Is Diet OR Exercise More Important for Fat Loss and Getting Lean?

October 29, 2007

So is diet or exercise more important when it comes to losing body fat?

I am the author of a fitness site, so obviously I am a big believer in exercise…but to be honest, you can get pretty dramatic results from diet alone. In fact, I would say that 90% of the people who are having a tough time losing weight are simply messing up when it comes to diet.

Diet Or Exercise
[The CEO of True Religion Jeans poses with sexy swimsuit models from his recent fashion show]

In a Perfect World You Should Combine Diet and Exercise

For best results, exercise with diet is your best route to a lean body. The problem is this…things don’t always go as planned and life gets busy. There are times when you simply can’t exercise, but you always have time to diet. No matter how busy life gets, simply follow your diet and you will make forward progress. Exercise whenever time allows, but no matter what…stick to your diet (whatever diet plan you end up following).

“You Can’t Out-Exercise a Big Mac”

I can’t remember which of the readers of this blog put that as a comment to one of my articles, but I really enjoy that phrase.

A Big Mac has 540 calories. Do you realize how much exercising it takes to burn those calories? Well about an hour on the elliptical trainer at a moderate pace would do the trick!

So after an hour of boring cardio, you are back to square one…you probably won’t lose weight at all especially if you added the fries and soft drink. Large fries would be an extra 570 calories and a large non-diet soft drink would be an extra 310 calories. So how much exercise would you have to do to burn 1,400+ calories? Let’s not even go there!

It is Easier to Create a Large Calorie Deficit Through Dieting

A simple approach to losing weight is to create a daily calorie deficit. Basically, the idea is for your body to use more calories each day than what you consume in food calories.

So, there are two ways to create this deficit…either consume less calories or burn more through exercising. Each pound of fat on your body is 3,500 calories.

So to lose 2 pounds per week, you need to create a weekly calorie deficit of 7,000…or a daily calorie deficit of 1,000.

In my opinion it is much easier to create this calorie deficit by not eating those calories in the first place. You would have to spend two hours at a moderate pace on a stationary bike EVERY day to accomplish this!

Fat Loss Isn’t Quite This Simple

The body is actually much more complex than simply responding precisely to a calorie deficit.

There are WAY more variables that come into play when it comes to fat loss…the type of food you eat, the timing of your meals, the metabolic effect of exercise, the muscle sparing effect of resistance training, etc…there are a lot of things that come into the fat loss picture that I’m not addressing here.

Diet is More Important Than Many People Realize

I would bet that over 80% of the articles in fitness magazines are about exercise.

It does make a lot of sense, because exercising is a much more interesting topic. The funny thing is that diet is equally, if not more important to an attractive physique.

Don’t get me wrong…I am a HUGE believer in regular exercise…I just think people are “spinning their wheels” when it comes to getting fit by not paying enough attention to diet. If your diet is bad, a lot of your effort in the gym goes to waste.

Diet is What Makes Your Cardio Much More Effective

If you are going to do a session of intense cardio or HIIT, you obviously want to get good results. If you are downing fast food and drinking soda on a regular basis, you are just getting back to square one with cardio…you will not lose body fat.

If you do that exact same cardio workout and follow a clean diet, you will get a huge fat loss boost from that cardio.

Bonus: A Self-Discipline Tip That Works Well

Self-discipline sometimes just depends upon how you view certain things. It really isn’t that a certain person is just naturally more disciplined than other people…often times they just think a bit differently about a certain task.

Here is the way I view cardio that almost forces me to follow a strict diet. I tell myself that if I do cardio while following a bad diet, that I am accomplishing nothing as far as getting lean is concerned. Since I do a pretty intense High Intensity Interval Training Routine, I would be mad if I didn’t see results!

I follow a clean diet, because I can’t stand the thought of working out that hard for nothing.

It works the other way as well…when I’m following a clean diet, I can’t stand the thought of not doing cardio because I know it will be that much more effective!


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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay October 29, 2007 at 7:48 pm

That’s a brilliant article Rusty! I think you’ve made an excellent point there. I see so many people (and i must admit I’m one of those people) who work really hard at the gym and then spoil it all by shoving down something naughty (yes, like a big Mac with fries and coke). And you’re right – it’s all about self discipline but it’s extremely hard when you’re constantly bombarded on a daily basis with food advertisements.

Ok, I will definately start eating clean now… no more wasted effort!

