Diet Vs. Exercise

The long-standing debate continues: what’s more important, diet or exercise? In an ideal world where people have all the time, money, and resources possible, both diet and exercise are equally important.  But, this is the real world and many of us struggle with either financial burdens, limited time, and a lack of healthy grocery stores and/or fitness centers. In this case, when choosing between diet and exercise, the answer is less is more. Instead of exercising 20 hours per week to make up for poor eating habits, or on the flip side, restricting calories because you haven’t been able to do any exercise, find a happy medium.

Both eating well and exercising regularly keep you healthy, however, doing too much of either often has the opposite effect and can be dangerous or harmful. Most people do not need to exercise more than 30-60 minutes 5 days per week to get the heart-healthy benefits, but the most important thing is that you enjoy the exercise you’re doing and make it a part of your daily routine. In addition, eating a healthy balanced diet which includes plenty of fiber, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory fats is crucial for health and disease prevention, but you have to take pleasure in what you’re eating  as well. Doing both in moderation is not only healthier but, more practical  too, especially if you have limited time, finances, and/or resources.

Having said that, here are some simple strategies to tackle any challenges that get in the way of finding a positive balance between both diet and exercise:

1) If you take the 7pm spin class tonight you won’t have time to cook dinner.

-You can take the class and then quickly whip up a healthy  meal in minutes. For example, eggs and frozen veggies in a skillet or making a turkey and avocado sandwich on whole wheat bread takes under 5 minutes. Other quick meal ideas include canned tuna with light mayo and chopped veggies or an Amy’s Organicfrozen entree that only needs to be microwaved in minutes.

2) You overate at dinner and feel compelled to add an extra 30 minutes on the treadmill. 

– Overexercising the next day will only make you even hungrier later on which creates a vicious cycle of eating a lot and exercising a lot to compensate. Instead, go through your normal exercise the next day with no added minutes and cut slightly back on calories the next day.

3) You avoid eating right after you exercise because you don’t want to eat all the calories back you just burned.

– The most important meal of the day is right after you exercise. This is the time your body needs to recover the most so protein and carbohydrates are extremely important to repair muscle damage, keep you energized and reduce post-exercise muscle soreness. If you try to skimp or skip eating right after, you’ll be more likely to overeat in a few hours and by that point your body won’t burn or use the calories as effectively.

4) You cut down your calories to less than 1,000 and increase exercise to 5 days per week all at once.

-Sure that will work initially and you’ll see the # on the scale plummet, but try to keep that going for more than a few weeks and you’ll be begging for help. Your body can only survive on very few calories and intense exercise for so long. After a few weeks, either your body will go into starvation zone and you’ll stop losing weight or you’ll barely have enough energy to pick up your cell phone. Either case, you’ll be losing muscle a long the way which can slow metabolism and increase body fat storage.

5) Your trainer advises you to guzzle down a huge protein shake after every workout you do together.

-While protein is the key nutrient for muscle building and repair, unless your goal is to build several pounds of muscle, you will be able to get all the protein you need by eating a balanced meal or protein-rich snack within 30 minutes after your workout. Most people can’t absorb or use more than 30g of protein at one meal which is equivalent to about 4-5 oz chicken, fish, or steak. If you don’t have time for a meal, find a protein shake that has about 20-30g of protein and at least 15-20g of carb to help facilitate protein absorption. More than 30g post-exercise is unwarranted and unnecessary for the average person.

6) Work and social plans are quickly filling up your schedule leaving little time to exercise and lots of dining out plans.

-You don’t need a gym or an instructor to get in a good workout as long as you break a sweat and increase your heart-rate. Pop in a fun exercise video, dance along to 5-6 songs on your ipod, or jump-rope for 10-15 minutes before dinner and you’ll feel just as good as when you leave gym class. Eating out doesn’t have to sabotage your diet either. Start off with a house salad, dressing on the side, and order grilled or baked fish for an entree. Split heavier foods with your dining partner and limit to only 1 alcoholic beverage such as a glass of wine or vodka/soda.

Nick VanMeter