Can You Out-Train a Bad Diet?

One of the larger beliefs among fitness enthusiasts is that you can not out-train a bad diet.

While this notion is not as far-fetched as the ‘eat 6 meals a day to boost metabolism’ belief, it still rubs me the wrong way whenever I hear this.

For such a statement (that could be easily be argued against) to be preached as fact, I suppose I was surprised that so many people bought into it.

Given this reality, I decided it was time to analyze whether you could in fact out-train a bad diet.

First off, the answer to this question is highly dependent on how we define ‘bad diet’.

Does a bad diet mean eating crappy food, or does it mean not eating a sufficient amount of calories for the goal?

Furthermore, the answer depends on how you define ‘out-train’.

If by ‘out-train’ we mean build muscle, then the variables would be different than if we were talking about losing fat.

This is because muscle can easily be attained if you are in a caloric surplus with a semi-decent protein intake.

On the other hand, if you are in a huge caloric deficit with a very low protein intake, then even the best training routine won’t make you put on muscle mass.

The same principle applies to fat loss.

If you are in a large calorie surplus, then you can say goodbye to the possibility of losing body fat, regardless of how ‘healthy’ you eat.

So as we can clearly see, if we define a ‘bad diet’ as having an improper calorie intake for our goal, then yes, it is impossible to out-train a bad diet.

However, I feel that when people say ‘bad diet’, what they are really saying is ‘unhealthy food’.

When diet is defined in this manner, everything completely changes.

Let’s take building muscle for example.

If you are in a calorie surplus and are consuming a half-decent amount of protein, then you could eat all of the junk food you want and you would still gain muscle (assuming resistance training is involved).

You do not have to eat ‘clean’ to build muscle as long as you are consuming enough calories and protein.

Now let’s get to fat loss.

What society doesn’t understand is that fat loss is predicated on being in a negative energy balance (study, study).

This means burning more calories than you consume, or consuming fewer calories than you burn – whatever way you want to look at it.

What most of society will have you believe however is that calories are irrelevant, and that as long as you eat ‘clean’ foods, you will lose weight.

Given this absurd notion, people assume that it is impossible to lose weight on a diet that consists of any junk food.

Well, thankfully for people who understand nutrition (and enjoy junk food), society is wrong.

You could easily lose fat on a junk food-heavy diet, as long as you are in a caloric deficit (study).

On the other side of the coin, you can gain fat on a ‘healthy’ diet, if you are in a caloric surplus.

The only benefit to eating ‘clean’ from a body composition standpoint is that you experience more satiety and muscle retention.

This is due to protein intake.

Studies have generally shown that high protein intakes in a caloric deficit will minimize muscle loss vs. lower protein intakes.

And as I’ve explained before, protein is the most satiating macronutrient, which means that a high protein diet will make you feel fuller, thus causing you to eat fewer calories.

On top of this, it is difficult for your body to feel full when all you eat are empty calories that junk food consists of.

I think this is precisely where people become mislead, as they think that it is the ‘clean food’ that is making them lose weight, when in reality it is the fact that they are eating less.

The same mechanism applies to low carb diets and fat loss, as I explain here.



So to conclude, the answer to this debate solely depends on how we define a ‘bad diet’.

If a bad diet means junk food, then yes, you can easily ‘out-train’ one, given that calories and protein are accounted for.

On the other hand, if a ‘bad diet’ means being in an improper energy balance for the goal, then no, you can not out-train a bad diet.


See you next time.