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You Can't Out-Train a Bad Diet

Contributed by Dr. Damian Rodriguez, DHSc, MS


In the health and fitness world, there is an oft-repeated adage: you can’t out-train a bad diet. There is no debating that regular exercise is one of the foundations of health, but when it comes to weight management, the science gets a little less clear. Although we often hear how decreasing levels of physical activity is one, if not the, primary cause of the growing rates of obesity globally, the most current research suggests that although we tend to be more sedentary in leisure time, we actually perform more direct and focused exercise than at any time in recorded history.1 A recently published study has provided even more interesting data, and asked some new questions, when it comes to the association between exercise and weight.2

The Study

Researchers recruited 332 participants from five countries, with the aim of gathering data on the relationship between physical activity, energy expenditure, and weight status. Prior to beginning the trial, participants were classified by their current level of physical activity as sedentary, moderately active, and super active. To begin the trial, participants were asked to maintain their regular level of physical activity, with the only difference being they would wear accelerometers, which would track caloric expenditure. After eight days of monitoring energy expenditure, the results were hardly what the researchers had theorized. Physical activity accounted for a much smaller percentage of energy expenditure variation than they had expected. Those in the moderate activity group burned up to 200 calories more per day than those in the sedentary group, but adjusting for size and body composition, total caloric expenditure for those categorized as super active wasn’t any higher. After a certain threshold is hit, the data suggests that more activity isn’t necessarily resulting in more total energy being used.

As far as how this happens and why, we can theorize, but further research is needed to understand the physiological mechanisms behind this observed phenomenon. What we can conclude is that the human body does not adjust caloric expenditure linearly. More activity does not inescapably result in more total energy being used; the body may determine how much energy it is willing to expend and maintain that amount regardless of activity levels. This new evidence seems to support the set-point theory of weight management, which suggests that the body has a predetermined weight and will adjust different physiological mechanisms to maintain that specific level. In the case of those who are very active, increased fitness results in increased energy efficiency when exercising (a well understood principle in exercise physiology), and may promote reduced energy use on other activities. In other words, if the sole focus of your weight management program is increased exercise, you may be playing a zero-sum game.


These new findings do not suggest you cancel your gym membership or stop training for that 10K running race. The health benefits of regular exercise are too numerous to count. It is further evidence, however, that the most important component of weight management is how you fuel your body. Look at exercise as a way to build cardiovascular and muscular strength and fitness, which support your body composition goals in a variety of ways, but the scientific evidence continues to mount that the real scale-changing activity starts in the kitchen.


doTERRA Science blog articles are based on a variety of scientific sources. Many of the referenced studies are preliminary and further research is needed to gain greater understanding of the findings. Some articles offer multiple views on general health topics and are not the official position of doTERRA. Consult your healthcare provider before making changes to diet or exercise.

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