MAKING AN IMPACT

Exercise or Nutrition: Which is More Important?
Neither, according to this scientist with degrees in both
Faculty Feature: Get to Know Dr. John Apolzan

Released: Thursday, April 19, 2018

You can't "out-exercise" a bad diet. The mantra is plastered throughout the fitness realms of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. And it's true, but only to a certain extent.

Q&A With Dr. John Apolzan
Q: What are your hobbies?
A: I love going to LSU football games and tailgating, and I love going to my sons' sports games.
Q: What's your favorite movie?
A: I don't think I can pick one… But my favorite genre is comedy without a doubt.
Q: What is your favorite place to eat in Baton Rouge?
A: Sammy's Grill or Mike Anderson's.
Q: What's the best part of your job?
A: The data. There's nothing more exciting than analyzing data and potentially finding something new and exciting.

Dr. John Apolzan, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition and metabolism at Pennington Biomedical, weighs in on the health-habit tug-of-war.

"Both are important, and neither one is more important than the other," Apolzan said. "Healthy eating patterns and regular physical activity are both critical to overall health and longevity."

Adhering to recommended guidelines for both – like getting regular doses of aerobic activity and filling half your plate with veggies – is beneficial for both your well-being and your waistline. But if you have specific health or fitness goals, one facet may become more important until you reach those goals, Apolzan said.

Apolzan earned his undergraduate degree in exercise science, his master's in clinical research, and his PhD in foods and nutrition. His combinations of expertise position him to conduct research on the two most critical factors to human health: nutrition and physical activity.


In certain cases, focusing on one health aspect more than the other may help you reach your goals faster. Here are a few common scenarios:

You want to lose (or gain) a significant amount of weight.
Winner: Nutrition

Changes in weight are governed by energy balance. If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. If you eat less than you burn, you lose weight. The reason nutrition steals this scenario is simple: It's much easier to cut 500 calories by eating less than it is to burn that much through exercise, Apolzan said. And cutting back by about 500 calories per day is the way to lose about a pound per week (the recommended pace for weight loss).

You want an increase in energy.
Winner: Nutrition

While it's true that a good workout can boost your energy levels, proper nutrition is what will keep you going throughout the day. Eating well-balanced meals (unrefined carbohydrates, healthy fats and lean protein) every few hours is the best approach. That's not realistic for everyone, so Dr. Apolzan recommends eating a variety of unprocessed foods. And make sure you're eating enough – skipping meals leads to fatigue.

You want to have better, sustained focus.
Winner: Exercise

When people exercise, the brain areas that control memory, problem-solving and attention experience increases in activity, Apolzan said. Some foods, such as fish, nuts and antioxidant-rich fruits, have been linked to better brain health, but Apolzan said the evidence linking exercise and brain health is stronger.

You want to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Winner: Exercise

The evidence behind this statement is seemingly endless. Regular moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking or biking, is essential to combatting heart disease. Something as simple as a 20-minute walk around your neighborhood can do wonders for your cardiovascular health, Apolzan said.

You want to get stronger.
Winner: Exercise

Resistance training is key to strength gains, Apolzan said. Nutrition can help in strength endeavors – more calories leads to more energy which can facilitate muscle growth – but only when paired with strength training. Another thing: Just doing cardio won't help much if your goal is to get stronger, Apolzan said. Aerobic training is important, but it doesn't recruit muscles in the same way that lifting weights does. Remember to tailor your workouts to your goals.


With a background in both nutrition and exercise physiology, Dr. Apolzan's research interests span the research areas at Pennington Biomedical. He oversees and manages human clinical intervention trials and examines nutrition and physical activity outcomes across the lifespan. He also works extensively with mobile health interventions such as SmartIntake and the Remote Food Photography Method.

Some of Dr. Apolzan's successful discoveries include the ability of physical-activity monitors to predict weight outcomes, the reliability of mindful-eating questionnaires, and the effectiveness of mobile health interventions.

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For more information on how you can support this and other projects at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, visit www.pbrf.org.