Can You Out Train a Bad Diet?

The underlying question is this: what is more important – training or nutrition?

We will get to that soon.

Firstly, we need to acknowledge that no food in isolation is good or bad. Food is just food – an edible concoction of flavour, energy and nutrients that will keep you feeling full for a few hours.

Only when previous intake, daily requirements and goals are taken into consideration, can a meal possibly be determined as suitable or not. However, any food in isolation will never be good or bad.

With this in mind, it then makes sense that a diet in isolation cannot be good or bad either. Since a diet is the sum all food ingested – and foods themselves cannot be good or bad – it makes sense that a diet can only be deemed suitable or not in the context of previous intake, activity goals, etc.

Therefore, to say that you can or cannot out train a bad diet does not make sense, because the suitability of the diet is relative to the goals of the individual.

Therefore, you cannot out train a bad diet because if you did increase exercise to the point it countered an unsuitable food intake (relative to goals) then the food intake would no longer be considered unsuitable (because it now suits the goals, with the additional exercise included).

If the diet is unsuitable (read:bad) it means that you are consuming too much energy to achieve your goal.

Training more will increase the energy expenditure, which means the dietary component is now suitable for the goal. However, you have not out trained the unsuitable food intake, the intake now suitable.

You could eat a lot of bad food (chocolate, chips, etc) and exercise a lot – to the point of creating an energy deficit and then eight loss will still occur. This is loosely the idea of flexible dieting whereby food composition is not the focus, energy balance is.

In reverse, you could consume 'clean' diet (lean meats, vegetables, etc) but if you are not exercising, an energy surplus will be created and weight will be gained. This is exactly why people can 'eat well' but still gain weight. If energy intake exceeds expenditure, weight will be gained.

It is picky - but necessary - to focus on the wording of such a questions. Focusing exclusively on either energy intake or expenditure is incomplete. Weight management is like saving a specific money whereby the balance between income and expenses - not the individual amounts - is what determines success.

Always consider both sides of the equation!


What is more important – training or nutrition?

Energy balance will determine weight loss or gain. Training (energy output) and nutrition (energy intake) are the two greatest contributors that we can easily manipulate. Therefore, their management is important for body recomposition.

You can create different approaches for managing energy balance, depending on an individuals goals, experience and lifestyle.

Let’s use the example of someone trying to lose body fat, wanting to create a 600kcal energy deficit each day.

If current intake is 3000kcal and expenditure is the same (energy balance), there are a number of ways this 600kcal deficit can be achieved

  • Reduce food intake to 2400kcal (2400kcal - 3000kcal = -600kcal)
  • Increase expenditure to 3600kcal (3000kcal - 3600kcal = -600kcal)
  • Decrease energy intake by 300kcal and increase energy expenditure by 300kcal (2700kcal - 3300kcal = -600kcal)

In each example, a 600kcal deficit is created that will lead the to use of stored fuel, such as fat. Anyone can make these alterations and weight will be lost.

Where it becomes more complex is the composition of the nutrition and training.

600kcal burnt through walking will have a different impact to 600kcal burnt lifting weights. This comes with its own considerations for individuals.

  • Walking will take longer – will this fit in their day?
  • Resistance training can stimulate muscle development – is this important?

Likewise, different nutrition compositions have a differing role.

Nutrition has a greater variable component than training. One-hour of intense training might burn 500-700kcal. This requires one-hour of time, a desire to train hard and some level of discomfort tolerance (albeit mild), along with the investment in coaching, facilities, etc.

In contrast, reducing 600kcal from food intake can be somewhat easier. Having a black coffee and no muffin in the morning, plus skipping the afternoon chocolate bar could be all you need to save 600kcal.

Nutrition has scope for easier change. In time-poor clients, altering nutrition can deliver excellent results in the early stages of a program.However, altering nutrition only will not provide muscle gain, fitness and strength improvements. For the majority of people looking to improve health and physique –these are important.


Optimal Nutrition is Individualised

Optimal nutrition requires a personalised approach and cannot be determined through generalised advice. Over a 12-week Body Recomposition Program we begin to identify optimal nutrition for an individual, but some times it takes longer.

Start with a balance diet and when more results are need, hire someone to help you out.


To answer the questions

  • You cannot out train a bad diet, because if you did – the diet would no longer be bad.

  • Training and nutrition are key components of energy balance – which is the king of body composition changes. However, nutrition alterations are more effective for creating an energy deficit.
  • Optimum nutrition is very individualised.

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