One of the most common questions I hear as a personal trainer is whether nutrition or exercise is more important. People often expect that I will champion exercise as the hero, given that it’s my job! But my answer might surprise you.

The short answer: both are important!

There is no ‘better than’ option. Nutrition and physical activity are pillars of good health. If you have any goal that is related to your:

  • Energy levels/fatigue
  • Weight
  • Body composition
  • Mood
  • Brain function
  • Immunity
  • Stress levels
  • Overall wellbeing

– Then you need to address both pillars.

When you put good nutrition and exercise together, they work as a team to boost each other up. If you’re not fuelling your body, you won’t be able to move your body as effectively. A workout that is running on coffee and a croissant is probably going to be more of a struggle than one run by a balanced meal of good fats, protein and low GI carbohydrates.

The same goes for post-workout nutrition. If you’re not fuelling your body and rehydrating after a workout, your recovery will be slower. You don’t have to smash a protein shake 30 seconds after your workout like the ‘gym bros’ do. But you do want to have a nourishing high-protein snack or meal within 1-2hrs whenever possible.

But this relationship goes both ways. You might not realise it, but moving your body actually stimulates the muscles in your digestive tract. This supports the proper digestion and absorption of nutrients into your system. If you’re not physically active on a regular basis, it can lead to unpleasant digestive issues such as constipation.

So if you want to feel good and achieve your goals, you want to pay attention to nutrition and exercise. It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect 100% of the time. But you can’t out-exercise a bad diet, and you can’t out-diet a lack of physical activity.

Sleep and stress management are also essential

The one problem with the question of nutrition vs exercise is that it excludes two other equally important pillars of good health.

You can eat the healthiest diet in the world, and have the perfect exercise regime. But if you’re getting 4hrs of broken sleep each night (sorry mums of young ones!), or you’re overwhelmed with stress, you’re still not going to be at your best.

When I work with clients, we look at all of the pillars of good health and assess where they are at. If I know where you are at, I can tailor your program to suit your state of health as well as your long-term goals. I won’t be prescribing intense exercise for someone if they are burned out or can’t sleep long enough to recover from intense exercise!

Different situations can affect how you prioritise each pillar

It might seem obvious, but your goals do influence which pillars you want to focus on. For example, if your goal is to reduce your stress levels, stress management will be a big focus. But you’d still want to tweak your sleep, exercise and nutrition to support that goal.

It can also depend on what you are capable of working on, based on the time you have free and what is achievable for you. If you only have 30 minutes free at 10.30pm, I’m not going to tell you to do a HIIT session – it would only disrupt your sleep! I’d prefer you prepare a healthy lunch and do a 10-minute meditation or stretch before sleeping.

Or maybe you have the flu. Exercise can be put aside while you recover, but you can still sip on chicken and veggie soup and get plenty of sleep.

Do you need to work on one or more of your pillars of health (nutrition, exercise, sleep or stress)? The Reset for the Future, 10 Week Online Challenge is starting soon. Check the details out here: