Nutrition or Exercise…what’s more important?

I’m gonna start by giving you the most popular response when it comes to this question about nutrition and exercise.

It depends. 

There’s no cut and dry answer because it truly depends on the person and their goals.  For some, nutrition is king, for others exercise will get them where they want to be and there are instances where both nutrition and exercise are equally important.  Is your head spinning yet?! 😉  It won’t be by the end of this article, I promise!  So let’s dive in and dissect which is more important where and how you can achieve your goal.


Goal: Fat Loss = Nutrition is king, exercise is queen

Almost very time I start coaching a new gal, we have “the talk.”  This talk is about her freaking out because she didn’t get to the gym last week and now she’ll never lose weight.  It’s my job as her coach to set her straight.

If fat loss is your goal, your #1 focus has got to be NUTRITION.  What goes into your body is paramount in comparison to how you move your body.

Your focus should be on lean proteins, veggies, healthy fats, some fruits and some starches. Your portion sizes will be totally dependent on you and your preferences so if you need a reference or a starting point, go ahead and download my free #simplesanesuccessful Fat Loss Nutrition Guide.

A word on exercise and fat loss: Since exercise is therapeutic for some and they genuinely enjoy the sweat, when your goal is fat loss, keep your workouts short and intense. If you want more info on that, click here.


Goal: Toning= Exercise is king, nutrition is queen

When we say we want to look ‘toned’ what that really means is muscle tone. In order to achieve that look, we first have to build the muscle to achieve that strong look. This happens through exercise where we breakdown our muscle fibers, let them repair, then  do it again.

Activities like running or Spinning (yes even classes where you use the little weights) won’t necessarily get you that toned look if you don’t have a good amount of muscle mass to begin with.

So this is where I tell you to get in the weight room and start lifting heavy 🙂 Remember that ‘heavy’ is a relative term. If you’re just starting out, you might want to start with body weight exercises and work your way up. If you’re more experienced, you can start loading up the bar with some plates. In my experience, we’re always much stronger than we believe we are but just be cautious you’re using good form. You’ll know you’re lifting heavy enough if the last couple reps of your set are a bit of a struggle but still doable.

Lastly, be sure to let your muscles rest.  You don’t need to work your glutes every day to get that nice bubble butt. In fact if you do, you’ll be doing yourself (and your bum) a huge disservice.  Take 24-48 hours to repair, then you should be able to go at it again full force!

A word on nutrition and muscle building:  You’ll need a caloric surplus if you want to build muscle. In other words, you’ll need to eat more than you burn. Protein will be instrumental in helping your muscles repair after exercise and healthy fats will give you higher calories in a healthy way. Be sure to eat protein at every meal, especially after your workouts, and have 3-4 servings of healthy fats each day. 


Goal: Weight Gain= Nutrition is king, exercise is queen

I know, who wants to gain weight, right?  People do, guys!  I’ve gotten at least a handful of emails with people asking me how they can gain weight in a healthy way and it seems easy enough, right?  Just eat more.  But it’s not that simple.

When someone comes to me wanting to gain weight, I’d assume that they want to do it in a healthy way.  They’re not going to McDonalds every day and eating Big Macs to get their calories in.  What I suggest instead is slowly increasing healthy fats (things like avocado, nuts, nut butters and oils) and changing up proteins.  Instead of eating chicken breasts, eat chicken thighs.  Instead of 94% lean ground beef, buy the 90 or 86%.  This way you’re getting lots of healthy fats which are high in calories and lots of protein that has more calories than their leaner counterparts.

A word on exercise and weight gain: We often grossly overestimate the number of calories we burn through exercise.  That said, just because you want to gain weight doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise.  For the health benefits alone I’d suggest working out at least 3 times each week and do whatever activity you love for anywhere from 30-60 minutes.


Goal: Maintenance/General Health & Wellness= Nutrition and exercise share the throne

When we get to maintenance we get to have a little more fun 😉  There aren’t as many guidelines to follow so instead of cutting back on portions or increasing our protein intake, we get to eat what we like mindfully, move how we like and do what it takes to maintain our physiques.

For general health be sure your diet has lots of veggies, some protein, healthy fats, fruit and starch. You can also slip in some wine or cocktails throughout the week if that’s your thing and you can afford more treats than someone who’s in fat loss mode.

As far as exercise, do what you like and do what it takes to maintain your physique.  If you’ve achieved the toned look you like, keep lifting weights but also take some Zumba or Yoga classes if you like them.  If you’ve reached your fat loss goals, change up your routine and maybe start playing around in the weight room more. You can do anything you like in a maintenance phase which can make exercise really fun and exciting!


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