A: Modifying diet and exercise are tools to reach an end goal. To only focus on one or the other is dichotomous thinking that makes reaching that goal more difficult than it has to be. We want to modify both to maximize their effects on our body composition. If we want to gain muscle we must challenge the muscle through routine resistance training, stimulating remodeling of that tissue. However, you cannot build a wall without bricks, so you need to consume adequate protein and calories as well.
If you want to lose fat, you have to create a calorie deficit. Research indicates that though energy balance is influenced by both dietary intake and energy expenditure (e.g. exercise), food restriction has the upper hand. Compared to exercise alone, diet changes alone have repeatedly been shown to produce more weight loss†, up to 3x as much.
How is this?
It is “easier” to lose weight by controlling diet, rather than just exercise alone, for several reasons:
This harks back to the old saying “you can’t out-train a bad diet”.
On a related note, taking a short break, even for a week, does not seem to negatively impact muscle or strength but can rather resensitize your body to the effects of exercise.
† Dunn, C. L., et al. "The Comparative and Cumulative Effects of a Dietary Restriction and Exercise on Weight Loss." International Journal of Obesity, vol. 30, no. 1, 2006, pp. 112-21. ProQuest, https://ezproxy.viu.ca/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/comparative-cumulative-effects-dietary/docview/219295682/se-2, doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijo.0803046.
A: Exercise is a broad term. I think of exercise as “activity”: moving around. Does moving around get easier? - Absolutely! But it gets easier because you get better at it, because you enjoy it more, and because it becomes a part of your routine, meaning that it becomes your new normal. Training to get results however is a constant process of self-challenge.
In the beginning you get some results from some effort. However, as it becomes your new normal, those results slow, so you have to increase the challenge. Once you do that - either by increasing weights/intensity, duration and/or volume of work performed - you start to see progress again. Soon you adapt to this new normal, and the process repeats itself.
So weights get heavier, workouts get longer, and recovery gets more important - but your perception of how hard you’re working only moderately increases. That is to say, for example, 10lb bicep curls for 20 reps used to be an 8/10 on the exertion scale for you. Now, 6 weeks later, you do 15lb bicep curls for 20, but it’s still 8/10 on the exertion scale. It certainly feels heavier - you notice the weight - but it doesn’t feel 30% more challenging (the difference between 15 and 10lbs).
In short, it doesn’t get easier so much as you get stronger, fitter, and better able to manage the stress and load.
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