Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
May 1, 2024 ·  8 min read

Weight Loss Pyramid: What’s Most Important For Losing Weight

For years, conventional wisdom has said that cardio was the best exercise for weight loss. After all, running all day, every day, burns more calories, right? Well, now recent research has cast doubt on that theory.

What Is The Best Way To Lose Weight?

The pyramid below designed by NASM-certified personal trainer Sam Altieri shows what’s more effective when trying to lose weight.

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Let’s Break This Down…

1. Cardio

First things first, a common notion persists that cardio exercise is preeminent for body fat loss. While cardio is excellent for stronger heart and lungs, increased bone density, reduction of stress, and reduced risk of heart disease…if weight loss is your ultimate goal, then cardio alone will not get you there!

Instead, integrating cardio with resistance training is your best bet!

“The biggest danger is that by doing a lot of cardio and no resistance training, you are going to sacrifice some muscle tissue. If we’re trying to lose weight, at a minimum, we want to maintain what muscle tissue we have while burning body fat.” – Greg Stark, a trainer at Better Being.

Weight Loss VS Fat Loss

When we talk about weight loss, it’s not about losing weight per se. It’s really about losing FAT. The goal to successful weight loss is to preserve as much muscle as possible (or possibly even gain some) while at the same time lose as much body fat as possible.

Muscle is Essential to Your Success in Losing Fat

Muscles have these little fat burning powerhouses called mitochondria. Mitochondria are cellular power plants that are responsible for the production of energy. It’s in the mitochondria that fat is metabolized. There is a positive correlation between the amount of muscle you have and the number of mitochondria. So it stands to reason that the more mitochondria you have, the greater the potential to burn fat.

2. Sleep

Having little sleep can really affect your weight loss goals. When you’re short on sleep, you might skip breakfast and instead lean on a large coffee to get you going. You’re more likely to skip your workout because you’re too tired, get takeout for dinner because you can’t be bothered to cook, and then turn in late because your sleep schedule is all haywire.

One study found that sleeping too little prompts people to eat bigger portions of foods, and in a review of 18 studies, researchers found that a lack of sleep led to increased cravings for energy-dense, high-carbohydrate foods. (7)

Sleep is like nutrition for the brain. Most people need between 7 and 9 hours each night. (7)

5 Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

(1) Reduce Blue Light Exposure in the Evening!

Blue light can be detrimental to our health and is emitted in LARGE amounts from electronic devices like your smartphone or computer.

How to reduce blue light:

  • Download an app to block blue light on your laptop/computer.
  • Install an app that blocks blue light on your smartphone.
  • Stop watching TV and turn off any bright lights 2 hours before heading to bed.

(2) Avoid Caffeine Late in the Day

Caffeine can stay elevated in the blood for 6–8 hours. Therefore, drinking coffee after 3–4 p.m. is a big no-no, especially if you already have trouble sleeping. (1)

(3) Relax & Clear Your Mind

Listen to relaxing music, read a book, take a hot bath, and do some deep breathing.

(4) Make Your Bedroom Cozy

Have fun making your bedroom a quiet, relaxing, clean and enjoyable place.

(5) Get a Comfortable Bed & Pillow

Research shows that your bed, mattress, and pillow can significantly impact sleep quality. Try to buy a high-quality mattress and bedding every 5–8 years.

3. Lifting Weights

Weight training is more effective than cardio at building muscle, and muscle burns more calories at rest than some other tissues, including fat. (3)

Research has shown that you burn more calories in the hours following a weight training session, compared to a cardio workout. In fact, there are reports of resting metabolism staying elevated for up to 38 hours after weight training, while no such increase has been reported with cardio. (3)

This means that the calorie-burning benefits of weights aren’t limited to when you are exercising. You may keep burning calories for hours or days afterward. (3)

4. Protein Intake

Proteins are the primary building blocks of your body. Protein is crucial when it comes to losing weight and science well supports that eating protein can increase the number of calories you burn by boosting your metabolic rate and reducing your appetite.

However, protein not only helps you lose weight, but it can also prevent you from gaining weight in the first place. In a study, a moderate increase in protein from 15% to 18% of calories reduced the amount of fat people regained after weight loss by 50%. (6)

High protein intake also helps you build and preserve muscle mass, which burns a small number of calories around the clock. (6)

According to these studies, a protein intake of around 30% of calories may be optimal for weight loss. This amounts to 150 grams per day for someone on a 2000-calorie diet. (6)

A protein intake at around 30% of calories seems to be optimal for weight loss. It boosts your metabolic rate and causes a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake. (6)

5. Calorie Deficit

An essential part of every single weight loss diet is creating a caloric deficit. This is when you consume fewer calories than your body burns. (4)

How To Create Your Ideal Calorie Deficit

Even though your #1 goal is to lose fat, there are actually 3 goals to keep in mind when creating a caloric deficit: (4)

1. Maximizing fat loss.
2. Minimizing muscle loss.
3. Doing it all in a way that is as doable and sustainable for you as possible.

