Diet, Cardio and Strength Training. What Is Best for Weight Loss?

Diet, Cardio and Strength Training. What Is Best for Weight Loss?

You may have noticed that people rely on different methods to lose weight. Some embark on a strict diet, others spend hours running on the treadmill, and others begin to exercise. The question is, what is best for weight loss and fat burning?

Many people who focus on only one aspect of their lifestyle then often experience the disappointment of little or no results. When they do go on a strict diet and lose weight, they experience the yo-yo effect and repeat the same mistakes. In today’s article, we will reveal what is actually important in weight loss and what approach will bring the most effective and, most importantly, long-lasting results.  

What is most important when losing weight?

The conditions for losing weight are not the number of kilometres run, hours spent in the gym or eliminating sweets from your diet. In fact, neither of these will work to burn fat unless you are in a calorie deficit. What is a calorie deficit anyway? It’s a state when you have more energy expenditure (basal metabolism, energy used for digestion, exercise, sport) than energy intake (food, drinks). [1-3]

For example, if your maintenance intake (you are not losing or gaining weight) is on average 3000 kcal and you reduce it to 2500 kcal, you will get into a calorie deficit of 500 kcal and start to lose weight gradually. A caloric deficit of about 15 – 20% of your current intake is then considered sustainable in the long term, which in this case you can easily meet. A caloric deficit of about 30% is considered to be a borderline value. [1-3]

It’s not a good idea to cut your energy intake in half from 3000 to 1500 kcal with a hope of quick results. It is certainly not a good idea to think about various drastic diets with a maximum intake of 1000 kcal. Such a large calorie deficit also carries a number of risks. These include, for example, fatigue, exhaustion, loss of muscle mass and lack of important nutrients for proper body function. [1-3]

If you’re in a profound caloric deficit for a long time, you may encounter some problems that are part of the female athlete triad, or some heath issues that apply to men. [1–3]

In case you want to learn more about what a calorie deficit is and how to manage it, read our article Calorie Deficit: How to Lose Weight and Have a Life?

What is most important when losing weight?

1. What are the pros and cons of dieting for weight loss?

Diet plays an important role in weight loss. Thanks to this, you can influence how many calories you take in per day. It works very simply. When you reduce your energy intake, you enter a calorie deficit even without exercise. However, if you decide to tackle weight loss with diet alone, be prepared to eat a lot less than if you added some extra sporting activity. [4]

Benefits of weight loss diet plan

If you eat about 15-20% fewer calories and make sure you get enough of the essential nutrients, you will start to lose weight. It’s not rocket science.  

1. The easiest way to get into a calorie deficit

Is it easier to go for a jog for an hour, or to halve the size of your side dishes and supplement the rest with vegetables? I bet that if you are not a fan of running, you will prefer to choose smaller portions for your side dishes. 

Approximately that much energy is saved or burned by a 65 kg woman who is in a calorie deficit of 500 kcal. Reducing your energy intake through food is still the easiest way for most people to lose weight. [5-6]

2. You won’t lose as much muscle due to a higher protein intake

Protein plays a crucial role in weight loss. Its superpowers include protecting muscles, increasing the feeling of satiety after eating, and helping to tame uncontrollable food cravings. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on your protein intake during weight loss and focus on having a source of protein in every meal. You can find it in meat, fish, legumes, dairy products or plant-based meat alternatives, such as tofu, seitan or tempeh. You can prevent major muscle loss this way. [7]

How much protein to eat when losing weight?

  • During weight loss, it is recommended to eat 1.2 – 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight, depending on physical activity.

If you’re wondering which foods have the most protein, check out our article 20 Foods That Will Add Protein to Your Diet.

Benefits of weight loss diet plan

Disadvantages of weight loss diet plan

Losing weight just by changing your diet also has its pitfalls. Many people are not able to follow a modified diet in the long term. This is mainly because of feeling hungry. You may lose weight through dieting, but it won’t help you to tone your body.

1. It is hard to stick to a diet for a long time

If you don’t add exercise to your diet and try to only lose weight by reducing calories, you probably won’t last long on such a low intake. Many people often go on strict diets and cut their calorie intake in half or have a few “fruit detox smoothies” a day in the hope of losing weight quickly.

But logically, this does not last long and after some time they easily succumb to great hunger and eat everything they can see. Instead of losing weight gradually, they often fall into a cycle of starvation and overeating. [8]

2. Greater risk of muscle and strength loss

In addition to fat, people often lose muscle when losing weight. However, along with the muscles they lose strength, attractive physique and fast metabolism. Therefore, you should pay extra attention to set up a proper weight loss diet. While a diet with plenty of protein can help with muscle maintenance, it is not as effective on its own as, for example, in combination with strength training. [7-9]

3. It will not help to tone and shape the physique

The attractive physique that most people desire from weight loss can be achieved only if you add sports and exercise. If you start losing weight with a very strict diet consisting of only fruit and vegetables, you will definitely not avoid the yoyo effect.

