Cardio and Diet Adherence


Diet adherence underpins everything. Long term results literally come down to whether or not you can keep doing something that benefits you. A trend I’ve noticed recently is anti-cardio: “Remember that you’re a weightlifter first” or something similar that doesn’t apply to 97% of the population. That’s only a valid view for competitors.

This post is aimed at guys (like myself) who have a large appetite, and prioritise either getting lean, or staying lean during a bulk. Maximal growth isn’t the primary goal here.

For these guys, cardio is key. More cardio = more food, freedom and fun = sustainable diet

Diet Adherence

The logic behind this anti-cardio thinking is that you will lose “all of your gains” when cutting if you do too much cardio. You will definitely cause unnecessary muscle loss if you take this too far, I completely agree.

People argue that if you do loads of running, eventually you will look like one, i.e a marathon runner. “Remember you are primarily a strength athlete”. Yeah…..but this isn’t how it works in real life.


As always, people have to take stuff to the extremes and the reality is that energy balance, as always, is the biggest determining factor. If you are currently doing very little cardio and are either:

  1. Trying to get shredded
  2. Trying to stay lean during a gaining phase

And you are failing to achieve either of these goals due to diet adherence, then feel free to keep failing to hit your goals if you want. I’ll be over here enjoying sweet success.

Diet adherence is everything.


Let me give you an example:

Let’s take 2 guys. Both of them are identical twins, and have the exact same TDEE at the start of a diet – 2500 calories. Let’s assume for simplicity’s sake they follow the standardised fat loss model of 1 pound per week (eating 500 calories less than their TDEE, 2000). They have both been cutting for 6 weeks, and are starting to run into adherence issues.

Both guys manage to stick to their diets from Monday to Friday, but the weekend rolls around, and they lose control. The weekly deficit goes out of the window. They are now both completely spinning their wheels.

So far, perfectly normal.

Now, the first twin decides to drop his calories further, to 1750. He thinks:

“Screw doing any more cardio, I’m gonna lose all ma gainz.”

Whereas the second twin increases cardio substantially, doing 2 separate running sessions per week, where he burns 500 calories in each. This takes his average TDEE to approximately 2650 (1000 calories / 7 days, adding this to the original 2500).

He also adds in some extra carbs, now actually raising his total calories to 2300. He realises that adherence is the issue, and that if he actually managed to stick to the original plan, the fat would still be melting away.

He actually begins to enjoy himself. The extra carbs make him feel good. The extra cardio makes him feel good. He actually starts to enjoy the diet.

Contrasting this, the first twin is constantly thinking about food. He thinks he’s invincible, and can just power through if he gives it a little more time. But once again, the weekend rolls around, and he loses control and binges even more heavily than before.

Following this is a brutal “guilt trap”, as he tries to cut calories even further to compensate for his mistakes. Huge cycles of consumption and guilt then follow, with no actual progress being made.

This guy is not happy. Nor is he successful.

Back to the second twin. He is now thoroughly enjoying life and continuing to steadily lose fat, eating at a moderate deficit (theoretically according to the standard fat loss model, a 350 calorie deficit).

Is he also losing muscle at such a moderate deficit?

Bearing in mind that energy balance is the primary determining factor, no he isn’t. At least barely any more than he would be at the same calorie deficit without the cardio. It’s a small calorie deficit, and he is obviously continuing to lift weights, therefore he will not be burning through muscle.


“Ok, I get it – energy balance is key. But won’t it affect his strength in the gym and his ability to recover?”

It can do, and there are ways to minimise this. Making sure the calorie deficit is small (which it always should be anyway) is the main thing.

Also, you guys have to remember that you really don’t need that much training volume to make gains. Chasing your MRV (Maximum Recoverable Volume) is essentially chasing maximum growth, which is neither sustainable nor worth the cost in my opinion. Beyond 2 working sets per compound exercise, you experience RAPIDLY diminishing returns.

This is even more important when you’re dieting. Strength and muscle maintenance becomes the goal here, not growth, as we know that doesn’t work.

Maintenance doesn’t require much volume at all. Lower volume means you can get away with more cardio. You can have your cake and eat it, literally.

Another key factor, is timing. If you perform your cardio sessions on separate days to your weight training, you will find your body will adapt to and recover from both weight training and the cardio very easily. Assuming the calorie deficit is moderate, and you aren’t doing umpteen sets per workout on your compound movements, you will recover.

Finally, there are many, many non-professional athletes in various sports doing way more cardio than you, and are simultaneously miles stronger than you. As long as you lift weights and keep the energy deficit small, cardio won’t interfere much at all.

The takeaway from all of this is:

Do not be afraid of doing more cardio and eating more food. If cardio helps with diet adherence (which it will), by giving you more freedom, less restrictions, and allows you to have more fun and enjoy the process of dieting, just do it.

But as always, you can keep spinning your wheels and cocking your diet up if you want to…your choice 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Cardio and Diet Adherence”

  1. Isn’t chasing MRV kind of a requirement if you want to take it to the next level? What if you want to compete?

    1. Yes it is. But this post is in the context of long term diet adherence. Competing & peaking is a different ballgame – something that’s nice and can give you fond memories, but doesn’t necessarily give you long term happiness.

      Most guys out there who have been chasing their MRV (without significant breaks from training) end up either:

      A) Getting injured, or
      B) Losing interest and focusing on their business instead

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