What 80/20 Means When It Comes To Food And Fitness
If you’ve heard of the 80/20 rule before, you might think it means something different from the person next to you. That’s because it’s actually a useful tool that can be applied to a ton of different scenarios! There’s the famous Pareto principle, which declares that for most events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. There’s also an 80/20 wedding rule that says in a healthy relationship you only get 80 percent of what you want.
But we are here to talk health! There are a couple 80/20 rules here, like the 80/20 diet that suggests you should eat clean 80% of the time, with a 20% space for wiggle room—sweets, treats, and other cravings.
What we’re going to discuss today is the 80/20 rule when it comes to food and fitness. In most cases, if you are looking to get fit and lean, your desired outcomes will come from focusing 80% of your efforts on diet, and 20% on fitness. Let’s dive into how it works, and learn why food is more important than exercise when it comes to getting the results you want.
How the 80/20 Rule Works
Let’s look at the math. Say you want to lose one pound in one week. In order to successfully do so, you need to take in fewer calories than you burn. Since one pound of fat amounts to 3,500 calories, to lose a single pound you need to reach a 3,500 calorie deficit. That amounts to being at a 500 calorie deficit every day to lose one pound in one week.
Now, if we put the 80/20 rule in place, that means in one day, you’d want to shoot for 400 of those calories being cut through diet—so skip the soda, downsize the dessert, and say no to an extra serving of potato salad. 100 of those calories should then be burned through exercise. If you want to think of it in a week-long spectrum, that’s about 700 calories burned through exercise and the rest—2,800 calories—cut through dietary changes.
Of course, it’s worth noting that you shouldn’t need to exercise every day. Rest is important. So you’ll want to focus on cutting more calories from food on the days you’re taking off from a workout.
Wait, Really? Why Weight Loss Is Less About Fitness
The reason that food takes the “80” slot in this equation is because what we do and don’t eat will help our weight loss goals becomes a reality more effectively than simply slogging away at the treadmill. There are a few reasons for this:
- We actually burn far fewer calories than we think while exercising, and we can easily eat those calories back (and then some!) in our post-workout snack
- Things like steady-state cardio will over time become less effective tools when it comes to weight loss. If you’re doing the same exercise over and over, your body will get used to the repetition and not have to work as hard to push you through the workout
- For cardio specifically, you could run into a “fat trap”—people with elevated cortisol/stress levels are less likely to lose weight from cardio because the cortisol causes the body to hold onto fat. In other words, it triggers the fight-or-flight response, and your body will want to reserve extra energy in case you need to take off for a run around the world.
So it’s pretty clear that only doing work in the weight room won’t amount to the health goals you’re looking for.
Don’t Give Up On Exercise Completely!
You may be thinking…why not just make this the “100/0 rule,” and focus on food entirely? While it’s much easier to cut out a few hundred calories from your diet than burn a few hundred calories through exercise, that doesn’t mean you should ditch your workout routine entirely. It’s easier to see the results you want when you add moderate exercise into your day. The adrenaline and endorphins help you implement better mindful eating practices, lifting weights and doing intense cardio (like HIIT) help you burn fat more quickly and exercise in general leads to higher self-esteem, leaner looking muscles, and a healthier heart. The benefits go well beyond the number you see on the scale!
The only warning when it comes to exercise is to avoid overeating. It’s important to fuel well, but that doesn’t mean that every single cheeseburger after a three-mile run is warranted. If you’re feeling hungry all the time from your workouts, make sure you are eating a big enough breakfast that has protein and fiber (think: eggs, yogurt, and oatmeal with nut butter). Try experimenting with a post-workout protein shake, too.
Here is a great kale and green apple smoothie recipe to get you started:
- 2 scoops protein powder
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 cup raw chopped kale
- 1 mini cucumber, chopped
- 1 small green apple, cored and chopped
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
At the end of the day…
While the 80/20 rule is definitely useful, it’s important to recognize that everybody is different, and this exact food-to-fitness split won’t work for everyone. The #1 rule you should always focus on is listening to what your body needs, versus the numbers you might calculate in a notebook. At the end of the day, if you eat less and move more—no matter what the exact percentage—you should feel confident and good in your body.