What does this mean? That you will lose weight very quickly. But only for a short period of time, because you will lose quite a bit of fat, but also muscle, due to the strict dieting. After the dieting is over and you reach your dream weight, you will go back to your normal routine, which also means a much higher energy intake. So gradually you will start to gain weight again. The bad news is that you usually end up with more fat and less muscle than before the dieting. Thus, when losing weight, you should give precedence to a well-adjusted diet combined with some exercise. This will help you tone your body and lose weight with far less risk of the yo-yo effect.

Disadvantages of dieting for weight loss

How to customise weight loss diet plan?

  • Calculate your calorie intake using our calculator.
  • Based on the suggested calorie intake and macronutrients, plan your diet for several days ahead. For example, take inspiration from the meals in the article Sample Meal Prep Plan for 2000 Kcal.
  • Think about variety and don’t forget plenty of fruit and vegetables.  
  • After a few weeks of adherence, measure your progress (body weight, waist circumference, comparison photos) and adjust your diet according to the results.  
  • The optimal rate of weight loss is typically considered to be 0.5 – 1kg per week.

In case you want to learn more about weight loss through your diet, read the article A Simple Guide to Counting Calories to Achieve Your Goals.

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2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of weight loss by doing cardio?

When someone asks you if cardio or dumbbells are better for weight loss, what do you say? I bet the most common response will be running, cycling, brisk walking, or any other form of aerobic activity. It’s certainly no coincidence that most people associate them with successful weight loss. In fact, during cardio, you can burn more calories per unit of time compared to other activities. [5]

What results will 30 minutes of running a day bring?

  • A 65 kg woman can burn an average of 270 kcal and lose 1 kg of fat in 29 days. 
  • An 80 kg man on average burns approximately 332 kcal and loses 1 kg of fat in 24 days.

Advantages of cardio for weight loss

Endurance activities such as running, cycling or swimming help burn calories and facilitate weight loss. 

Cardio and weight loss

1. Helps to achieve a caloric deficit

During cardio, the heart gets pumping, which supplies the working muscles with necessary nutrients and oxygen. They are in a constant state of activity and need a constant supply of energy. This burns a lot of calories, which helps you to create a calorie deficit. This way, you won’t have to eat that much less when losing weight. [5, 10]

How much energy can the average man and woman burn by cycling?

  • A 65 kg woman burns about 488 kcal per hour and loses 1 kg in about 15 hours and 45 minutes. 
  • An 80 kg man burns about 600 kcal per hour and loses 1 kg in less than 13 hours.

If you are wondering how long it takes to burn 1 kg of fat through various activities, read our How to Lose a Kilo of Fat and How Much Energy Is Actually Hidden in It?

2. You will burn calories even after exercise

After exercising, your body burns more calories for a while for nothing, without having to do anything extra. This also applies to running, brisk walking, cycling, swimming and other types of endurance activities. This effect is called increased post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC (Excess Post – Exercise Oxygen Consumption) and it reaches its highest values just after strength training.

What happens in the body with increased oxygen demand after exercise?

  • replenishment of energy sources, from stored glycogen
  • calming of heart rate, breathing, heart function and hormone levels
  • lowering of body temperature to normal range
  • removal of metabolic waste due to muscle work 

The body then uses extra calories for all these processes. The amount of these calories is determined by body weight, intensity, length and type of training, and by the athlete’s fitness level. In the case of professional athletes, these processes in the body are typically more efficient, so they burn fewer calories than novices. [11-13]

3. May help keep appetite under control

Sporting activities can actually help you reduce your appetite, which you’ll appreciate when losing weight. This is because during aerobic exercise and for a few hours afterwards, the secretion of the hormone ghrelin is suppressed. This is also known as the hunger hormone, and reducing it can help you resist eating all you can see right after exercise. However, this effect may not be the rule and it also depends on how you may have eaten throughout the day and especially before your workout. Remember also that a reward meal after a hard workout also counts towards calorie intake. [14]

If you are interested in more tips on how to get rid of endless hunger and cravings, read our article How to Get Rid of Constant Hunger and Cravings?

How does cardio help with weight loss?

Disadvantages of cardio for weight loss

While aerobic activities are a very effective tool for burning fat and losing weight, unfortunately they don’t do much for toning the body.

1. You can lose more muscle mass

Running or cycling does not have as positive an effect on muscle growth as lifting weights. According to studies, endurance activities in weight loss even lose more muscle than strength training.

