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Losing Weight Is 80/20 Diet vs. Exercise?


I felt like picking on something today so I decided to take a couple of easy pot shots at the idea that losing weight is 80/20 diet over exercise. While I “get it” to an extent, I don’t subscribe to the notion one bit.  Now, can you lose weight with diet changes only?  Of course, especially if you’re dropping things like sodas and sugary snacks – but isn’t that the low hanging fruit?  The truth is that we actually need a lot less food than most would think to function on a day to day basis – I’m very much into fitness so my caloric requirements are a little higher than normal just based on metabolism alone.  If I were to hang up my bikes and put my running shoes under the bed, I would require an average of about 2,400-2,600 calories to sustain my weight.  This is not a lot of food when it’s broken down into three meals and a snack or two, and if I wanted to lose weight, I have to dip below that by 500 calories a day just to lose a pound a week.  Now it must be said that this is absolutely possible, but when you take into account the fact that a person who is overweight has some serious eating challenges to overcome, dropping down to the required daily intake is difficult enough, let alone trying to shave another 500 calories a day to drop weight.

I am an easier, softer way kind of guy.  When I set out to lose weight, wanting to drop about 30 lbs, I wanted the easiest and softest way to do it.  Never mind the dozens of other associated benefits tied to exercise, it’s the easiest way to lose weight.  Radical dietary changes (that usually don’t take and are difficult to manage) aside, I was able to cut out most of the junk that I was eating and throw in 15 miles a week of running and dropped 24 lbs in a matter of months.  There is a factor to picking up running that cannot be overlooked – I wasn’t too heavy to do it without causing a lot of leg pain or shin splints.  Many people who obese may have problems with that.  That notwithstanding, it wasn’t until I started biking last summer that I really saw the results I was looking for…  My no-pack washboard abs are now a four pack (and the last two are close behind) and my legs are something to behold.  Mountain biking is really where it’s at for getting the most out of a cardio workout when it comes to burning calories and is really the perfect calorie burning exercise for those looking to see results in a hurry.  There’s up to a 60% increase in calorie burning potential in mountain biking over riding a road bike (800 calories per mile vs. 500 respectively).  The trick to cardio, of course, is how much one chooses to push oneself.  The faster I pedal, and the more difficult the gear I’m pushing in, the more I’ll burn…  So if I’m cruising at 14-16 mph on dirt roads (8-10 on actual trails) I’ll be around that 800 kcal/mile target.  If I’m cruising at 10 mph on dirt roads, the burn rate will obviously decline.

That said, I’m a road biker – I like the speed, between riding 100+ miles a week (an hour a day 4-5 days a week and 1-1/2 – 2 hours twice a week), I’m burning a little more than 7,300 calories a week…  That’s two pounds folks, if I just cut back to my normal daily intake.  If I were a mountain biker by choice I’d be looking at somewhere around 10,800 calories – or just under 3 lbs each and every week (at that rate, over a summer – just three months – that could potentially be 42 lbs).  On top of that, I get the endorphin release after every ride, I get to feel better about myself and the world around me, and I get to enjoy the fresh outdoor air and I get to put my best effort at stopping a laundry list of maladies that are attributable to, or worsened by, a sedentary lifestyle.

Call me crazy, but I’d take that over slashing my diet to lose weight any day of the week.

On the docket for today:  35.5 23 mile ride with Big Steve

Saturday:  7.2 mile run and a 16 mile recovery ride later in the day, before I give a talk in the evening about recovery (and fitness)

Sunday:  16 mile ride, family 5 mile ride

Projected weekly miles:  128 (give or take).


UPDATE:  Elisariva brought up a great point in the comments:

“Nutrition is more important to focus on than “diet”. Changing eating habits is a way of life. Including the occasional splurge”.


  1. beechcreekproject says:

    I’ve lost around 60 pounds a couple of years ago and have kept it off since then. Upping my activity level was the key ingredient but changing some of my diet is how I’ve helped keep it off. If I was to give one dietary change to people out there to losing weight it would be to just drink water or the occasional diet soda. It’s been over 2 years that I’ve drank anything other with the exception for milk during breakfast. If you added up your caloric intake on what you drink in a day if might surprise a lot of people. Mountain biking nearly daily doesn’t hurt either. 😀 Good luck to all.

  2. I’ve been jogging for quite some time now, and I have to admit every time I go out there I get a little stronger and a whole lot faster. I’ve gained weight (lost fat and gained muscle) and I watch what I eat, so I totally understand what you’re getting at. I can’t wait to purchase a bike and join you on that “endorphin release” …. thanks for the motivation!

  3. elisariva says:

    You just don’t want to give up that Whopper. ;-). I think it is a 50/50 balance. Nutrition is more important to focus on than “diet”. Changing eating habits is a way of life. Including the occasional splurge. Good post.

  4. bikevcar says:

    I challenge anybody to cycle regularly and gain weight. I think it may be impossible.

    • bgddyjim says:

      That needs to go on a shirt… “It’s impossible to cycle regularly and gain weight”… “If you do, it’s because you were too skinny to begin with” :}

      Have the words form a circle around a person cycling

      • bikevcar says:

        I’m loving that idea. Right around the love handles! I recently bought a jersey from a small company who said they’d do commissions. Might pass on your idea. I’ll let you know what they come up with …

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