You can’t out-exercise a bad diet

out-exercise a bad diet

I don’t know who originally coined the phrase “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet”, but sadly, not a truer word was ever spoken. I’m sure many of us have made the mistake of assuming that just because we do a gym workout or go for a jog every few days, we’ve therefore earned the right to eat like an athlete.

The maths of this equation, do not work in our favour however.

Why you can’t out-exercise a bad diet

Let’s take a ham and cheese sandwich as an example – not a bad nutritional choice actually. A slice of low fat cheese and 50gm of low fat ham, plus two slices of a generic sandwich loaf = approximately 300 calories. At my current weight of 63kg, I have to work pretty damn hard now to burn 300 calories in a session of exercise.

A generic online ‘calories burned’ calculator estimates that I would burn this in approximately 30 minutes of a fairly high intensity circuit training.  If I were do a 45 minute circuit training workout and then chase that down with a ham and cheese sandwich and some fries on the side, I’ve just cancelled out the calorie deficit, and then some.

All About Health has quite a nice summary of some common foods, and the amount of exercise required to burn those foods off. It’s important to note that the lighter and fitter you are, the fewer calories you burn, therefore the harder it becomes to maintain the calorie deficit required to continue losing fat. I believe this is a major factor behind struggling to lose that last 5 kilos’.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t just overeat by a few hundred calories a day – it can run into the thousands, and unless you’re a triathlete, there is absolutely no chance that your output will match the input. You may have also heard the expression “abs are made in the kitchen”, and this is also true.

Lean proteins and good fats

Only a diet high in lean proteins and good fats, and moderate amounts of everything else will help you towards your fat loss goals. If pure weight loss is your goal, this can be achieved through diet alone, with only incidental exercise.

However this is not a strategy I recommend for the longer term because it won’t help you avoid the dreaded ‘skinny fat’ and many people still end up disappointed after they’ve shed kilos/pounds because their body composition (i.e. the ratio of body fat to muscle) still doesn’t please them to look at.


All is not lost however. A simple tracking app, such as My Fitness Pal which allows you to add your food and exercise, will set you up for accuracy. You can then see for yourself more precisely (if you follow my advice here about including a kitchen scale

Your must-have fitness gadgets - Ozeri Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale
Ozeri Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale

Ozeri Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale Amazon Button - Must-have fitness gadgets

and a heart rate monitor in your set of tools) just how much activity is required to burn off the food you eat.

You can't out-exercise a bad diet - Fitbit Charge HR Wireless Activity Wristband Main
Fitbit Charge HR Wireless Activity Wristband

Out-exersise a bad diet - Fitbit Charge HR Wireless Activity Wristband - Amazon Button

And take heart – although your food intake is a major component  of the ‘fat loss equation’, there are many ways you can get creative with substituting some of your favourite snack foods or desserts so that you don’t end up feeling like you’re missing out.

Deprivation is always a recipe for disaster. You might see quick results, but it’s not a sustainable option.


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