Thanks for the article Rusty!

Jennifer October 29, 2007 at 8:45 pm

Great article. I see a lot of people in the gym that seem to be working out hard on a regular basis, but they don’t look any different than they did a year ago. I guess their diet is not matching up to their efforts in the gym! I really like your self-discipline tip…why eat eat badly and work out like crazy when you can eat “clean” and see amazing results!

admin October 29, 2007 at 9:03 pm


Thanks buddy…yeah, do your best to eat clean as much as possible. Obviously we all eat junk food on occasion, you just want to limit it a bit.


I see the same thing. I’m shocked at the number of people who get little results. To me…that is REAL self discipline…continuing on when you see little if any results. My approach is easier…eat well, workout, see results…which makes it easier to eat well, workout, and see results.


Jonneh October 29, 2007 at 9:10 pm

Not quite what your article was about, but… Mcdonald’s makes my stomach feel like sh*t after I eat there now, if I eat anything other than simple chicken nuggets, fries, and a drink. Their burgers disgust me. But it’s funny, because I can go eat a burger from Burger King or Wendy’s just fine. Something in the way McDonald’s handles their burgers makes my body feel really gross and sickly.

Now, breakfast at McDonald’s on the other hand…oh yeah. ;D

admin October 29, 2007 at 9:41 pm

If I have junk food (which isn’t often)…I normally do Jack in the Box. All of it makes me feel sick, but I do enjoy those 2 tacos deal they have going.


Jonneh October 29, 2007 at 10:36 pm

I don’t believe there’s a Jack in the Box around where I live – I’ve heard of one, but it’s definitely not very close if there’s one by me. 😛 Oh well.

admin October 30, 2007 at 2:30 am


We have them all over the place. They have these greasy tacos that just have to be terrible for you, but they taste wonderful.


Gators October 30, 2007 at 4:02 am

Great post, a lot of great info here…i have a couple of questions that i’m hoping you can comment on and maybe you already have on other posts. Firstly, i live in Sydney, in my early 30’s and the culture here on the wknds is very much ‘watch sport and drink beer well into the night’ which i love to do. i know alcohol is high in calories, so why do i wake up skinnier in the morning after a night on the juice??? and secondly, can you comment on dietary supplements such as Lean System 7. I eat well and exercise well but if LS7 were to add that little bit of an edge then i’d be all for trying it…

Thanks mate
PS..when are you heading downunder to check out the sydney babes?

admin October 30, 2007 at 6:00 am


Drinking beer and watching sports is good for you…don’t let anyone tell you any different! Just kidding…but you have to live and enjoy life. I’m all for drinking beer!

Just eat extra clean during the week and you shouldn’t have any worries. As far as looking better the next day after drinking…it normally happens because you are a bit dehydrated and your skin has less water under it after a night of drinking.

Gators…I’m not going to lie. I have never heard of Lean System 7 until you mentioned it, but I went over to the website and it looked pretty good. At first I figured it was one of those products that used to have Ephedra and uses the claims that people on the product used to get when using the product…but it never had ephedra and people are getting good results.

This looks like a great product to take 3-4 weeks our from a vacation or right before summer to lose that last little bit of fat and get “beach ready”. I never see weight loss supplements as long-term solutions…I see them as a way to burn those last 3-5 stubborn pounds of fat to look extra slim and toned.

As far as visiting the beach babes in Australia…as soon as I save enough money I’m going to travel to Down Under…drink beer, watch some Austrlian Rules Football, and meet as many pretty Australian women as possible.

Can’t Wait!


Tyler Durden October 30, 2007 at 6:09 am

i’ve been waiting for this post for a while:)) i have to admit you made your point in the article!
I think your body reflects the way you live…Okey so what i want to say is that we have to think in LONG TERM goals. Getting lean is more of a lifestyle thing, you exercise and eat well not just for a few weeks but as long as you want to stay in great shape.
Most people just crash diet which i think is stupid cuz it is always temporary weight loss they think that after losing few pounds they can eat the same things as they did before.
Key to success: clean diet and exercise has to be a NATURAL part of your life. Like a routine. Not something you do for a few weeks of months.
After a while even without concentrating too much on things like BFP(like here we do all) your body will reflect the way you live.

Burak October 30, 2007 at 10:52 am

Rusty, I read this article on NPR the other day about vibrations leading to stem cells becoming bone rather than fat:…1001

What are your thoughts on this? It seems like it would do more to support your jump rope theories, etc. But beyond that, what do you think this means for localized exercises where you want to avoid gaining padding?

