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Do I Need to Workout More to Lose Weight?

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Ahhh! The age-old questions in the realm of dieting for fat loss...

“Do I need to workout more to lose weight?”
“Can I lose weight without increasing training?”
“How does exercise fit into my goals!?”

98% of the time, our clients’ goals are losing a bit of body fat to perform better in their workouts, look better naked, and feel more alive in their body!

Something we hear all the time is “I workout… and I want to look like I work out!”

Sound familiar?

In this space, it’s common to hear a myriad of opinions and answers to the question “do I need to workout more to lose weight?” and about how training can affect weight loss goals.

On an elementary level it makes sense that more training would lead to more fat loss. If you burn more calories, you create a larger deficit and results “should” appear more quickly.

But, as we’ve discussed in previous articles about metabolism and coaching clients who are undereating, a larger deficit doesn't always lead to more timely results.

There is a general tendency to overestimate the effects of training on fat loss and underestimate the effects of nutrition on that same goal.

This mis-estimation is largely the function of perpetually incomplete information in the health sphere. More exercise is an easier sell and easier commitment than more awareness of your nutrition.

Let’s be honest: dietary changes aren’t as fun as a full-throttle CrossFit class. “Do this workout for 30 days and experience miraculous results” sounds much better than, “Track how certain foods and their respective quantities affect your body.”

One requires a lifetime of awareness, the other requires a couple hours per week. This is why so many people find success when they begin focusing on their nutrition with a 1:1 coach.

Don’t get me wrong, someone who is brand new to resistance training will get results from just exercising, but it doesn’t last long or work nearly as well for well-trained individuals. #newbiegains are real.

Fat loss is about 80% nutritional habits and 20% training. Abs really are made in the kitchen.

The big question that remains is WHY abs are made in the kitchen and WHY sticking to a methodical training plan without “adding more to speed fat loss” leads to greater (and quicker!) results.

The answer is multifold.

Considerations for those who are underexercising

Exercise is like a drug.

Much like a drug, there is the right dose, an underdose, and an overdose. Something that is designed to help you can be destructive in the incorrect dose.

For someone who is chronically underdosing (aka, not getting enough) exercise, funky things start to happen with hunger and mindset when exercise increases.

Without dietary awareness or practice recognizing hunger cues, many people end up drastically increasing food consumption when they begin exercising because of increased appetite.

While this may lead to more muscle building (depending on their macro breakdown), it’s also going to come at a cost of potential fat gain and eliminate the desired response of inducing fat loss and “leaning out”.

Many people also overestimate how many calories they burn during exercise. So, it is common for these people to tell themselves “I’ll eat more because I exercised today” and then overeat.

That being said, these are usually the only individuals that will experience a positive change in fat loss by training more when diet is accounted for.

For this individual, more exercise COULD improve body composition, but only with tangential dietary interventions like working with a coach and being intentional with nutrient breakdown.

If this is you, Make a small change. Workout twice per week at 85% intensity. Track your nutrition. See how your body changes!

Considerations for those who are already exercising regularly.

More often than not, people are looking to go from a normal dose of training to an overdose in training.

If some is good, more must be better, right?

Not so much. (And this podcast will explain why!)

Overexercising causes its own unique set of problems. We briefly touched on the destructive nature of creating too large of a caloric deficit above.

While at its core, calories in versus calories out is a self-evident truth, in the fitness industry we have a tendency to underestimate the body’s ability to self-regulate its metabolism.

“Calories out” isn’t only defined by what you burn in the gym, it’s also what your body burns to stay alive and during everyday activities.

Your body is a beautiful, smart, efficient machine that is working hard to keep you alive all day long. It doesn’t like being in a caloric deficit very much... especially a big one. It isn’t advantageous for survival.

Thus, an excessive caloric deficit caused by an overdose in exercise and/or very low calories, can cause [1,2]…

  1. Lower basal metabolic rate which decreases healthy sex drives, organ health and basic body processes.
  2. A decreased resting metabolic rate which will leave you feeling sluggish while at work or too tired to take care of your children.
  3. It will cause a stress response that ramps up cortisol levels, decreasing sleep quality and blocking the mobilization of your fat cells for energy.
  4. Slower (or completely stalled) weight loss.

With great coaching, we can isolate this issue and fix it!

For the average person, these signs put together - and the general slowing of fat loss as a result - makes them feel like they need to exercise more. This exacerbates the issue and can cause a destructive cycle of yo-yo dieting and injury!

For individuals that are already training five times per week, increasing exercise won’t help you lose more weight. In fact, exercise overdose and the resulting destructive loop can have the opposite effect and cause a lot of frustration in the process.

Now what?

If you’re someone who has always wondered “do I need to workout more to lose weight?” be patient, seek the advice of a nutrition coach who can support you mentally and physically and remember that you’re not alone!

Many people have been where you are - including many of the people we’ve worked with and continue to work with at Working Against Gravity.

It takes time and effort to reverse the “more = better” mindset but it is possible with time, effort and guidance. Give your body time to prove it to you by sticking with your training and nutrition plan to focusing on fueling your body.

Get a Taste of WAG

The WAG Crash Course is OPEN for enrollment. This 30-day course will teach you the ins and outs of macro tracking, building healthy lifestyle habits and sustaining results without restricting the foods you love. Get personalized macros from a WAG Coach, join the members-only Facebook Group and participate in quarterly Live Q&A sessions with WAG Coaches.

  1. Donnelly, J. E., Pronk, N. P., Jacobsen, D. J., & Jakicic, J. M. (1991). Effects of a very-low-calorie-diet and physical-training regimens on body composition and resting metabolic rate in obese females. Am J of Clin Nutr., 54(1), 56-61. doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/54.1.56

2. Connolly, J., Romano, T., & Patruno, M. (1999). Effects of dieting and exercise on resting metabolic rate and implications for weight management. Family Practice, 16(2), 196-201. doi.org/10.1093/fampra/16.2.196

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Posted by Michael Vanchieri
Michael is a coach and blog writer for WAG. He also owns and operates a joint health practice in New York City. His passion is providing people with the mental and physical tools to live their lives to the highest degree of freedom possible.

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