Diet vs exercise for weight loss: What's More Important?

2 March 2023

Ryan Pinto

My Muscle Chef Advanced Sports Dietitian

Diet vs exercise for weight loss - which matters more? It’s no surprise that diet and exercise are very effective at helping you to lose weight and improve the look and feel of your body. However the debate on which you should be prioritising stands - eating clean or long hours on the treadmill? Well we are here to answer that question. Read on to find out more.

Defining your goal

Firstly you need to identify your goal.

If your goal is to lose weight then you will benefit most from diet. If your goal is to build muscle, then exercise, in particular strength training will be one of the more important parts of your regime.

Whether it is one of the goals mentioned above or even a combination, diet is key to any weight loss or body toning goal, however it is important to understand the benefits of both to enable you to achieve the most effective way to lose weight.

Benefits of diet for weight loss

The first and foremost benefit of filling our plates with a range of nutritious whole foods including lean protein, low fat dairy, whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables leaves almost no room for calorie-heavy sugary snacks or processed foods that contribute to weight gain.

The most effective weight loss diet includes eating nutrient-dense foods to prevent you from reaching out for unhealthy fast foods and snacks (also known as empty calories), which we want to avoid to help us control our calorie intake.

Ultimately when we are focused on eating a balanced diet we tend to consume less calories, and paired with exercise, often results in a more effective weight loss regime. Some may refer to it as calories in vs calories out, because that's exactly what it means, putting in less calories into our bodies than we are burning throughout the day, resulting in weight loss over a period of time.

My Muscle Chef meals and snacks in a fridge

Benefits of exercise for weight loss

Some people believe that weight loss means hours and hours of exercise, however the key to weight loss is not necessarily that, the goal is putting our body in a calorie deficit. Diet and exercise become quite the powerful duo when combined, especially in helping burn those extra calories.

Movement plays an important role when it comes to losing weight - however is it more important than diet? If you’ve ever wondered what percentage of weight loss is diet vs exercise, then you might have heard of the 80/20 rule; that is an 80% focus on food and a 20% focus on exercise when it comes to weight loss. This helps to explain why so much emphasis is placed on the foods we put into our bodies over exerting ourselves with exercise.

For example, saying no to that extra two slices of pizza is usually easier than running 45 minute to burn it off. However, sometimes life can get in the way of a perfect meal plan, with social occasions and eating out is part of our lifestyle. This is where exercise plays its important role in bringing those extra calories we sneak in on the weekend by tying in a balance between lifestyle and our health. So, losing weight without exercise means you will have to be a lot more vigilant with your diet.

Additionally, regular exercise may also assist in managing your hunger by controlling our hunger hormones and this helps you avoid overeating and snacking unnecessarily, especially during times of boredom.

Girl stretching

Why exercise alone won’t result in weight loss

Unfortunately, exercising alone doesn’t make you lose weight. There are plenty of people who only focus on exercise but still can’t shift the kilos. And there are a number of reasons why.

Firstly, if we are consistently exceeding our calorie intake, exercise alone cannot shift that into a calorie deficit

Secondly, there are a number of additional health benefits we get from shifting our diet rather than just focusing on exercise. For example, a balanced diet rich in whole foods can also help lower cholesterol, high blood pressure and manage insulin resistance which cannot be shifted with exercise alone.

The diet vs exercise Verdict

So here it is. What’s more important - diet or exercise for weight loss? Whilst both diet and exercise are key to being healthy, your intake is the MVP when it comes to sustainable weight loss. If you’ve ever wondered if you can lose weight without exercising, it is definitely possible by focusing on consuming a balanced diet with wholefoods. However, it is important to note that exercise does help burn extra calories to maintain a healthy weight and balance out those days we may over indulge on at an event or over the weekend so look to plan some activity before heading out and enjoying yourself!.

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