Also, they make note that in order to lose existing fat you can’t just do this :).

Kathy October 30, 2007 at 4:46 pm

I’ve been checking out your site – and well I need HELP. I eat really well – I’m not a huge breakfast eater so I usually don’t have any. For lunch I have 1/2 a turkey on whole wheat with a bag of organic apples. For late afternoon I have a bag of organic apples. I eat a good dinner (chicken, turkey, sirlion) and a vegtable. I go to the gym between 4-5 days a week and do almost 2 hours of cardio burning almost 1100 calories. I’m a small boned person and before and after my son I weighed about 110 lbs. working out the same – for some reason my legs and butt are getting bigger and I don’t understand why. My clothes don’t have room for growth. Do you have any suggestions? I don’t mind working hard in the gym and eating well as long as I am getting results and right now the opposite is happening.

admin October 30, 2007 at 9:50 pm


That study looks impressive. I always felt there was additional benefits to doing a bit of impact cardio exercise if your body can handle it. I love scientific literature…thanks for the heads up on this study.

It looks like you go to Northeastern (As Admin I have access to additional info). I actually dated a girl who went to Northeastern. She was from “The Cape” and loved eating peanut butter sandwiches with marshmellow cream. She said it was a staple over there. Do you eat these?


Lucky for you, I have a really fit sister who is obsessed about not getting a big butt and legs. She avoids the exercise bikes and even the elliptical trainer because it “pumps” her legs up a bit. Stick to running on a treadmill and your legs will lean out over time.

That should help!


Adrianne October 30, 2007 at 10:58 pm

woow, its an eye opening article, didnt really how many calories was in that big mac, lool thanks alot Rusty

Gators October 31, 2007 at 3:17 am

I think you’ve covered alcohol in previous posts and it’d be very difficult to give up in a culture like this! not that i would b/c i believe in balance and enjoying yourself.
I found out about Lean System 7 through Men’s Health mag, i always like to know what i’m putting into my body and it had some decent reviews. I think i’ll use it 3-4 weeks before something important eg vacation, as you suggested.

Thanks again…

Burak October 31, 2007 at 11:15 am

Rusty, I hate to rain on her parade but no, I don’t. While I have heard that people around here eat that kind of thing (or feed it to their kids), I’ve known the more traditional PB&J sandwich to be the staple. Of course I haven’t eaten a PB&J in forever either.

Also, I grew up eating a more Mediterranean-style diet. I probably don’t count.

Jennifer October 31, 2007 at 7:54 pm

In terms of diet I have messed up this week…I ate way too much Halloween candy=(

Rusty, do you have any diet and exercise advise for an “after-splurge” recovery??

By the way, I took your advise in preparation for my trip to vegas, and my skin is incredible after all that moisturizing! Also, I have been cranking up the cardio and have noticed some visible results (my abs are really looking toned), but I am not too proud of this candy-splurge I had today (I probably ate 8 mini-chocolate bars).

admin October 31, 2007 at 11:46 pm


Don’t get down on yourself for participating in Halloween! I’m all about balance in life. I eat candy on Halloween, Turkey and Pumpkin Pie for Thanksgiving, Chips and dip when I’m invited to a picnic.

Each day is a new day, so get strict again starting tomorrow.

Glad the moisturizing tip worked out. One of the things that men find very attractive in women is their soft skin, so you may as well maximize it with moisturizer.

By the Way…I was FABIO for Halloween.

Fabio Halloween

“Damn My Fabio Hair is Sexy”!


ted November 6, 2007 at 12:46 pm

rusty.. I love the site ive been reading non stop. I love your take on the 1,2,3 vs the 5, 6 meal plan. Also the take on high intensity cardio which seems like a good workout which i am going to have to switch over to. I played college baseball last year and was around 190 this fall. I used the 5 meal approach and have gotten results i am down to 174. I am going to start to go into the 3 meal approach to lose the last 4 pounds. I was wondering why people say you need to eat every few hours to keep insulin in check and that if you dont eat every 2-3 hours you lose muscle weight and your body fat will stay the same. which i dont mind lsoing muscle i just wanna body fat with it? any info would be great

admin November 6, 2007 at 9:41 pm


Here is a really in depth interview you should read with Ori Hofmekler. This will definitely shift your thinking about diet. You will get a lot out of this 2 part article!

