Lose weight fast: what’s more important, exercise or diet?

This item is for dieters who want to lose weight fast.

"Beware, exercise can make you fat!" I read recently in a forum.

"Nonsense," writes another, "the best progress is only achieved with a lot of training!"

Who is right? One thing is for sure, the discussion is ancient:

What is more beneficial if you want to lose weight fast: exercise or diet??

Let’s draw a line under it.

In this article you will find the answer.

Topic overview

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Why is there a training vs. Diet debate actually?

Change the diet

That training helps with weight loss is obvious – you would think. In fact, however, the debate always comes up.

What is the reason?

There are people who work out regularly and still don’t lose weight.

Some clinical studies show that people who want to lose weight lose weight at different rates – even though they have the same Follow through the training program.

This would be an argument for it, That training is not the deciding factor in fat loss. Or that people can lose fat at different rates.

Often is at studies however exactly the interesting, which not was studied.

Here for example the eating behavior.

Further studies then uncovered the real cause:

Some people eat more when they exercise. Others do not.

Scientists call the first group "compensators".

Some compensators ate more because the training gave them an appetite. For some, it was pure psychology: they thought that by training they had earned an extra portion.1

Another cause is that many people overestimate the calories burned during conventional endurance exercise. moderate cardio training (walking or jogging) burns just 5-10 kcal per minute (or less).

30 minutes of jogging burns 150-300 kcal – about ½ bar of chocolate.

Some people are frustrated by this because they were expecting double or even triple the amount.

Then they imagine how easy it would be to take back the amount of calories consumed during training at the next meal: a small slice of pizza, a beer or two, or a bar or two of chocolate.

"Then I’d rather eat 500-1000 calories less per day", many think, "with that I should be able to lose a kilo in 1-2 weeks just as well."

In a way, this may seem logical:

A significant calorie deficit can usually not be achieved in practice without a change in diet.

Let alone keep it off.

And diet isn’t everything: in fact, calories aren’t the only thing that matters when it comes to losing weight. But also the positive changes that strength training triggers in the metabolism.

The blanket statement that training is ineffective because you ate too much afterwards, misses the mark.

Things become clearer when we take a look at the fat burning formula.

Lose weight fast: What is the fat burning formula?

lose weight quickly

If you want to lose fat, you only have one chance:

You want to create an energy deficit.

However, the fat-burning formula has two sides:

  1. Energy intake = Everything you eat.
  2. Energy consumption = training and exercise

Hint: I deliberately simplify, because it is sufficient for the topic of this article. Daily calorie needs are actually more complex than shown here.

There are easier ways than balancing diet and exercise.

Only when you use training AND nutrition to your advantage, you can make optimal progress.

How do you find the optimal balance between training and nutrition??

Many people think they can lose weight quickly without exercise, expect to lose 1-2 kilos of fat per week – just by eating less.

"After all, that’s what the participants in these TV weight loss shows are doing," they think.

But what that would actually mean, they usually do not know.

For example, there is Anja2, one of my personal coaching clients. Anja is in her early thirties, 1.73 m tall, weighs 68 kilos, her body fat percentage was 23.

To maintain her weight without exercise, she would have had to eat just under 1800 calories a day.

If we calculate this based on Anja’s starting coordinates, it quickly becomes clear how unrealistic even a kilo of fat loss per week would be through diet alone.

Case study #1 – You would rely ONLY on nutrition

change our diet

One kilogram of body fat provides about 7.000 calories.

If Anja wanted to lose one kilo per week, she would have to reach a calorie deficit of 1000 Kcal per day. Since her energy needs are 1800 kcal, she should only be able to eat 800 kcal a day.

That would be an outright starvation diet, which is doomed to fail for a number of reasons:

  • Feeling of hunger: Anja would be permanently hungry and have a steadily increasing appetite.
  • Vitamin deficiency: She would eat far too little to provide her body with vital nutrients.
  • Fatigue: Her energy levels would drop drastically, she would unconsciously move even less.
  • Muscle loss: Her body would not only lose fat, but also precious muscles.

With this approach she would have headed straight for the yoyo effect. After stopping the starvation diet, she would have quickly put on additional fat.

Conclusion: Losing weight fast is not a good idea without exercise.

Case study #2 – You would focus ONLY on training

Strength and endurance training

Now let’s assume that she would maintain her diet, but go to the gym like a world champion.

To achieve the same calorie deficit, she would have to burn 1000 kcal every day just by exercising. How realistic are three hours of swimming or two hours of running resp. Strength training – every day?

Even if we take this idea further:

    A few hours of extra training from one day to the next would be too much for even professional athletes. : If you dramatically increase your sports workload ad-hoc, you will undoubtedly increase your stress level. : Without sufficient regeneration, injuries to the musculoskeletal system are imminent.
  • Time spentAnja would not have the time for several hours of training a day in addition to a demanding job and time with friends can (let alone want to).

Conclusion: Lose weight fast ONLY with exercise? Also not a good idea.

Case study #3 – You rely on exercise AND diet

effectively burn fat

I recommend Anja to follow all four elements of the M.A.R.K.-Formula to include and in addition somewhat more moderately to set:

  • Goal setting: 500 grams of fat loss per week. This corresponds to a calorie deficit of 500 kcal per day.
  • Nutrition1600 calories per day are only slightly below her calorie needs and are comfortable for Anja in her daily life. (By switching to protein foods and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, she is less hungry than before, despite a calorie deficit).
  • WorkoutAnja does strength training three times a week, which she supplements with endurance training of her choice or regular walks. This will allow her to increase her energy needs by an average of 300 kcal a day.

With this approach, she lost a total of 4 kilograms of fat in 8 weeks – and felt great while doing it. Of course you looked at her.

What would have surprised her in the past : The scale has hardly changed during this time. In return, the body fat percentage has dropped significantly.


If you want to lose weight fast, keep an eye on your energy balance.

In most cases, it’s not a good idea to rely solely on diet and just eat fewer calories.

To maximize fat loss, you want to get your metabolism going and also work on the other side of the formula: Your energy consumption.

If you build muscles, you not only look more defined, you also consume more energy while sleeping and on the sofa. Read more in this article. There you will also learn that proper training is more than just calorie consumption.

You’re also optimizing your hormones for "lean and strong".

In my new book Looking Good Naked, I go into more detail about the "workout and exercise" side of the fat burning formula. Learn how to maximize your daily calorie needs so you not only lose fat, but also get stronger, fitter and more defined.

Question: What experiences have you had? What helped you lose weight fast? What didn’t work and what do you want to do differently in the future? Write a comment.

  1. Finlayson, et al.Acute compensatory eating following exercise is associated with implicit hedonic wanting for food. Physiol Behav. 2009 Apr 20 []
  2. Name changed. []

About Mark Maslow

Mark Maslow is an engineer, fitness coach and founder of MarathonFitness.de, of fitness with M.A.R.K. Podcast and a passionate strength and endurance athlete for over 20 years. Here you can learn more about it. Stay in touch on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Strava.

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