Precision Nutrition Blog

Why exercise STILL doesn’t work

by John Berardi, Ph.D.

Time Magazine journalist John Cloud says that exercise is useless.  Surprisingly, I sorta agree.  Although let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Exercise ALONE doesn’t really help with weight loss.  But with exercise PLUS good nutritional choices…watch out.

Exercise makes us…fat?

This past week saw the publication of a highly controversial article in Time Magazine, an article called “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin” by journalist John Cloud.

The thesis of the article?

“Pushing people to exercise more is contributing to our obesity problem.”

Huh?  Exercise makes us fatter?

Wha-choo-takin-bout, John Cloud?

Now, in most blogs it’s customary to link to the article in question.  But I just can’t do it.  Mostly because John Cloud wrote this article in a controversial way for that exact reason.  To get people talking.  And to drive a shit-ton of web traffic to Time Magazine dot com.

So eat it, Mr Cloud and Time Magazine.  You’ll get no links from me today.

The truth is…

Now, I’m a guy who makes 100% of his living by helping people get into fantastic shape.  Yes, I do have a PhD in the field.  And yes, I do the occasional research project.  But helping people improve the way they look, feel, and perform butters my whole grain bread.

So, I’ll admit, I do tend to get a little over-protective when some journalist comes messing around in my territory.   Yep, it’s easy for me to start off all defensive.  In this case, instantly thinking of a host of rebuttals to prove what a dim-witted moron John Cloud is.  In fact, all across the web people are doing just that.

However, the truth is this.  John Cloud is actually right!  Exercise – all by itself – pretty much sucks for weight loss.

Come on folks, this information isn’t new!  In fact, back on August 12th, 2008, I published an article called “When Exercise Doesn’t Work.”  Oddly enough, it was almost 1 year to the day (August 9th, 2009) that Cloud published his “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin” article.

When exercise doesn’t work

In my original article I discussed two studies demonstrating quite conclusively that even well-designed exercise interventions, in the absence of a nutritional intervention, can lead to highly disappointing results.  Check this out:

Study #1  – University of Texas

  • With 12 weeks of exercise; 3 strength sessions per week, 2 interval sessions per week
  • Only1.5lbs of fat were lost

Study #2 – University of Oklahoma

  • With 10 weeks of exercise; 3 endurance sessions per week, 2 strength sessions per week
  • Only 1.5lbs of fat were lost

In each study, should the participants have hired personal trainers, they would have spent between $3500 and $4500 in personal training and gym fees.  They would have spent between 50 and 60 hours doing gut-busting training sessions.  And they would have lost a mere 1.5lbs of body fat for their efforts.

So, readers and trainers alike, it’s time to recognize.  Without a nutritional intervention, exercise alone does kinda suck.  And it’s not just Mr Cloud’s article that demonstrates it.  His article is just a “tipping point” of sorts.  Years and years of research have been leading to this conclusion.

Many of us, either because we’re too indoctrinated, or because we fear too much for our financial well-being,  have simply chosen to ignore this research.

What does work?

So, if Mr Cloud was right all along, why did I sorta hammer him in my intro? Well, in his attempt to be controversial, he’s also become irresponsible.

Rather that sharing the full story – that exercise plus nutrition works oustandingly well – he adopts a common journalistic default position.  He becomes the myth-destroyer.  And once he’s adopted this role, he’s too busy destroying myths to reflect on what he’s also destroying.  Truth.

Exercise doesn’t suck, Mr Cloud.  Exercise provides a myriad of benefits.

  • It preserves muscle mass with advancing age – a key factor in independence into our senior years
  • It leads to enhanced aerobic and anaerobic fitness – two other key factors in successful aging
  • It creates important biochemical changes – reducing disease risk and mortality rates
  • It improves cognitive function and mood – resulting in an ehanced quality of life

Of course, I do agree.  That exercise – without a good nutrition plan – doesn’t deliver on weight loss promises.

Yet let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Exercise – with a solid nutrition plan – has been repeatedly shown to improve muscle strength, boost lean mass, and slash body fat.  And both the research and the real world evidence has borne this out time and time again.

The sadness of Mr Cloud’s gut

In his article, Mr Cloud confesses that despite his almost daily, intense workout routine (which is often supervised by a personal trainer):

“I have exercised like this — obsessively, a bit grimly — for years…(and) I still have gut fat that hangs over my belt when I sit.”

“My weight…(is) the same 163 lb. it has been most of my adult life.”

This, to me, is the sad part.  The guy exercises almost daily.  He pays a personal trainer to help him look better, feel better, and perform better.  And, at the end of the day, he hasn’t improved his body in years.  He’s got a body he’s not entirely comfortable with.

Yet a problem even bigger than his gut is this one.  Mr Cloud is so dissatisfied with his physique that his exercise frustration led him to pen this article.  An article that may dissuade thousands from finally getting off the couch and starting a proper exercise program.

Get Mr Cloud Precision Nutrition

What I’d love to do is put a copy of Precision Nutrition in Mr Cloud’s hands.  Maybe even get him enrolled in the PN Lean Eating Coaching Program.

Seriously, if any of you readers know him or have his contact info, I’d love it if you could put me in touch.  Now, maybe we’ll get off to a rocky start since I did tell him (and Time magazine) to “eat it” earlier in this blog.

However, if we can get past that, I’d love to show him that with the principles we teach in The Precision Nutrition System, he’ll likely be able to exercise less, enjoy his exercise more, and get into wicked shape by encorporating BOTH proper exercise and proper nutrition into his regimen.

Learn more

To learn more about making important improvements to your nutrition and exercise program, check out the following 5-day video courses.

They’re probably better than 90% of the seminars we’ve ever attended on the subjects of exercise and nutrition (and probably better than a few we’ve given ourselves, too).

The best part? They’re totally free.

To check out the free courses, just click one of the links below.