I think I've come up with a pretty good answer and here it is:
Exercise, nutrition, and motivation (yes, I'm adding a third ingredient) are all equally important to reach our goals, and at times, one is more important than the other.
Exercise or Nutrition: Are We Confused Yet?
I think my analogy below will help.
It's my opinion, that exercise, nutrition, and motivation are all important because most fitness goals require addressing all three componets in some form or fashion.
In my own training I've found that my very best progress is made when my exercise, nutrition, and motivation are all “in check”.
Look at it this way. Each of these three broad fitness components represent the leg of a stool. Remove any leg (or even a portion) and the stool can't properly supports itself.
Defining Exercise, Nutrition, and Motivation
Exercise – I'm using this term little loosely to mean anything we do to stimulate change in our body. (i.e. workout, proper rest)
Nutrition – Anything we put into our body including food, supplements, or pharmaceuticals.
Motivation – Our desire and willingness to take action.
Exercise or Nutrition: The Answer Isn't a Percentage
Many fitness pros will often say it's 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. (I'm pretty sure I've said this at one time as well)
I think this rational leaves out a third important ingredient called motivation. The best exercise and nutrition program in the world would become wasted without the motivation to execute it on a daily basis.
So does this mean the best formula is something like 60% nutrition, 30% exercise, and 10% motivation? Probably not.
By using a percentage formula in which nutrition is the primary component implies that we should focus mostly on our nutrition. However, that might not be the one thing that is hindering our results.
Exercise, Nutrition, and Motivation Examples
Let's say we have a pretty solid workout plan and we have a written meal plan that we can follow. Now what, we have to take action, any action, just a small amount of action to start getting results. So the short leg of the stool is motivation.
Let's say we have exercised consistently 6 days a week for the past 2 months. This demonstrates we are motivated, but we also go out every weekend and drink a 12 pack of beer. We have a nutritional problem, that requires only one change.
See why a percentage doesn't work? In the two examples above the problems are easy to recognize and require one change, but just ONE change was hindering ALL the results. So sometimes a single change applied in the right way makes a huge difference.
Exercise or Nutrition: Some Practical Advice
Figure out which leg of stool doesn't match up with the others. Doing this may require a good coach, an outside viewpoint, or at least some very objective self-assessment.
Once the problem is recognized we should devote all our immediate effort (100%) to fixing it in order to rebuild a strong well balance stool.
Continue to refine and strengthen our plan for exercise, nutrition, and motivation with the understand that it takes all three to get the fitness results most people desire.
Exercise or Nutrition: Want More?
I also like the answer given in this article on Fitness Blender. Take a moment and check it out.