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What’s more important – diet or exercise?

It’s a question we regularly hear when clients come in for a DEXA scan: “What’s more important, diet or exercise?” The short answer is they both are. But you’re not reading this for the short answer, are you? And if you’ve been trying to run your way into a smaller clothing size, then you’re probably going to end up disappointed…

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What’s your goal?

Most of our clients at Body Measure are looking to make physical changes to their bodies: reduce fat, shift weight and build lean muscle mass. Our DEXA scans help to provide you with the data points to track those changes and get the best results for your individual circumstances. When it comes to exercise, we’re big proponents of strength training to build muscle, which in turn will help you to burn fat.

But, to really lose fat, you’ll see better results from time spent in the kitchen than time spent in the gym. This is because losing fat and weight does rely on being calorie negative – burning more calories than you are ingesting. And because the human body is very efficient with how it expends energy, you have to run an awful lot to compensate for eating more than your body requires. For example, one study found that to lose about 1 kilogram of fat, study participants had to exercise for 77 hours! That’s a lot of time that could be spent preparing healthy meals rather than phoning for a pizza…

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As well as exercise not actually burning that many calories, people tend to be REALLY bad at estimating calories in versus calories out. Studies have shown that when people are told to eat the amount of food that they believed they burned in calories exercising, they overestimate badly. How badly? Two to three times the amount-of-calories-they-actually-burnt-badly.

How to prioritise your time

In the modern world, people are more inclined to find 30 minutes in their day to go to the gym, or go for a walk, or even just get off the bus a stop or two earlier, than they are to cook. We are constantly bombarded by messages by food manufacturers about how we don’t have time to cook, or that cooking is difficult.

But, here’s the truth of it: taking responsibility for what goes into your mouth is one of the most important steps you can take towards better health. For most people, you are eating three to five times a day. Taking a bit of time each day to make active choices about those foods will help you on your fat loss journey more than any “I worked so hard I’m going to vomit” personal training session.

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Here’s four simple tips to help you find the time to eat better:

  1. Chopping vegetables for dinner? Take 30 seconds to chop an extra carrot and put the sticks in a sealed container for snacking over the next couple of days.
  2. Bag up some snacks. Pre-portion ziplock bags of nuts and together with a small piece of fruit, you’ve got yourself a great little mix of healthy carbs, protein and fats.
  3. Make friends with your freezer and create your own stash of ready-meals.
  4. Take 30 minutes each week to plan your meals. For bonus credit, find an hour or two for a food prep and cook up session

The bottom line

Exercise is very important for health. It helps balance your hormones and build muscle, which is fat burning. It helps you to feel more energised and is critical for cardio-vascular health. Exercising can also, for some people, make them eat better (if you don’t fall prey to the “I worked out today so I can have that big slice of cake” trap!).

But, ultimately you can’t out-exercise a bad diet.

What are your tips for eating better? Have you had better results from diet, exercise or a combination of the two?

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