Workout Wednesday: Five Benefits of Good Nutrition That You Simply Can’t Get From Exercise Alone

Quick review: the two key factors to overall health and weight management are diet and exercise.  However, I think that often we find ourselves sacrificing in one category when we try to improve in the other.  For example, sometimes when people start a new exercise routine or start exercising more than usual, they use that as an excuse to eat more pizza or ice cream with the mentality that at least the calories will balance out, so it’s not that bad.  Or they begin skipping meals and substituting them with protein shakes and taking vitamins to “make up for” their lack of other nutritious foods in their diet.  The truth is that the two factors, diet and exercise, really are a pair, because each has important factors to give that the other simply cannot replace.  Today I’ll be exploring a few benefits that our bodies receive from good nutrition that simply cannot be replaced by exercise alone:

1.     Strong teeth and bones! Although exercising regularly can help maintain healthy bone density, the ultimate building block and strengthener of bones is calcium, and unfortunately, every pushup you do or mile you run isn’t pumping a single milligram of calcium into your body. However, every time you eat a cup of low fat yogurt, drink a glass of milk, eat some cheese and crackers as a snack, or even eat a serving of broccoli, you are adding calcium to your body and contributing to the recommended 1,000 milligrams that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends daily for adults between the ages of 19 and 50. This recommended daily amount helps to prevent osteoporosis, which is bone loss over time that can lead to brittle, easily broken bones, lost teeth, and all sorts of other problems as we age.  So for strong, healthy bones that allow you to accomplish daily tasks (including exercise!) and for pretty and healthy teeth throughout your life, make sure you’re fueling up on calcium rich foods in your diet.  Many products can be bought in a version fortified with extra calcium, including chocolate soymilk (so much yum and it’s in the dining hall!) and some brands of orange juice.


2.     Energy! Have you ever exercised while hungry? Or exercised at the end of a day where all you had eaten was cold pizza for breakfast and a burger and fries for lunch? Both of these circumstances can lead to a rough workout session where you just feel sluggish and ready for it to be over.  That’s because even though exercising can give you an energy boost when you’re done, that energy first came from food, because our bodies have to have something to metabolize to be able to make great things happen! The main energy source of our bodies is carbohydrates, especially natural sources such as whole grains and fruits.  If we don’t receive adequate nutrition from our diets, then our workouts become less effective, or even ineffective, and can cause damage to our bodies when they are in this state of lacking proper sustenance.  Therefore, exercise without proper nutrition is useless.

3.     Promote brain health and fight disease.  Now, this one is kind of tricky, because exercising regularly can also accomplish these two things, but the reason that I am including it in this list is because exercise and good nutrition promote brain health and fight disease through different mechanisms, which means one can do for our brains what the other cannot and vice versa. The way good nutrition can improve our brain health and fight disease throughout the body is through the supply of vitamins and other nutrients that the food we eat has to offer.  For example, vitamin D allows our bodies to absorb the calcium from food or drinks that we consume, therefore aiding in the prevention of osteoporosis, as mentioned earlier, and Vitamin E is great for our brains and may reduce the effects of aging as well as work to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.  The Notebook is a cute and timeless movie, but Alzheimer’s is not cute and never will be. Choose foods such as blueberries, nuts, avocados, and salmon that have been shown to provide nutrients that lessen stress in our bodies and our brains to maintain overall health and decrease susceptibility to a huge variety of diseases.

4.     Give your immune system a boost! Our immune systems require both macro- and micronutrients, and if you managed to stay awake through those LFIT modules you’ll know that macronutrients include protein, fat, and carbohydrates and micronutrients include vitamins and minerals.  Basically, when we give our bodies the macro- and micronutrients that they need, each of our cells function better, and the system of messages between cells also functions more smoothly, allowing our cells to remain healthy and to work together to fight off sickness at the earliest signs. Biking for an hour isn’t going to keep you from getting the flu—but proper nutrition actually can when you unknowingly sit at the desk that the person in the class before you sneezed all over twenty minutes ago.  Happy thought for the day.


5.     Maintain proper growth and development.  Proper nutrition is super important for children in this context, and you might be left thinking that since we’ve finished growing and made it through puberty (I will forever hate that word) then good nutrition doesn’t have as much of an effect on us anymore. In the words of Dwight Schrute: FALSE! Good nutrition is still completely necessary for the growth and development of adults as well! Without proper nutrition, women can stop menstruating regularly and men can have decreased levels of testosterone, which can both lead to problems later in life when it comes to having children, because believe it or not, a lot of us might want kids one day. Good nutrition is also key when it comes to muscle growth and development, which is a focus of a lot of guys and gals on this campus full of athletes. Amazing athletic performances, as well as just the average daily workout cause stress to our bodies, and when we push our bodies to the limits, they are forced to become stronger as they recover so that next time we encounter the same obstacle, we are better prepared to face it.  Studies have shown that athletes suffering from poor nutrition had slower times, more damage to their muscles after a workout, and longer recovery times than athletes consuming highly nutritious diets, which shows that exercise isn’t everything.

Now that you know a little more about the ways good nutrition can affect your body for the better in ways that exercise alone simply cannot, I hope that you remember to do your body a favor and feed it the good things that it wants and needs to stay awesome.  Be looking forward to part II where we’ll find out what exercise can give our bodies that good nutrition cannot on Friday!

Broccoli image courtesy of Grant Cochrane at

Fresh fruit image courtesy of adamr at

For more information and to read the sources of this article directly, click here and here.

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation staff members. Each Wednesday we’ll be swapping blog posts with the Tarheel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on

3 thoughts on “Workout Wednesday: Five Benefits of Good Nutrition That You Simply Can’t Get From Exercise Alone

  1. Andrea Stewart November 22, 2013 / 7:16 pm

    Great reminder that just eating healthy isn’t enough! Thanks 🙂


    • Andrea Stewart November 22, 2013 / 7:17 pm

      Woops, I meant just EXERCISING isn’t enough!


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