Ask Your Personal Trainer What They Eat, Not How They Exercise

There is this myth that’s been perpetuated for years: people get fit by exercising. As a personal trainer and a nutritionist, I have to call BS on this idea. For all intents and purposes, exercise is a distraction when it comes to fat loss. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit here...but I’m trying to make an important point that everyone seems to gloss over:

You cannot exercise, supplement, or medicate your way out of a poor diet.

Believe me, I’ve tried. The math simply DOES NOT work. You cannot undo 23 hours of indulgence with 1 hour of intense exercise. At the high end of the range, most people could probably burn ~500-750 calories in an hour if they really pushed it. Those ~500-750 calories are equivalent to one bagel with cream cheese or one chocolate muffin or one Frappuccino with whipped cream. I could continue, but I’ll stop here - you get my point. You can undo all of your hard work by the time that breakfast is done. There is just no comparison.

Exercise is phenomenal for many things: muscle building, cardiovascular fitness, stress reduction, flexibility, balance and recreation, to name a few. However, exercise is not, and will never be, the primary path to losing fat. It is an adjunct, at best. And, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you don’t actually have to exercise at all to lose fat. There, I said it. Blasphemy, for sure. But, it’s true.

In fact, one study I found explained it even more plainly than I could: “The effect of regular aerobic exercise on body fat is negligible.” To show that this isn’t a one-off example, a meta-analysis of 14 trials found that a 12-month aerobic exercise program resulted in modest weight loss. What’s modest weight loss, you ask? 3.7 lbs. Four pounds?!?? In a year? That has to be a joke; you toil away for a year and for your diligent and consistent efforts, you lose 4 pounds. Please. Cue the quartet! We can stop the madness. No more hour long elliptical sessions. No more running for days on end. No more 80’s dance cardio videos. It...doesn’ It’s not you - it’s the tools you are using; they need a 21st century upgrade. So, please, stop wasting your precious time.

I’m not saying that exercise is useless for fat loss. Let’s just put it in perspective. The only two exercise protocols that I’ve found to have any non-zero impact on fat loss are weight training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). For example, weight training is effective at simultaneously decreasing fat mass and increasing fat-free mass (e.g., muscle); this means that you burn more calories all day everyday. Pretty sweet, huh? The effects of HIIT, on the other hand, include increased aerobic and anaerobic fitness, skeletal muscle adaptations, and decreased fasting insulin and insulin resistance; all of these factors affect your VO2 max, your muscle mass, your metabolic rate and therefore your ability to burn calories.

The point I’m trying to make is this: in the world of fat loss, your diet trumps all. Adding weight training and interval training is the icing on the (gluten free, dairy free) cake; it helps but it’s not the star of the show. Diet is your first line of defense, your foundation, your starting point. Without your diet in check, you are simply wasting your time.

So, the next time that you wonder how your personal trainer exercises to get that shredded body, ask them what they eat, not how they exercise.