Fat Loss: Exercise vs. Nutrition

Fat loss is a common goal at Viking Athletics, and yet many of us go about it the wrong way. It’s very tempting to focus on exercise. If some is good, more must be better, right? WRONG. When it comes to fat loss and weight management, NUTRITION accounts for 90% of the battle. (The exception to this would be professional athletes or other people who train for multiple hours a day.) Wearables frequently overestimate how many calories we burn from exercise. They also overestimate the post workout calorie burning effect of high intensity exercise. In reality, it takes roughly 2 hours of steady, moderate to high intensity, continuous exercise to burn 500 calories. An easier way to get into a 500 calorie deficit? Put the cookies down!

Now, we’re not advocating for restrictive diets or lifestyles. In fact, the most successful habit and lifestyle changes focus on ADDING IN positive behaviors, rather than cutting out less optimal ones. The point is, if your goal is fat loss, then nutrition should be your starting point.

We’ve previously covered the calorie equation in a two-part series: calories in, and calories out. To review, calories out, also known as your metabolism, is comprised of 4 items:

  1. Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): this accounts for 60-70% of our daily caloric expenditure. If you lay in bed all day doing nothing, this is how many calories you would burn. It is based on age, sex, height, weight, muscle mass, and genetics. There’s very little we can do to change it.
  2. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): this accounts for 10% of daily calories burned. It takes energy to extract energy from food (think of it as energy necessary for digestion). It takes the most energy to digest protein, followed by carbohydrates, followed by dietary fat. We can SLIGHTLY increase this number by eating more protein.
  3. Physical Activity (PA): this accounts for 10-15% of daily expenditure. It is our purposeful exercise. Unless you spend hours training each day, it’s really not going to increase the number of calories burned. EXERCISE IS IMPORTANT FOR OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS BUT IS MINIMALLY IMPORTANT FOR FAT LOSS.
  4. Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT):  this includes all activity that is not purposeful exercise. Things like walking, fidgeting, and manual labor (if your job includes it) are all classified as NEAT. It’s 15% of daily expenditure in sedentary people, and can be up to 50% in people with highly manual jobs like farming. This is where we have a little more leeway to increase expenditure, and why many people increase total steps (walking) during a fat loss phase. However, it still takes time to accumulate all these steps. While 7,000 per day is plenty for health, it may take up to 20,000 for increased fat loss (this is roughly 10 miles). If the average walking pace is 4 miles an hour (15 mins per mile), it will take 2.5 hours to accumulate 20,000 steps. Add that in to an hour at the gym, and you’re now at 3.5 hours of movement. It’s just not practical for most people.

As you can see, we can only significantly impact 1 out of 4 ways we burn calories. And, it’s time consuming. Instead, if we focus on what we put INTO our bodies, we can affect greater change. Next week, we’ll give you a simple order of operations to follow to help shore up your diet.

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