The Truth About Interval Training vs. Diet

The title above is actually quite misleading.  It presumes there is a dicotomy between the two: Diet vs. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).  There isn’t.  You need to do both.  You need a good solid diet, made up of vegatables, high quality protein sources in adequate amounts, AND you need to have a solid, tough, balls-to-the-wall exercise program.

That said, the question remains:  Which (diet or exercise) is KING and which is QUEEN.  (I’m sorry in advance for the inherently sexist categorical system I’m using).

I just read a post by Jon Benson (who I generally respect), that I have to disagree with.  In it, he prefaces (just like I did above) that REALLY you need to have both in place.  But, when pushed, he reversed Jack LaLanne’s assertion that Exercise is King, and Nutrition is Queen.  For Jon, Nutrition is King.

When it comes to sheer fat loss, when we’re not talking about ANY other health indicators, then I think Jon is correct.  But, if you care AT ALL about your strength levels, bone density, endurance, power, stamina, mental acuity, depression levels, hormone levels, or any other physical factor other than body fat %, then Exercise is KING.  Particularly High Intensity Exercise like Interval Training, Cross Training, and Weight Training.

I don’t even bother talking about diet, beyond the ultimate basics, with my clients when they first come to me.  Eventually we get into it pretty seriously, but at first, it’s just getting them off their couch.  If they aren’t moving, diet is worthless … because they’ll quit.

Diet follows from what your body needs.  If you aren’t causing your body to NEED 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight a day, then eating that much will feel weird.  If you aren’t causing damage (and that’s what exercise is, damage) to your body, then all those vegetables and vitamins and healthy foods seem like a chore, rather than a disparate need.

The harder and harder the routines get, as you progress to ever higher levels of workout intensity, the more and more you will start to WANT to eat healthier.  There is nothing like the craving for Broccoli that comes from a body that is constantly under serious physical stress.  I’m not joking!  I crave it all the time.

Of course this isn’t universal!  Bad habits are bad habits.  But, exercise creates the positive environment where a healthy diet can thrive.   And changing bad habits in diet is always easier when you are hitting the gym hard.

In the end, there is more to health than your outward appearance.  If you want to shed body fat, then you have to work your ass off in the gym, and you have to work hard on your diet.  Period.  There’s just no way around that.   But, the other reasons to exercise are so myriad that it seems silly to even consider a world where we didn’t put our all into it.

If I had to pick between a sub-par workout routine and a perfect diet, or a sub-par diet and a slammin’ workout routine, I’ll pick the latter.  (notice I didn’t say a perfect diet with NO exercise, or a perfect workout routine with all your meals all coming from Micky D’s … that’d be moronic).

The latter is more in line with how our species was psychologically designed to deal with the world.  Our species is designed to exercise.  We’re designed to climb trees (pull ups), run after our food, fish, swim, jump, build shelters, walk for miles and miles, etc.  We are NOT designed to diet.  Psychologically, a hard diet is much worse than a hard workout routine.

So, get up, start moving, eat healthy and sensibly, but don’t starve yourself.  And when you workout, don’t wimp out.   That’s the key.


2 responses to this post.

  1. I think it depends on your goals for sure, but Nutrition is king!


  2. Haha! I do think there is a good ongoing debate here. And the science hasn’t been tailored very well to give us any clear answers. Diet vs. Exercise is a battle that is sure to continue.

    But, in the end, you need both. I don’t think any of us trainers disagree on that one! It’s more of an academic debate. But, on the ground, clients must understand that there is no corner-cutting allowed if you expect to reach your goals.

    That said … Exercise is King! 🙂


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