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The Relationship Between Diet & Exercise

This is a little lesson explaining the effects that nutrition and exercise have on each other.

Eat. Move. Improve.

I. Diet modulates weight.
II. Exercise modulates body composition.

1. Nutrition quality will improve how fast you lose weight (and improve health).
2. Exercise intensity will improve how fast your body composition changes.

Everything can be derived from these sets of statements. Let’s look at a couple of common examples.


1. You are obese and want to slim down.

Losing weight depends on nutrition. This is also why six packs are said to be “made in the kitchen.”

A. If you are eating too many calories and/or junk calories, your body is not going to want to drop any weight at all.

B. Similarly, if you are eating much too few calories, your body does not want to drop weight as well because it’s going to enter starvation “energy saving” mode. This is a critical mistake that many people who want to lose weight make.

It is best to stick with an energy deficit of somewhere between about 300-500 calories below basal metabolic rate (may increase if activity increases).

In this case, exercise here is going to help modulate body composition while the pounds come off. For example, if you end up not exercising, your body will indiscriminately drop muscle mass as well as fat mass. However, exercising will help keep muscle mass and maybe even gain some while letting the body drop off fat mass which will improve body composition.


2. You are at a “healthy weight” for your height, but want to “tone up” and gain muscle mass while losing fat.Exercise here is the most important for any significant body composition change. Depending on the different types of exercise, your body may see fit to increase muscle mass and/or burn off excess fat mass (in conjunction with proper nutrition).

Diet is still very important because quality foods will produce faster body composition changes. This depends a lot on genetics (hence why elite athletes can generally eat crap and get away with it), but even with good body composition changes with junky food may be at the expense of overall long term health.


3. The underweight person looking to “bulk up” with muscle.

Diet is the most important. This is a weight issue, and the person is looking to gain weight. Thus, they need to eat more.

This time around adding body mass will be variable according to the exercise (or lack thereof) because it affects body composition.

A. Lifting weights with a hypercaloric diet will tend to put on more muscle mass than fat.
B. Eating more without exercising tends to put on all fat as seen by the obesity rates in America.


Onto the details…..

I. Regarding the quality of diet

Quality of diet is highly dependent on the genetics of the individual. Some people may be allergic to foods such as gluten or dairy, and consuming such food would be detrimental to overall health.

The one thing we can say is that improvements in the quality of diet directly leads to results in weight (maintenance, gain or loss) as well as quality of health. Since we literally are what we eat, if we take in junk food all the time our health is probably going to decline, and the body will probably gain weight as junk food has a high caloric value.

Healthy bodies operate better mentally, physically, and emotionally so it is VERY important to get high quality nutrients.

There is a simple rule you can follow. Here’s the link from the previous posts’ nutrition section.

Here’s a more detailed post by one of my friends if you’re curious beyond the above link.

I strongly advise eating Paleo. Check out Robb Wolf for more details.


II. Regarding the quality of exercise

High intensity or high power output exercise — heavy lifting, intervals, metabolic conditioning, etc. — produce the fastest body composition changes. In response to stress, your body produces a neuroendocrine response in which it releases a lot of anabolic hormones to help repair your tissues to adapt to the stressors. The stronger the stressors, the more hormones are released. Hormones will modulate your body composition through nutrient partitioning.

Damage to your muscles and their growth/adaptation require energy to repair which will be provided by through diet. If the energy need exceeds than of which the diet provides (hypocaloric diet for the obese & isocaloric diet for those who want to maintain weight), then the body tends to metabolize adipose tissue to supply the energy.

The regulation of body composition operates according to the law of diminishing returns (aka logarithmic scale). This means that the improvements will be much greater the higher the body fat percentage & with less muscle mass, but much lower as the body fat percentage drops & with more muscle mass.

One fitness myth is that you cannot add muscle and lose fat at the same time; this is wrong and occurs frequently in obese individuals who are losing weight while doing high intensity exercise. However, as the BF% drops into the teens and single digits, it does not occur as much if at all.


III. Regarding the reliance of diet and exercise to each other

In general, we would tend to say that overall improvement of weight and body composition is 80-85% diet and 15-20% exercise. This is because we are eating almost 21 times per week (maybe more) and only working out about 3-5 times a week.

These are the times that you will be affecting your weight and body composition, so they need to be used wisely. We often taking eating and exercising for granted, but if you want to make any significant weight or body composition changes these times must be taken seriously. Both quality and quantity matter.

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