There are generally 3 different categories of “sizes” that the deficit can be: (4)

  • Small – If your deficit is too small, it means you will lose weight/lose fat at the slowest possible rate.
  • Moderate – a moderate caloric deficit is a perfect choice for the majority of the population. It’s just what works best in most cases.
  • Large – If your deficit is too large, it will be extremely tough to sustain (because you’ll be the most hungry and annoyed), workout performance will suffer, and the potential for muscle loss will be at its highest.

Whatever your daily calorie maintenance level is, you should be about 20% below it each day. (4)

Example: Let’s say you have a daily calorie maintenance level of 2500 calories. (4)

20% of 2500 is 500 (2500 x 0.20 = 500)

This means you should create a caloric deficit of 500 calories each day. In this example, that would mean eating 2000 calories per day.

Quality of Food

As side from the fundamentals above, the quality of your food intake really goes hand in hand with your weight loss goals. In fact, a 2009 study, people who exercised at high intensity craved food afterward, and not just any food—the high-fat/sweet kind. So ultimately, the hunger caused by strenuous cardio could actually cause weight gain.

While not one food is a magic bullet for weight loss, certain foods CAN help you achieve fat loss. The foods included on this list have a few things in common: (9)

1. They are high in fiber (which helps keep you feeling fuller longer)
2. They have a low energy density (you can eat a decent portion without overdoing it on calories)


Popcorn makes an excellent weight-loss snack (as long as it’s not doused in butter). Not only is popcorn high in fiber, it even delivers some protein. A 1-ounce serving of air-popped corn (about 3½ cups) has 4 grams of fiber, almost 4 grams of protein and clocks in at 110 calories.  (9)


Almonds are an excellent source of fiber, and they’re high in protein too!. Eating foods with the one-two punch of fiber and protein can help you feel fuller longer—which makes it less tempting to reach for an unhealthy snack between meals. (9)


RICH in monounsaturated fatty acids, dietary fiber, potassium, and phytochemicals. People who eat avocados tend to have lower BMI, body weight and waist circumference than people who skip this green super food.(9)


These guys are rich in high-quality protein, fats, and essential nutrients, like vitamin D and choline. Eating a high-protein breakfast promotes weight loss, because protein increases satiety while regulating hunger and appetite hormones, helping fend off your hunger until lunchtime. (9)


Beans are FULL of fiber, and fiber is your best friend when you’re trying to lose weight. This is because fiber helps you feel fuller longer! (9)


Plain yogurt is protein-packed and full of probiotics, which are great for gut health and weight loss. Your gut health can impact your weight, and eating more fiber and probiotics helps keep your gut bacteria happy, which is a bonus for your metabolism! (9)


Salmon is a rich source of high-quality protein and provides plenty of good fats like omega-3 fatty acids. (9)


Eating fruit can help you lose weight! Besides getting a naturally sweet treat, you’ll reap the benefits of fiber and antioxidants. A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that higher fruit consumption was associated with lower risk of becoming overweight or obese.  (9)

Bottom Line

Cardio (exercise) is EXCELLENT for health. However, it’s not the only thing that is important for weight loss. So don’t expect to lose all your weight by ramping up physical activity alone. The simple fact is if you’re trying to lose weight, you need to give 100 % effort (to not only your exercises routine) but your diet AND sleep routine.


  1. (1) 17 Proven Tips to Sleep Better at Night. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/17-tips-to-sleep-better#section17
  2. (2) Belluz, J., & Haubursin, C. (2018, January 03). The science is in: Exercise won’t help you lose much weight. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2018/1/3/16845438/exercise-weight-loss-myth-burn-calories
  3. (3) Cardio vs Weight Lifting: Which Is Better for Weight Loss? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cardio-vs-weights-for-weight-loss#section4
  4. (4) How Many Calories Should I Eat Per Day To Lose Weight & Fat. (2013, August 13). Retrieved from https://www.acaloriecounter.com/diet/how-many-calories-should-i-eat-per-day-to-lose-weight/
  5. (5) Kelso, T. (2018, April 02). Why Steady State Cardio for Fat Loss Is a Bad Decision. Retrieved from https://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/why-steady-state-cardio-for-fat-loss-is-a-bad-decision
  6. (6) Protein Intake – How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Day? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-protein-per-day#weight-loss
  7. (7) Sleep More, Weigh Less. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/diet/sleep-and-weight-loss#2
  8. (8) Sugar, J. (2018, August 16). If You Want to Lose Weight, This Fat-Loss Pyramid Shows What’s Most Important. Retrieved from https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/What-Should-I-Do-Lose-Fat-45170594