Also…I did a post on going into “starvation mode” where your body holds onto fat and you lose muscle. This will be eye opening as well.

Starvation Mode and Skipping Meals

Glad you like the site!I’m going to work harder and try to post almost every day instead of 3-4 times per week like I have in the past.

Have a great one!


ted November 6, 2007 at 10:44 pm

intresting info i would have never though this at all. Hes right i am planning my whole day around eating thats crazy. Who really wants to eat all the time. Are there any limitations that you can eat at night? this is awesome info and you seem to be giving it out for free

alan kleinburg December 11, 2007 at 7:09 pm


Let’s be honest here, McDonald’s sucks! A good value for the money? Empty calories? Rancid Oils? Genetically modified food? THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO VALUE!!!


admin December 11, 2007 at 9:41 pm


Shame on me? Well…McDonald’s is at least attempting to offer healthy alternatives. I know that most of their menu isn’t healthy, but I like the direction they are heading.

I have been know to eat the occasional fast food meal (a few times per year), so I didn’t want to be a hypocrite and slam all fast food places.


Todd December 14, 2007 at 3:19 am

hey rusty great site love the down to earth approch you give your custermers, rusty other than planks what else would you reccomend for a great six pack , maybe you could write a little routine for me thanx todd ,australia,

admin December 14, 2007 at 2:01 pm


I really just do planks and this exercise…

Breath of Dragon

It’s a Bruce Lee exercise.

Honestly…low body fat takes care of the rest.


Stace February 28, 2008 at 7:19 pm

Hi Rusty
I was a former “hot body” until I had 2 kids and made poor eating and exercise choices. My youngest is 2 now. This is my year to get my body back! I want to hit the beach with a body that turns heads. I am now 35 years old. I weigh a “OH MY GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE I LET MYSELF GET THIS BIG,” 190 lbs at 5’6″.
Because you have all the hot people on your website with the great bodies, I know you know what you talking about.

I read your site at least 3-4x per week. What do you recommend I do to get a smokin’ body by summer? It is a long way back down but I am willing to do the work.

admin February 29, 2008 at 12:03 am


I have a lot of compassion for “moms”. My sister, who is a fitness freak, was driven crazy by the weight gain during pregnancy. It is apparent that I need to posts with full workouts. I can’t do it justice here in the comment section. Be on the “lookout” for it. A good starting point would be some of those cardio and HIIT workouts I have in the “Aerobic Exercise” section. I know you can drop that weight for sure.


JR May 21, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Another great article!

Diet will get you lean……..Diet+Exercise will get you ripped!

Heather June 16, 2009 at 3:10 pm

I think both should be incorporated to get leaner! It should be your nutrition, resistance training, and your cardio. You can’t have one without the other.

The Fit News July 9, 2009 at 11:50 pm

Yeha, I’m a fan of Macdonalds 🙂 Especially the chicken caesar wrap!!! Mmmmm I could so go for one now. Pity the closest Macdonalds is 500km away!

People need to realise that the ultimate goal is calorie expendature… But sales men are succeeding in convincing them that it’s the lack of so and so supplement that’s causing them to not lose weight.

Janus May 16, 2011 at 3:05 am

Rusty, I keep hearing about this Eat Stop Eat concept. Did I miss that download in the Visual Impact Course I bought? Or is this something you discuss somewhere else?

Sam July 18, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Hahaha I’ve had weight problems since I was in high school. I’ve been overweight once at 123 lbs for 5’2 (which is overweight for my frame) … so I’ve fluctuated from 110 to 120 recently. I calorie count everyday and check my weight. My weight’s always the highest when I’m not working out … my appetite drops and I eat less. When I’m working out I’m constantly eating plus a few hundred extra cals and that’s when my weight is lowest and I look fittest. I dunno why though.

George Borovan October 5, 2011 at 8:38 am

Hi Rusty, Diet or excersise; which is more important. We like your article addressing this subject. As you suggested it requires discipline, but even then it’s hard! Putting the right food on the table calls for planning or else it becomes complicated and people resort to fast or convenience food. In the last six years we have developed a meal planner on line application to make this very real issue as simple as it can be. Customizable plan with over 2000 meals to choose from all in house tested. Great addition to your service by having link to nutritional guide to achive the ultimate goal. Please visit us at
Best regards,
George Borovan
Noviden Technologies Inc.

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