Nutrition vs. fitness: what's the right balance to take?

The question that seems to come up most frequently for health professionals always involves the age old debate of exercise vs. diet. It seems that there are believers on both sides and each will argue their expertise and opinions; but the one thing you can't debate is research (and when it comes to fitness vs. nutrition for weight loss, there is clearly a winner in this debate).

Experts, and many everyday people, will tell you that pounds are lost in the kitchen. Exercise will help strengthen your bones, muscles (especially your heart), boost your metabolism, and improve your mood, but unfortunately that is not enough in the battle to lose weight. The bottom line is that you can't out-exercise a poor diet. Any kind of weight loss, or fat loss for that matter, will come through a diet of healthy foods and proper nutrition.

A recent British Journal of Sports Medicine editorial offers an answer that everyone should pay attention to: "You cannot outrun a bad diet. Exercise isn't enough when it comes to losing weight or staying healthy." This journal supports what many health professionals have been advocating for years: exercise alone will not produce the results most people are looking for. But if you change your diet to include fresh fruit, produce, lean protein and healthy fats, combined with reducing processed foods and excess sugar, results will be noticeable.

So should you just ditch your exercise programme and opt for a solid nutrition plan instead?

That answer is still a clear no, and here's why. Regular exercise has been called the best medicine for health and longevity because of its long list of physical and mental health benefits. Research still shows the most effective way for most people to lose weight is to pair a calorie-conscious healthy eating plan with adequate exercise.

An article in the NY Times covered this exact topic and also found that many of the studies around sustained weight loss all agreed on one thing: "All of these interventions included dietary changes, and the added weight-loss benefit from activity was small." The author went on to also support the benefits of exercise as well: "But I can't say this enough: Exercise has a big upside for health beyond potential weight loss. Many studies and reviews detail how physical activity can improve outcomes in musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, pulmonary diseases, neurological diseases and depression. A fairly large evidence base corroborates that exercise improves outcomes in many domains."

The bottom line is this; if you want to lose weight, a healthy diet must make up the majority of your plan. Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, nutritional biochemist has this to say: "As a rule of thumb, weight loss is generally 75 per cent diet and 25 per cent exercise."

However, if you want to maintain weight loss, improve overall health and wellness, boost your mood, and possibly increase your weight loss, the best way to accomplish all of those things is still to combine a healthy eating plan with exercise.

Sara Lindburg has a B.S. in Exercise Science and an M.Ed. in Counselling. A 41-year-old wife, mother, and full-time secondary school counsellor, she combines 20-plus years' experience in the fitness and counselling fields and she has found her passion in inspiring other women to be the best version of themselves on her Facebook page, FitMom. Her inspiration for writing comes from her 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 8-year-old daughter, Hanna. Follow Sara on twitter.