But why? The answer can be found mainly in the high energy intensity of aerobic training, which can also be reflected in the burning of muscle mass for energy. This effect increases especially with the length of the load. When running for an hour, we don’t have to worry as much about the muscles as in the case of a few hours of activity. In addition, large muscles are not needed when running or swimming, so the body has no reason to protect them and hold on to them at all costs. In fact, the body is a kind of economist, it basically evaluates what is advantageous for it and adjusts itself accordingly. Rather than nourish energy-consuming muscles during endurance activities, for which it does not need large muscles, it prefers to get rid of them like an expensive and inefficient stock trader. [15-16]

2. It will not help to tone and shape the physique

If you want to lose weight and get sexy curves at the same time, I’ll probably disappoint you, cardio won’t help you much in this regard. It is great for burning body fat though, so in the long run it will help reveal muscles that are beneath the fat. Unfortunately, that’s the end of its capabilities in terms of body sculpting. Sadly, cardio doesn’t build as much muscle mass, which is what gives the body those attractive curves.

How long does it take the average woman and man to burn 1 kg of fat with cardio?


Output of a 65 kg woman per hour

How long does it take this woman to burn 1kg of fat?

Output of an 80 kg man per hour

How long does it take this man to burn 1 kg of fat?

Running at a speed of 8 km/h8.3540 kcal14 hours and 12 min664 kcal11 hours and 30 min
Cycling at an average pace8520 kcal14 hours and 45 min640 kcal12 hours
Swimming at a recreational pace6390 kcal19 hours and 42 min480 kcal16 hours

3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of losing weight with strength training?

Most of you probably associate lifting heavy weights in the gym or exercising with bodyweight mainly with body shaping and muscle growth. Yet strength training has an important place in weight loss. This is because it leads to muscle toning, strengthening and growth, which can result in the overall body transformation that everyone dreams of.

During this process, fat does not turn into muscle as some people think, but the amount of active body mass (muscle) increases while body fat disappears. You may have also experienced that your body weight hasn’t dropped a gram, but suddenly you fit into pants that were small until recently. It’s more than likely the case that you managed to lose fat and gain muscle. 

For this reason, it’s a good idea to track your body measurements (waist, hips, thighs) in addition to your body weight when losing weight and take progress photos, where you may see much bigger changes than on the scale. You can find out what all affects how much you weigh right now and how to properly track your progress in the article Why the Scale Is Showing a Higher Number and It’s Not Fat.

Strength training and weight loss

Benefits of strength training for weight loss

Strength training will help you sculpt your physique, get stronger, grow muscles and burn more energy at rest during the day.

1. Makes the physique more attractive

Many people feel that it is important to lose fat first and then gain muscle and work on an attractive physique. This is certainly not necessary. You can lose weight and work on attractive curves at the same time with strength training. This will help you build muscle mass, without which you simply won’t get that toned stomach or firm, round buttocks. You don’t have to lift heavy weights right away, just start exercising with your bodyweight and gradually add weight in the form of resistance bands, dumbbells or TRX.

If firm and round buttocks is one of your fitness goals, read the article How to Tone and Sculpt Your Buttocks and Legs? 

2. Helps achieve a caloric deficit 

You probably won’t burn as many calories during strength training as cardio, but it will still help you increase your energy expenditure and create a calorie deficit. Plus, you can look forward to burning more calories for free after you’re done thanks to post-workout EPOC. You won’t have to rely solely on a reduced calorie intake. [5]

Strength training and weight loss

How much energy can you burn in an hour of intense strength training?

  • A 65 kg woman burns approximately 390 kcal on average and loses 1 kg in less than 20 hours.
  • An 80 kg man on average burns about 480 kcal and loses 1 kg in about 16 hours.

3. Protects muscles and helps with their growth

It doesn’t matter whether you work out with dumbbells, kettlebells or your bodyweight, all these activities have a common goal – to load your muscles. In doing so, they become fatigued and damaged, which manifests itself in tiny tears in the muscle fibres.

The muscle mass, however, accepts the load as a challenge and will do everything to be stronger next time. This sets in motion a series of processes in the body that aim to repair damaged muscle tissue and promote its growth or hypertrophy.

Thanks to this, you don’t have to lose muscle even when losing weight and you will sculpt your figure with strength training. It is important to mention here again a sufficient protein intake, without which it would not be possible. [17]

Muscles use roughly five times more energy than fat. Thus, strength training can quite easily speed up your metabolism. After all, every extra calorie burned counts when losing weight, so why not take advantage of the effects of strength training? [18–19]

If you’re wondering how to exercise for weight loss, read our article How Many Reps Should You Do to Lose Weight or Gain Muscle?

4. You burn even more calories after a strength workout than with cardio  

As with cardio, you can enjoy an extra load of calories burned (EPOC) after your strength training. At that time, the body is replenishing the energy consumed and is in charge of the other processes we summarised above. 

