By: Matt Weik

Over the past several years, there has been much debate on whether you should put more focus on your nutrition or exercise when it comes to seeing results from your efforts.  Some individuals lobby the fact that nutrition is more important because it’s the food you put in your body that causes weight gain or weight loss while the opposing side says you’ll only be seeing results if you exercise regularly.  

Both sides have valid points worth discussing and considering, but is there a clear-cut answer here?  Where should you put your focus?  Who’s right and who’s wrong?  Let’s discuss both sides of the debate and see if we can come out with a winner.

“You Are What You Eat," Says the Nutrition Purists

On one side of the fence, you have those die-hard purists who say the only way for you to start seeing results is to clean up your nutrition.  You need to eat as clean as possible and depending on your goals (bulk or cut), you need to adjust your calories up or down accordingly.  

In a sense, they are correct with their statement of, “You are what you eat.”  I mean, think about it.  If you eat nothing but junk 24/7, exactly what kind of results do you think you’ll see?  If your nutrition and meals are full of highly processed foods, high-fat content, and loaded with sugars and carbs, seeing results is the furthest thing you'll be seeing.  Watching your waistline grow is more likely to be the case.

Sure, you should be consuming lean sources of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates that won’t spike blood sugar and cause a rush of insulin to be thrown into your system.  Eating as many healthy and natural forms of macronutrients should be a priority.  If you want to go all organic, go all organic.  It’s up to you, but the main takeaway needs to be that you should be on top of your nutrition and the food you are putting into your body.

Tracking your nutrition (such as on a platform like the MyFitnessPal app) also becomes advantageous when seeing results is a priority.  You don’t know what you don’t know and if your nutrition is poor and you don’t exercise, you really have no way of burning off all of the extra calories you may be taking in – even if you’re currently trying to put on muscle.  An excess of unhealthy and empty calories isn’t going to help you put on muscle.  You WILL put on size – just the wrong kind.

But does all of this make those on the side of nutrition correct in saying that nutrition is more important than exercise?  Not so fast.  Let’s look at those who are on the side of exercise and moving more is the only way for you to start seeing results.

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When You Move More, You Burn More: A Call for More Exercise

Next, let’s look at the side who believes exercise is more important for seeing results.  They do make a valid point by saying in order to burn calories or put on lean muscle mass (to naturally boost your metabolism) you need to move more, be more active, and exercise regularly.  That’s an accurate statement.

You’re not going to put on lean muscle tissue without engaging in an exercise (resistance training) program.  You need to break down the muscle fibers to allow them the ability to recover and come back bigger and stronger.  

Likewise, sitting on the couch is not going to burn enough calories to drop you below your maintenance calories which can cause you to gain body fat.  When sedentary for long periods of time (weeks or months), you can drastically add on the pounds and can be putting yourself in danger of many health risks.  You need to physically get up and move to burn a sufficient number of calories to make any sort of difference in seeing results for weight loss.  

Getting in the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week would be a great place to start.  This can easily be accomplished and you can start seeing results by engaging in as little as 30 minutes of exercise five days a week.  This can be something as simple as taking a walk during lunch or after dinner.  You can even split up your 30 minutes into 2-3 sessions (10-15 minutes per session) per day to get in 30 minutes – the choice is yours.

Is moving more vital to seeing results?  Yes, it’s incredibly important for someone to exercise and be more active if they expect to be seeing results.

So, are those in favor of moving and exercising more correct when it comes to seeing results?  Is exercise more important than nutrition?  Let’s put it all together (literally).

Who’s Correct in This Debate?

The answer is that they are both wrong yet both correct.  Confused?  Good, my job here is done.  Ok, seriously, let’s look at the big picture here for seeing results.  

When it comes down to seeing results, you're going to need BOTH to make any type of body composition changes.  If you want to lose body fat, you need to pay close attention to your nutrition while also doing some form of exercise (preferably both cardio and resistance training) to effectively lose weight while maintaining and holding onto your lean muscle tissue.

If you want to put on size, you can eat anything and everything under the sun that you want, but essentially, you’ll just get fat while also putting on a little bit of lean muscle mass.  To nail your bulk, you’re going to want to put yourself in a caloric surplus but with a focus on clean foods.  And you won’t be seeing results at all if you aren’t resistance training. Training with weights helps tear down your muscle fibers so that the food and nutrition you put in your body can do its job of rebuilding those muscle fibers back up. This will allow them to come back bigger and stronger (also known as hypertrophy).  

Therefore, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer here as it’s a combination of both nutrition and exercise that is needed for you to be seeing results.  They go hand-in-hand and are vital for success in reaching your goals. 

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