Can You Out-Exercise A Bad Diet?

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I think you’re going to be surprised by what I have to say because it goes against something that I’ve said frequently on my channel.

You can’t out exercise a bad diet.

Out-Exercise A Bad Diet For Weight Loss

I’ve mainly talked about this with respect to weight loss and I’m going to stick with that side here.

So rather than dealing with whether eating a lot of treat foods, what most people call junk foods, is going to have a negative impact on your health. And whether that impact can be overcome by doing a lot of exercise.

What’s A Bad Diet?

First we have to define what we mean by bad diet.

Since fat loss comes down to being in a negative energy balance we’ll say a bad diet means a plan that will contain more ultra processed high calorie foods that cause you to be more likely to be in a calorie surplus and carry excess body fat.

Can you get rid of those extra calories and lose weight with exercise alone?


Is it likely that you’re willing or able to do the amount of physical activity required for you to to lose weight with exercise alone?


Now unless you’re a professional athlete or a teen or 20 something with a lot of time on their hands you probably won’t be able to expend tons of calories just by exercising.

What Early Adulthood Teaches Us About Out-Exercising A Bad Diet

You might even remember a time when you did have a lot of time on your hands and it felt like you could eat whatever you wanted.

For most people that’s in their teens in their early 20s. Maybe you didn’t have a full-time job or you did and it required a lot of physical activity. You might have gone out clubbing and burned tons of calories in one night just dancing up a storm.

You didn’t have a partner to sit on the couch and eat food with. Or kids that basically make every part of your life more challenging. But also rewarding of course.

For the average person 30 minutes of jogging is going to burn 200 to 400 calories. But you’ll need to burn off an extra 500 calories per day every day, seven days a week in order to lose about a pound a week.

So if you have time to run at a pretty brisk pace for about an hour every day you’ll probably see some weight loss from just adding that exercise.

How Your Body Adapts To Exercise & Prevents Out-Exercising A Bad Diet

Then over time your body is going to adapt and actually burn fewer calories doing that hour run every day.

So if you start off burning 500 calories for that hour over time your body is going to burn off maybe 400. and then as you get even more adjusted maybe 300 calories a day doing the same thing. So you would need to increase your physical activity and make it more intense for instance or just increase the time that you’re exercising in order to keep losing weight.

You’re fighting a losing battle.

Especially if you find that your appetite increases. Many people will start to eat more when they start to increase their physical activity levels. This tends to happen more with highly intense exercise rather than something gentle like walking. It’s one of the reasons I think walking is a great way to give yourself a little bit of an additional calorie burn…even though your body will eventually adapt to that walking as well.

Michael Phelps And His 10,000 Calorie A Day Diet

Now if we look at the extremes of physical activity like professional athletes. For instance, Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer, used to consume about 10 000 calories a day when he was in training.

“It works wonders for me.”

But he was also swimming 50 miles a week as well as doing strength training. So we’re talking about several hours a day of working out. We know it’s possible to lose weight with exercise alone, but how likely is it?

Can The Average Person Out-Exercise A Bad Diet?

Now I designed most of my videos for the average person who has a full-time job and is not running their entire life around fitness and trying to develop the ideal physique.

You just want to look good put on a little muscle lose a little fat but you don’t want to change your whole lifestyle. So you want to keep it simple.

I probably don’t need to convince you about the health benefits of exercise. We hear it all the time and it’s basically indisputable.

Benefits Of Exercise Outside Of Weight Loss

People who are more physically active do tend to live longer suffer from fewer diseases and they have a better quality of life. Which I think is equally important. All the life in your years and not just the years of your life.

In the British Journal of sports medicine in 2019: Out-running bad diets Beyond weight loss there is clear evidence of the benefits of physical activity.

Based on current research and what we see in day-to-day life it is possible to get weight loss just through physical activity.

“Evidence shows that you can out exercise outwork poor nutritional choices but most people do not since they do not will not or cannot practically expend sufficient energy to do so.”

We can out-exercise a bad diet, but…

Who has the time to do this and who can keep it up over a sustained period of time? Not many people.

“Nonetheless behavioral and or metabolic compensatory mechanisms often lessen the predicted weight loss with exercise induced as opposed to diet induced energy deficits.”

One of these mechanisms is the increased hunger that you might feel when you start exercising that means that you’re consuming more calories and that’s going to take away from the energy balance benefits that you might get from the exercise.

The metabolic changes the way that your body adapts to that physical activity over time. You’re not burning off as many calories doing the same activity.

Change In Metabolism As We Get Older

Many people think that our metabolism is greatly affected as we get older but it’s actually not true.

There’s some good data that shows between 20 and 60, there’s not a huge change in our metabolism.

Sorry to take away that excuse for those people who’ve been using it.

And that includes menopause ladies.

What actually seems to happen is that the hormonal changes impact your sleep. They impact your energy levels. And as a result you burn off fewer calories through activity.

You’re more likely to overeat if you’re feeling tired and you’re not sleeping well so all these things come together.

There’s not actually a lot of change in your metabolism before 60. After that we do see a gradual decline in metabolism mainly because there is also a drop in muscle mass over time.

How To Prevent Lowered Metabolism With Age

That’s something that you can work against by strength training and getting enough protein as you get older.

It’s most effective to lose weight with a combination of diet and exercise. Most people when they start exercising, they start to eat a little better.

They start to think of themselves as healthy active people. And that goes along with eating more healthy whole foods. More vegetables and lean protein sources. And probably having fewer treat foods. All of that adds up to weight loss.

So you could theoretically out run or out exercise a bad diet, but it’s probably not likely.

If you want help with your weight loss goal check out this link HERE.

Ivana Chapman

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Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman BSc BA CSCS is a Canadian fitness and nutrition coach, happy wife, and mom to an energetic 9-year-old boy. She is a YouTuber, writer, published fitness model, speaker, 3rd Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, former World Cup Karate Champion, one-time marathoner, and CBBF National level Natural Bikini competitor. She loves weight training, chocolate, mountain biking, and ice cream...not always in that order of preference.
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