However, strength training is even more effective than aerobic training in this respect, according to studies. This is because it puts more stress on the muscles, which then need more time and energy to recover. This can result in an acceleration of metabolism for up to 72 hours, but most often it is 24 – 48 hours after exercise. [20-21]

5. Help get cravings under control  

Also, strength training will help you better manage your appetite. This is because, just like endurance sports, it has an effect on hormone levels that influence food intake. That way, you won’t succumb to sweets and other calorie-laden treats that await you at home when you get home from the gym. The fact that you’ve worked hard in training and don’t want to spoil your results by overeating can also play a role. [14, 22]

Weight loss while exercising

Disadvantages of strength training for weight loss

Strength training may not burn as many calories as cardio, and for some it may be more technically challenging at first.

1. On average, it doesn’t burn as many calories as endurance activities 

The amount of calories burned depends on the specific workout (intensity, type of load), but you can expend two times more energy per hour of intense cardio than weight training. If you only do strength training, you won’t burn as many calories per workout. On the other hand, EPOC also comes into play, which will keep your metabolism accelerated for hours after you finish your workout.

In the long run, it’s not necessary to burn calories like crazy. Strength training will help you gradually lose fat and sculpt your physique.

2. It is more technically demanding

If you are new to exercise and looking for a way to lose weight, you may find it easier to cycle or run. This type of exercise is also more natural for the body than, say, deadlifts. In the case of weight training, you need to know the basic exercises and think more about your workout overall. This problem can easily be resolved by using a trainer, a group lesson, an experienced friend or our YouTube channel, which is full of training videos.

If you want to start going to the gym, you shouldn’t miss our article 10 Fitness Tips for Beginners for Rapid and Sustainable Results.

How long does it take the average woman and man to burn 1 kg of fat with strength training?


Output of a 65 kg woman per hour

How long does it take this woman to burn 1kg of fat?

Output of an 80 kg man per hour

How long does it take this man to burn 1 kg of fat?

Strength training with a barbell, dumbbells, higher intensity639019 hours and 42 min48016 hours
Workout at the gym with weights, medium intensity532523 hours and 36 min40019 hours and 12 min
Bodyweight strength training (push-ups, lunges, sit-ups), medium intensity3.824731 hours30425 hours and 18 min

For best weight loss results, modify your diet, undertake cardio and strength training at the same time

We already know that each of these weight loss methods has its pros and cons. Maybe you’ve also already thought of combining everything into one and making the most of it. You’re thinking correctly. When you combine diet modification, cardio and strength training well, you can enjoy the benefits from all three.

What are the benefits of diet, cardio and strength training for weight loss?

  • A well-adjusted diet will help you achieve a calorie deficit and provide the necessary nutrients. Protein in particular is crucial, as it is vital for protecting muscle mass.
  • Endurance sports such as running, cycling, swimming, brisk walking or dancing several times a week will increase your energy expenditure and also improve your overall physical fitness and support the health of your whole body.
  • If you exercise at least twice, ideally three times a week (with your bodyweight or free weights), you will protect your muscles from burning up for energy and in some cases you can even achieve muscle growth. As a result, you will speed up your metabolism throughout the day.
  • Strength training will also help you tone up your body and achieve an attractive physique. As a result, it can also help boost your self-esteem.
  • After both endurance and strength training, you can enjoy a more rapid metabolism that can last for up to several hours post training, thus you burn calories practically for free.
  • Exercise can help you better control your appetite, making it easier to stick to your diet. Plus, after a hard workout, you probably won’t want to spoil the results by cheating.

The effect of diet, strength training and cardio on body weight, body fat and muscle mass

Body massBody fatMuscle mass
Strength Training↑→
Aerobic training↓→
Diet + combination of aerobic and strength training↓→↓↓↑↑

In the table you can see the results of studies that compared the effect of exercise and dietary modification on weight loss. They mostly agree that a combination of diet, endurance activity and weight training produces the best results. 

In this case, there is a reduction in body fat and muscle growth. Even though the total body weight remained the same in some cases, the fat-to-muscle ratio was modified. This then shows in the diminishing centimetres and a firmer physique. Burning and losing fat while maintaining or growing muscle is also viewed among experts as the ideal means of weight loss. [23-27]

Wha should you remember?

A healthy and sustainable weight loss is ideally achieved through a combination of dietary changes and regular exercise. If you do everything right, you’ll gradually lose fat and maintain or slightly gain muscle mass. Exercise will also boost your metabolism and help you better manage cravings for calorie-laden sugary or salty foods that you try to limit in your diet. As a bonus, you can develop an attractive physique and greater self-confidence through strength training.

If you liked this article and took away useful information, please share it with your friends. Thanks to this, they will also discover the best way to lose weight. 


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