Exercise AND diet

Whenever we start personal training someone for the first time, we always ask them what their goals are and, by and large, most people want to lose weight. This is generally what motivates them to join the gym and have personal training in the first place!  However, people who set out to lose weight just by changing their activity levels are most likely to see very slow progress or no progress towards their weight loss goals. It can be easy to blame the gym / the personal training / the program or even the types of exercise if there is a lack of progress when it comes to weight loss or shape change.

But, maybe it is none of these things. Maybe we need to look at exactly how hard it is to lose weight with just exercise alone. (I should point out before I carry on that this is just an exercise in looking at energy, exercise and diet. Nutrition is more complicated than what is to follow, but I intend this as a starting point to help people realise that a truly effective weight loss program must be diet AND exercise.)

So, if we take, as an example, one of the more common requests - to lose a stone in body fat. 1lb of body fat equals approx. 3400 kcal, which means that 1 stone of body fat equals approx. 49,000 kcal. To give you an idea of how you would lose that with exercise alone let’s look at the calorific costs of some exercises: 1 hour of rowing averages approx. 800kcal (a figure attributed by Concept 2), 1 hour running at 12kph (assuming you weigh 10 stone) 750kcal and if you’re feeling very brave, then an Ironman competition (using an average body weight and finishing time across all competitors) 8000kcal.

Therefore to lose a stone by exercise you would have to do one of the following: 6 ironman competitions, 61 hours of rowing or 65 hours running. And not take on any extra calories!

It is easy to see how, if you are planning to come to the gym only 3 times a week this task would suddenly become even harder again. Even if you managed to burn off 500kcal in a session it would still take 98 gym sessions to burn off your 1 stone of fat, at 3 sessions a week that’s just over 7 months in total (assuming your calorie consumption remained constant and balanced over that period). However, before you all get depressed and cancel your gym membership I should point out the point I am trying to make is that if you want to lose weight then maybe a change exercise and a change in diet is the way to go!

So, if you take 400 kcal a day out of your diet, that’s 2800kcal a week or 11,200kcal a month, with your target of a stone being met within 4 months! Plus, if you were doing your 3 sessions a week, each burning 500kcal, and you were reducing by 400kcal a day then that would equal a reduction of 4300kcal a week, 17,200kcal a month, with the target being met in just under 3 months!

So, as we looked at the calorific cost of exercise it is also worth looking at what 400kcal can consist of:

400 kcal = 6 hob nobs (normal) or 4 dark chocolate, 1 ½ bags of minstrels, 2 glasses of wine, 2 pints beer or 1 ½ bags of McCoys crisps.

So how to reduce 400kcal from a day?

Example food diary

Weetabix 3 biscuits 335kcal

Skimmed milk (300ml) 147kcal

3 digestive biscuits 210kcal

Boots chicken salad sandwich 313kcal

Walkers crisps 169kcal

Maltesers 187kcal

Spaghetti (70g) 270kcal

1 glass of wine 200kcal

Bolognaise sauce 150kcal

Total 1981kcal

Target 1581Kcal



1. Lose the wine and biscuits = -410kcal

2.Replace Weetabix with 50g (uncooked weight) porridge (-151kcal) eat 1 biscuit rather than 3 (-140kcal) don’t eat the Maltesers (-187) = -478kcal

3.Replace the sandwich with a tomato and tuna salad from Boots (-163kcal), have 2 weetabix with 200ml milk (-160kcal) share the Maltesers with an accomplice (-93kcal) = -416kcal

As you can probably see there is the potential for a lot of permutations to lose the 400kcal, and they don’t even involve slavish devotion to some vegan lifestyle, but what it does take is an idea of what (in terms of energy requirement) you should be eating in the first place and then taking responsibility to make sure you stick to it! All of the options above allow for freedom of choice some options allow you to have wine or biscuits if you want them. It all boils down to: how much do you want to lose weight? If you are really serious about it then you should be prepared to make some sacrifices, because something has to give - you can’t carry on eating the way that you always have done and expect work in the gym to perform miracles! Well, unless you fancy 65 hours on the treadmill…..