Is it really 80% diet and 20% exercise? Or is it 70/30?

We hear it all the time – 20% exercise, 80% diet. Or, wait…is it 30% exercise and 70% diet? Aren’t abs made in the kitchen, but you won’t get definition without some heavy liftin’?

It’s not that these sayings are untrue so much as they’re misleading. No worries, I’m here to clear this up for you.

There is no mathematical way to break down whether exercise or diet is more important for your goals. If you want to run a marathon, changing your diet isn’t going to help you with endurance. Exercise, specifically running, will. This goes the same for any goal – gaining muscle isn’t achieved by just increasing protein consumption, it’s gained by exercise. Sure, the two go hand in hand, but is it really as simple as an 80/20 or 70/30 ratio?

So what are these numbers trying to tell us? If you’re falling short on your goals – fitness or weight loss – you need to look at your diet. If you don’t appropriately fuel your body you’re not going to get anything out of it. Additionally, if you’re trying to lose weight, falling into the “exercise your pizza away” trap will lead to a vicious cycle. Exercise should never be a compensatory tool for any meal you just ate.

The truth of the matter is that diet is very important, and much easier to tailor than exercise for weight loss. If you want to lose weight, you must create a caloric deficit (you can read about this here). Creating a calorific deficit by switching out high calorie foods with low nutrient density for low calorie foods with high nutrient density (see: trading pizza for chicken breast) is much easier and takes all of 1 minute. If you wanted to burn those calories off, you’re committing yourself to miles of running or hours at the gym. It’s easier to rein in your diet and make small changes here and there than to spend surplus time at the gym to “make up” for a bad diet.

Additionally, people tend to underestimate what they eat and overestimate what they burn. The science behind burning calories is not exact. The science behind the caloric content of your food an estimate. Watching your portions is easier, and more effective, then plugging away on the treadmill for 4 hours every morning.

Diet is important because your body requires fuel to function. It also takes less time to swap out high calorie for low calorie than exercising “off” excess calories.

Exercise is important because without challenging your body, you’ll never see results. Lifting weights, running, swimming, etc. is how you increase muscle mass, strength, endurance or cardiovascular healthy. Diet alone cannot do that.

It’s not x% vs. x% – it’s a good balance between fueling your body and making it work hard.

Comments (11)

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  7. malaria

    thanks for the info. My friend and i were discussing this exact thing, and you’ve summed it up quite nicely. People can change their life through diet and exercise. you have to eat for fuel, or you won’t be able to do anything.

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  8. saludcasera

    Great post. I would say as a fact, that you can definitely improve your endurance by changing your diet. You can change your entire physiology by changing your diet, so saying that changing your diet won’t help with endurance is a wrong statement in my opinion.

    There are tons of superfoods and herbs that will increase your energy levels dramatically which in turn will give you more endurance.

    Another example which is a bit of an extreme but just to make my point. Imagine that your normal diet is just 1 meal per day and you are going to run a marathon in 30 days, you can change your diet to add 2 meals and some snacks between the day and this will definitely give you more energy, which in turn will give you more endurance.

    Food = Energy
    Energy can and will give you Endurance.

    Changing your diet will definitely improve your endurance without running a single mile. The fact is that if you sit on the couch 24/7 without eating, you won’t even endure 2 months. Just eating while give you years of endurance.

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  11. Austin

    Comment…this things of 30%&70% is just a myth….

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