Even the biggest and most hardcore of lifters reach a point where they need to shed some fat and show off all of the hard work they’ve done in the gym to build new muscle. When you find yourself at that point, you might ask the question: should I diet or exercise more in order to lose weight?
While both approaches have merit, there definitely is a time and place where each can make its biggest impact.
At the base level, though, should you diet for weight loss?
For many, it comes down to a matter of math and effort.
The Math of Fat Loss
While the exact caloric value of a pound of fat is still debated among scientists and lifters, a good rule of thumb is that it’s going to take about 3500 calories in deficit to burn off one pound.
That means, in order to lose a pound of fat, you’ll need to burn 3500 calories more than you take in over a given period of time.
Roughly speaking, if you can create a 100-calorie deficit per day, then you will burn a pound of fat over the course of a month. Bump that up to 500 calories, and you might be able to drop a pound per week.
So, what’s the best way to create that deficit?
The fact is that most bodybuilder, and especially those that have been “bulking” for awhile, are overnourished and definitely take in too many calories. Most guys who are trying to get big end up adding a decent amount of fat in the process, which is evidence enough that you’re taking in an excess of calories.
All of which is to say that the first place lifters should look to for creating a caloric deficit is their diet.
If you’re eating a ton of food, you can drop 100 calories with almost no pain by cutting back on salad dressing, switching from whole to skim milk, and generally cleaning up your diet.
If you want to burn those 100 calories off instead, then you will need to walk or run about a mile — or do something equivalent.
For most, the choice between NOT eating a cookie and walking a mile, at least when your main goal is caloric deficit should be clear.
When You Might Need More Activity
So, for the most part, you should look to your diet when you start a fat-loss program, simply because it’s the easiest way to create a calorie deficit.
Once your calories have dropped to around 2000 per day, though, you need to be careful. Go much below that, and you’ll have trouble getting all of the micronutrients you need. These include vitamins and minerals that keep you healthy and training hard.
If you still have fat to lose at that point, then you likely WILL need to add more activity to your schedule, usually in the form of cardio — walking, running, biking, rowing, etc.
Aim for Health
No matter which approach you take to fat loss, your first objective should be to maintain and improve your overall health. That’s why seeing your doctor before beginning any program is essential to your long-term progress and safety.
Once you have the all-clear from your physician, though, your weight-loss program will almost certainly include some form of dieting.