You've heard the phrase "you can't out-exercise a bad diet," and this is the bottom line when it comes to maintaining a healthy body. Nutrition and exercise are both important parts of losing fat and gaining strength.
Nutritional habits will have a far greater impact on your body composition and physique goals than any other fitness component. When a combination of exercise and healthy nutrition are implemented is when successful body change happens.
Apply a Nutritional Strategy
A person can change one's body composition through diet alone without exercise. However it's the combination of both that provides a complete healthy package. Applying the 80% nutrition-to-20% fitness rule is simply a statement of the importance of nutrition in the equation. This distribution isn't scientifically proven. It is based on the fact that it is easier to consume calories versus burning calories.
We have all seen the regulars at the gym doing the same thing day in and day out for several months or even years without seeing results in fat loss. These people are not making any headway in changing their body composition because they do not have a nutritional strategy. The lack of a nutritional strategy is holding these people back from reaching their fitness goals.
Exercise without healthy eating is not a waste of time, but it is like swimming upstream.
A common question in the fitness industry is: “What percentage of my goals will be a result of exercise, and what percentage will be a result of my diet?”
The usual answer is: “They are both important, but percentages can’t really be assigned" or the well-known “100% training and 100% diet.”
Vague answers like this don't address the big picture, especially to novice trainees starting their fitness journey to physique improvement.
The best answer would be that nutrition has the largest impact on body changes than exercise and tossing all percentages aside.
Nutrition and Exercise LogicLet’s take percentages out of the equation for now and apply some logic to exercise and nutrition. The normal exerciser may perform three to four weight training sessions and three to four cardio workouts per week, totaling eight sessions per week.
This gives eight opportunities to make a positive change in your body through exercise. That same person eats three healthy meals per day. If knowledgeable in the value of meal spacing, these people may eat five to six times per day.
Quick math shows 21 to 35 chances per week to directly and positively impact fat burning and muscle building goals through nutrition.
You Are What You Eat
Utilizing the above example, nutrition is clearly the winner in physique improvement opportunities. In fact, at 35 chances per week to improve body composition through nutrition (and eight through exercise), the percentage does come in around 80%.
This leaves 20% of physique enhancement resulting from exercise. The assessment of nutrition versus exercise thus is pretty accurate given the numbers.
The equations also indicate, if you want to look good, applying 80% of your focus to eating right is a necessary component. There is something to “you are what you eat” and how it relates to making positive body changes. Also note, if you have a history of eating disorders or have a negative relationship with food, this may not be the right approach to eating.
Apply the 80:20 Rule for Results
Have you read success stories of dramatic weight loss? At the forefront of the accomplishments of the people in these success stories are improved nutritional programs and diets. Some have shared the application of drastic food changes and also healthier methods of cooking and eating before starting an exercise program.
This began the journey of their success, and adding in the workouts was the bonus that made it all come together. It was important to master a healthy nutrition plan. These successful people also understood mastering a healthy nutrition plan as the largest role in being able to reach fitness goals.
It may be nice to think positive body changes can be made simply by exercising, but that's far from the truth. Applying the 80:20 rule creates the difference and understanding food will be the major player in how you look. Finally, this is an easy foundation to approach body composition, but it is more complicated because stress, sleep, and genetics also plays a role. To really understand how all of these components affect the body, it is recommended to see a registered dietitian nutritionist
By Darla Leal
Darla Leal is a Master Fitness Trainer, freelance writer, and the creator of Stay Healthy Fitness, where she embraces a "fit-over-55" lifestyle.