OK, so: Multiple experts, several studies, and that dude hogging the squat rack all agree that the key to losing weight (and therefore getting abs) is determined not by your workout, but rather how you behave in the kitchen.
Sure, physical activity is extremely important for a number of reasons: a strong cardiovascular system, bigger muscles, tougher bones, and a more positive body image. But whatever you shovel down your gullet (and how much of it you shovel) will impact your lifetime weight far more than going to the gym or running 5 miles. In fact, a new study suggests that over the long term, your workouts might not matter at all compared to your nutrition.
Researchers from Loyola University looked at people age 25–40 of mainly African descent and representing a wide range of social and economic strata from the U.S., Ghana, South Africa, Jamaica, and Seychelles. Each participant wore an accelerometer around his or her waist that measured energy expenditure and step count for one week. Weight, height, and body fat were also recorded at the beginning of the study; the subjects came back for exams after a year and then once more after another year.
The results? Unexpectedly, the participants who met physical activity guidelines actually gained more weight than the lazy subjects. The Americans who met the guidelines gained 0.5 pounds per year, while their counterparts who didn’t do much exercising actually lost 0.6 pounds. The bottom line: Scientists found no meaningful relationships between sedentary time at the first visit and following weight gain or weight loss. How much the participants weighed at the initial visit, age, and gender were the only factors that were related to packing on pounds, study authors said.
Of course, there are all sorts of caveats that come with a study like this. Waist pedometers are hardly 100% accurate, and the researchers were strictly looking at weight gain and weight loss—not muscle definition, overall strength production, or six-pack-awesomeness. So if you’re trying to bulk up with lots of muscle, or you’re ready to compete in a bodybuilding competition, then study isn’t necessarily the most valuable piece of advice. On the other hand, if you’re trying to lose that last bit of flab, then it’s a signal that you really need to double down on your diet, since that will go a long way in determining how you look and feel.
To get yourself on a clean-eating plan that’ll help you drop pounds slowly and safely, take a look at our guide to eating clean.