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Exercise isn’t the key to fat loss

Running machine

The key to losing fat

When most people think about losing weight they instantly think about going for a run or hitting the gym. However, I’d argue that nutrition is far more important for fat loss than exercise is.

Let’s take a look at the below chart, which is something I show my new clients:


These show estimated calories burnt throughout a typical week for someone who exercises 3x per week and eats 2,500 calories.

Estimated calorie burn from a typical session in the gym or a run would be c. 400 calories – meaning total calories burnt via exercise for someone exercising 3x each week would come to c. 1,200 calories.

On the other hand from a nutrition point of view, over-eating vs a calorie goal of 2,500 by just 20% leads to an estimated additional 3,500 calories being consumed across the course of a week.

So what does the above tell us? Well, basically…

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Most people underestimate the impact of their nutrition throughout the week and overestimate the impact which exercise is going to have on their fat loss mission. It’s absolutely crucial to pay close attention to your food intake if you’re looking to lose fat!

So does that mean I don’t recommend exercise to my clients who are looking to lose fat?

No way – I absolutely do recommend exercise for all of my clients including those who are looking to lose fat. Exercise will contribute to overall calories burnt throughout a week but burning calories isn’t the primary reason I want my clients to train.

I primarily use exercise to get my clients fitter and stronger rather than burning the most calories. To train and burn calories can be really de-motivating – a spin class burns roughly 450 calories which is the equivalent to eating a flapjack and a bottle of orange juice.

Instead, I like my clients to focus on training for performance increases and to work towards overall health goals which might be:

  • Achieving faster running times

  • Feeling more energised

  • Being more flexible

  • Having better technique/form in the gym

  • Being able to lift more weight

  • Increasing the number of reps of an exercise

  • Gaining muscle

As you can see, there are loads of ways we can train for performance and all of them are more motivating than training to burn calories! Nobody wants to be stuck on a treadmill for hours to work off their food…

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NEAT is another concept which is really relevant to this subject. Planned exercise has a relatively small overall contribution to calories burnt throughout the week but activity outside of planned exercise can have a really big impact!

To take a step back, NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis and that basically means any activity you take part in outside of your planned exercise sessions.

To increase your NEAT, think about regularly integrating some of the suggestions below into your week:

NEAT will have a very significant impact on your total calories burnt if you lead a very sedentary lifestyle outside of the gym. However, even among physically active people, NEAT can still account for a staggering 15% of your total calories burnt!

For a full overview of calorie expenditure, see another blog post I wrote. However for the purposes of this piece, I just want to emphasise how important NEAT is for fat loss.


First of all – exercise isn’t the key to fat loss, nutrition is!

In order to lose weight we need to be in a calorie deficit and it’s really hard to out train a bad diet so don’t over-estimate the impact your training has on your calorie burn. Keep nutrition in check and good things will happen when you then add exercise to a good diet!

Focus primarily on using exercise for performance goals! Through exercise, aim to be stronger, fitter, more healthy and see the calories burnt as an added benefit.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of NEAT – activity that you participate in outside of your planned exercise throughout the week. NEAT significantly contributes to overall calories burnt and therefore can be a useful aid to get you into a calorie deficit!




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