If I can only focus on one, which is better- exercise or diet?
This is a common question, and a smart one. It's very difficult to work hard at multiple things at once. But the answer largely depends on your goals.
If your goal is....
To run a 5k or half marathon:
Obviously, your focus should be on getting the proper training in to complete your goal without injury or burn out. Nutrition, while also important, will be secondary. Race nutrition should have a higher percentage of carbohydrates than someone who is lifting weights or doing yoga. The ideal breakdown should be near 50-60% carbohydrate, 20-25% protein and 20-25% fat.
To lose weight:
Many people become very focused on a workout routine when trying to lose weight but the most important piece is nutrition. Exercise will help to create a calorie deficit but it also makes you hungrier, and you need to be well fueled to perform well.
Focus on high quality foods (vegetables and fiber, lean sources of protein, and complex carbohydrates). Try to get in small amounts of exercise when you can, but intake counts more for weight loss.
Weight loss is particularly difficult for many women who train for distance or endurance events, as their bodies sometimes begin to hold on to weight at the higher intensities (due to stress, cortisol, estrogen dominance, etc). For these reasons, I do not recommend training for a half marathon or longer distance when your goal is weight loss.
In terms of macro-nutrient breakdown, studies have shown that the breakdown of fat, carbs and protein is less important than overall caloric intake.
To tone up or change body composition:
For toning, strength training is key but nutrition plays an important role too. You won't see muscle growth or toning without exercise, but you can also workout all the time and not get results if you fail to pay attention to your fueling. You really need both, which is what makes this goal so much harder to attain!
Focus first on establishing a strength training routine at least twice a week. It can be an at home workout using your own body weight, or working with a trainer at a gym, or lifting heavy. For toning, focus on a nutrition balance closer to 30% protein, 45-50% carbohydrate and 20% fat.
To get fit with minimal time
HIIT (high intensity interval training) is fantastic for a quick workout. Studies have found that just 2-3 workouts of 20-30 minutes each is all you need to make drastic changes to your fitness with interval training.
HIIT training can combine cardio and strength training in one. It's ideal for busy professionals or moms who have to make the most of their time. Combining HIIT training with balanced (not perfect) nutrition will still achieve great results.
To manage stress
Focus on a combination of cardio (2-3 times per week) and yoga to de-stress. Both can help to lower the stress hormone cortisol (provided the cardio is 30-45 minutes, not hours and hours in the gym which will increase the stress hormone).
When we are overwhelmed or stressed, we also tend to binge or fall into emotional eating habits. Crunchy foods are particularly attractive when stressed. Counter the chips with crunchy carrots or apples.
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I will have a few coaching spaces opening up in September. If you think individualized coaching might benefit you, contact me to see if one of my programs would be a good fit for you.
Have you worked out without seeing results?
Do you tend to focus more on food or fitness?