Is Exercise or Nutrition More Important for Fat loss?
Have you ever heard the saying “you can’t out-train a bad diet”?
Well, it’s pretty well on the money with a few exceptions to the rule. The truth is, it comes down to a simple bioenergetic equation and it’s up to you how you want to manipulate the variables to achieve the desired outcome. Essentially, altering the equation in any format will achieve the same outcome, however, you need to decide which is the most effective use of your time and which is more realistic.
So, how does it all work?
Our good friend Evolution thought that it would be a good idea to create a mechanism where we could store excess energy on our body in the form of fat. It was a protection mechanism in case we needed to go a few days where we couldn’t access food, so rather than dying every time the tank was empty, we could pull energy from our storage tanks and convert it into free-flowing energy for catching tigers and fish (or whatever it was that our cavemen ancestors liked doing for fun).
Evolution, however, did not account for the fact that we have gotten pretty smart now, and whilst catching our own tigers is fun, it’s much more efficient to click a button on Amazon and have someone else catch the tiger for us. Meaning we can store even more of the energy tokens for another day.
The simple bioenergetic equation goes like this:
Energy in (calories) – Energy out (calories) = energy balance, and will be either positive or negative (resulting in storage of fat or utilisation of fat cells for energy).
The ‘energy-in’ side of the equation can be manipulated simply by reducing the amount of food (energy) you put into your body by eating high nutrient/low-calorie foods.
The ‘energy-out’ side of the equation involves a few more steps:
- Your BMR: basal metabolic rate which is essentially how much energy your body burns to maintain the most basic form of metabolism (keep you alive). This is determined by the sheer size of your body and how fast your body ticks over. Muscle mass is the key factor in determining your BMR given that muscle requires a lot of energy to maintain. (which is a good thing if you’re wanting to have a bigger buffer system). This contributes up to 60% of your daily energy requirements.
- NEAT: Non-exercise activity thermogenesis: which is referring to all of the things you do during the day that isn’t a typical “exercise session”. I.e. walking, talking, eating, blinking etc. Things that require energy. This can be up to around 30% of your daily energy requirements.
- EAT: Exercise activity thermogenesis: how much you burn during a training session which is determined by your heart rate and gas exchange, due to different levels and length of intensity. This can be between 10-20% of your daily energy requirements and is directly correlated with time and intensity.
- Your TDEE: the total amount of energy you burn during your day (adding the first 3 together).
So now you know how much energy is utilised at each stage of the energy and the percentage of how much they use. As you can see, the EAT or training component only equates to 10-20% of your TDEE for a standard 60-minute session, which makes a lot of sense considering that it’s only 1/24th of your day, so you can’t really expect it to reverse the total bioenergetic equation that easily.
Another key point to note here is that evolution hasn’t quite kept up with the advanced lifestyles and goals to be supermodels that we have now.
We still have a few hormonal systems that make it ever increasingly hard to get those washboard abs that we desire.
One of those is the spike in ghrelin that occurs after a workout to remind us that we have just utilised some of our body’s energy stores and therefore we should probably eat so we can replace those stores.
Which, once again, would have been super handy if we were cave men not knowing when our next meal was coming, but when you’re only 5 metres from the fridge at any given time, it’s not such a great mechanism.
This is often linked to the amount and intensity of work we do, so whilst you’re burning energy during the session, your body can often create a directly correlated amount of hunger to match your session, meaning the training can often be calorie neutral (unless you’re willing to be disciplined enough to ignore the hunger).
So, what’s the answer?
In short… yes, you can always burn more calories than you consume with exercise if you’re willing to spend hours training.
Or, you could go for the low hanging fruit and manipulate the bigger bang for buck and time-efficient variables simultaneously