Which is More Important, Exercise or Nutrition?

what is more important exercise or nutrition

Whether you are looking to improve your health, optimize athletic performance, or have a specific aim in mind, there are an endless number of ways we can go about achieving these goals. It is completely reasonable to wonder how we should prioritize our time in order to most efficiently achieve our ambitions. When we talk about making health and lifestyle changes the three main areas that can result in huge improvements are usually exercise, diet, and sleep.  Sleep improvements usually entail carving out the appropriate amount of time, developing a consistent pre-bed routine, and possibly some supplements. Diet and exercise and two major areas that can range from small changes to massive time management and lifestyle overhauls. So, while they both are important, it is reasonable to ask, where do I start? Should you prioritize exercise or nutrition to reach your goals the fastest and easiest way possible. While the ideal answer would be to work on both simultaneously, there is one which I feel is usually the best place to start. Before I jump right to the answer let’s go over why each pillar is important.

What are the benefits of exercise? 

benefits of exercise

Exercise offers numerous benefits across various aspects of health and well-being:

  • Muscle Mass: Regular exercise, especially resistance training, helps build and maintain muscle mass. This is crucial for strength, mobility, and overall metabolic health.
  • Longevity: Studies show that regular physical activity is associated with increased longevity and a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
  • Improved Insulin Sensitivity: Exercise helps improve insulin sensitivity, allowing cells to better respond to insulin and regulate blood sugar levels more effectively. This is especially beneficial for individuals with diabetes or insulin resistance.  Just 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity.
  • More Stable Blood Sugar Levels: Regular exercise, along with a healthy diet, can contribute to more stable blood sugar levels throughout the day, reducing the risk of blood sugar spikes and crashes. When we stabilize our blood sugar we lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders.
  • Healthier Weight and Body Composition: Exercise, combined with a balanced diet, plays a key role in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and body composition. It helps burn calories, build lean muscle, and improve metabolic function.
  • Improved Mood: Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that promote feelings of happiness and well-being. Regular exercise is linked to reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress. 
    benefits of exercise
  • Hormone Balance: Exercise can help balance hormone levels, including cortisol (stress hormone), testosterone, and estrogen. This balance is important for overall health and vitality.
  • Improved Self-Esteem: Engaging in regular exercise and achieving fitness goals can boost self-confidence and self-esteem, leading to a more positive self-image.
  • Better Metabolism: Exercise helps boost metabolism by increasing energy expenditure and improving metabolic efficiency. This can lead to better nutrient absorption, digestion, and overall metabolic health.
  • Improved Energy: Regular physical activity can increase energy levels by improving cardiovascular fitness, enhancing oxygen delivery to tissues, and boosting overall stamina and endurance.

The cumulative effects of regular exercise contribute to overall health and well-being by reducing the risk of chronic diseases, improving cardiovascular health, enhancing immune function, and promoting longevity.  Ease yourself into exercise and make it enjoyable. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.

If you’re looking to get started with exercise then check out our blogs: A Beginner’s Guide to Exercise for Metabolic Health and Home Sweet Gym: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Resistance Training in Your Living Room.

What are the benefits of nutritional changes? 

benefits of nutrition

Making dietary changes to improve metabolic health can include reducing carbohydrate intake, increasing protein intake, and reducing processed food consumption.  Together, these changes can offer several benefits across various aspects of health and well-being:

  • Stable Blood Sugar Levels: Decreasing carbohydrate intake, especially refined carbohydrates and sugars, can lead to more stable blood sugar levels throughout the day. This is beneficial for individuals looking to manage blood sugar fluctuations and reduce the risk of insulin resistanceGOOD IDEA can be a great addition towards our blood sugar stabilizing goals.  Research has shown an average 25% reduction in post-meal blood sugar when 1/3 of a can of GOOD IDEA is consumed before a meal, and the rest of the can is finished with food.  In this way, GOOD IDEA can be a great addition to your toolbox of healthy nutritional changes.
  • Healthier Weight and Body Composition: Lowering carbohydrate intake and focusing on protein-rich foods can support healthy weight management and improve body composition by promoting fat loss while preserving lean muscle mass.  The majority of Americans are not consuming enough protein in their diets so substituting a few processed foods for high-protein alternatives can have a significant impact.
  • Improved Energy: Shifting towards a diet with reduced processed foods and refined carbohydrates can lead to more sustained energy levels throughout the day. Protein-rich foods also provide lasting energy and support muscle recovery and function.
  • Reduced Health Complications: A diet low in processed foods and refined carbohydrates is associated with a reduced risk of various health complications, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome.
  • Improved Metabolism: Increasing protein intake and reducing processed food consumption can improve metabolic function by promoting satiety, enhancing nutrient absorption, and supporting metabolic rate regulation.  By improving our metabolism, we are able to more efficiently convert the food we eat into energy.
  • Improved Insulin Sensitivity: Lowering carbohydrate intake and focusing on nutrient-dense foods can improve insulin sensitivity, allowing cells to better respond to insulin and regulate blood sugar levels more effectively. This is particularly beneficial for individuals with insulin resistance or diabetes.

Overall, making these nutritional changes can lead to a range of health benefits, including better blood sugar control, healthier weight management, improved energy levels, reduced risk of health complications, enhanced metabolism, and improved insulin sensitivity.

Which is more important, exercise or nutrition? 

better nutrition

The athlete in me will always lean toward exercise as a primary intervention.  However, when people new to exercise ask whether they should start by improving exercise or nutrition, 99% of the time I say nutrition. The reason behind this choice is that only 1 in 4 American adults meet the weekly recommended amount of exercise guidelines.  This means that I can’t guarantee that someone will exercise on any given day. However, I CAN guarantee that every person will eat every single day.  We are all making conscious choices every day and eating multiple times per day. So, if we can start with making these choices more deliberate and healthier, then we can nail the nutrition piece of the puzzle.

When we get used to having healthy food options conveniently within reach, we can free up some time (and brain power) to dedicate toward starting to work on the exercise piece of the puzzle. With this strategy you can reduce the risk of being overwhelmed by trying to change multiple aspects of your daily routine at once. Start small with nutrition then ease into exercise.  While you work towards optimizing your health, we are here to support you with the resources you need to make informed nutritional choices and enjoyable exercise options.


Author: Dr. Colleen Gulick