise plays many other important roles in our overall health and wellbeing:
• Growing and preserving muscle mass – important for a life of independence in our later years
• Improved anaerobic (power and strength) and aerobic (endurance) fitness
• Reduces the risk of multiple diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease
• Improves our mood and brain function – in other words we’re happier and more productive
That being said, if fat loss is your only goal, and you had to choose between dietary changes and exercise, you would choose dietary changes every day of the week.
Don’t be the person who quits…be the person that gets the mix right
People have the best intentions. They make a commitment to go to the gym and work their butts off, lose their unwanted fat and get the body they’ve always wanted. The problem is they often ultimately fail. When they don’t see the fat melting away, they get disheartened, lose interest and go back to their former sedentary lives. Of course, they were probably experiencing plenty of other important and positive changes such as strength gains, greater range of movement and flexibility, and a decrease in disease markers such as blood lipid and glucose levels.
But they don’t care when all they want to see is their clothes fitting better, right?
If you’re going to start a fitness program (which I highly recommend, obviously), and one of your goals is to change your body composition (i.e. decrease fat and increase muscle), make sure you are prepared to change your diet as well. After all, it was your diet and sedentary lifestyle that got you to the point where you are now, so it makes sense that both need to change.
I need help with my diet
As a Precision Nutrition certified Level One coach, I am in the best position to guide you through your weight loss journey. Coaching is an excellent way to ensure you have the best chance of reaching your goals, no matter what they are. Professional athletes have coaches, while many of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have business mentors they lean on for assistance.
If you want to find out more about how I can help you get the body you’ve always wanted, head over to the Frequently Asked