Whenever someone says they are looking to lose weight or burn fat, the universal answer seems to be diet+cardio. I myself am guilty of always recommending people get on a cardio program in addition to telling them to get on a proper diet. However, when it comes down to it, is there really any difference between dieting and cardio?

I understand that both cardio and dieting have alternative benefits (i.e. better metabolism, more balanced nutrition, etc.), but when specifically focusing on the goal of weight loss, is there any tangible difference between the two? In my mind, a calorie deficit will cause the same amount of weight loss whether it came from decreasing calorie intake (diet) or increasing calorie expenditure (cardio).

So am I missing something fundamental here that would explain why combined cardio+diet is always the go to plan, when either individual plan could also produce identical results?

  • You're asking what's the difference, but then you say that they produce identical results. Also, cardio+diet is not always the go-to plan. A lot of people have been successful in decreasing their body fat on a strength training plan instead.
    – user3085
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 0:04
  • @Sancho Exactly my point. From my perspective they produce identical results, hence the question of why someone would opt to do both over the individuals. As to the strength training, I personally believe that figure is a myth. Most of the studies supporting the idea of "muscles greatly increasing RMR" tested it directly after training sessions. The studies which tested RMR of weight lifters independent from training sessions found that the caloric maintenance for muscles was being vastly overstated in previous studies (reported as 50-100/muscle, closer to 6-12/muscle).
    – Moses
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 0:34
  • Regarding strength training, I didn't give a figure. I said people have been successful in decreasing their body fat on a strength training plan. But, I get what you're asking now. It's just confusing when you ask what's the difference, yet say they're identical in the same question.
    – user3085
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 5:09

2 Answers 2


Let's keep it simple. Losing weight is simply calories in versus calories out. That being said obviously that fastest way to lose weight is by cutting your carbohydrate intake and increasing your net output value in cardio/circuit training/training!

Many things need to be considered when you try to lose weight. The body is typically a habit machine which is why some crash dieting goes horribly wrong for many individuals. You play around with your insulin spikes and sure enough you gorge one day after a week of dieting and gain the weight right back. Doing this correctly requires discipline by simply slowly cutting back you carbohydrate intake and slowly increasing your aerobic capacity bit by bit. Simply running 10 miles the first day after a delayed onset of working out will result in a heightened result of over-training and the body will be put through a serious shock that will result in unneeded weight gain and injuries.

The extent to which you burn calories depends on the intensity of your workout. A 180pd athlete squatting 315pds for 5 with a max of 355 is hitting a high percentage of his maximum and thus is rapidly burning calories. Going on a 45 minute "light" jog will only give you so 'fat-burning'; all depends on your intensity. Hence you see coaches prescribe fartleks or speed endurance workouts to athletes who need to lose weight (on top of diet, sleep, increasing work capacity, etc. etc.; it's a combination of a lot of things).

Overall you need a balanced lifestyle. Sitting 15 hours staring at the computer results in a sedentary lifestyle which many regular people are doing day in and day out. Consistency, discipline and self motivation with a basic healthy structure will result in optimal performance. Just like your mommy told you...eat your greens. The basic principles are still the same. Our society is just caught up on overconsumption and trying to look for the secret answer to losing weight. "Cardio is the one answer" or "It's all about diet" is complete and utter nonsense. It's an accumulation of everything in your lifestyle as well (stress from work can also alter your weight loss and gain). Balance it out, don't overconsume, eat a variety of good food, stay active. That's all you need to know. When you figured that out then ask what will give you an extra edge to be the top 0.000001% of athletes in the world.

  • 1
    Why did you fixate on carbohydrates as a way to cut calories? Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 14:16

Because cardio (greater calories out) and diet (fewer calories in) is easier than one or the other.

I know I would rather cut down my intake by 500 calories, and increase my output by 500 calories, than either cut down my intake, or increase my output, by 1000 calories.

Doing both gives me the same 1000 calorie deficit without the pain of an extreme caloric reduction, and without the pain (and time) of additional aerobic work.

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