Those who favour nutrition might argue that unless you eat well, you cannot exercise well, so eating comes first.

The exercise partisan might suggest that without exercise, even the best diet can keep you fat.

Both arguments are valid—to a certain extent.

Even if you went on a fast and did not exercise at all, your body could survive and conduct vital metabolic processes for a fortnight at the very least. The bare minimum number of calories needed to just live, breathe, digest, excrete and circulate blood is called the basal metabolic rate (BMR). Calculating BMR is fairly simple. Women, multiply your weight in kilograms by 23. Men, multiply your weight in kilograms by 24. For instance, if you are female and weigh 62kg, your BMR is 1,426 calories.

But surely, you would want to live beyond your BMR? You want to do more than just exist or survive? To live well and enthusiastically, and do all that you want to with life, you must eat healthy and exercise hard (for an hour, six times a week).

The larger picture suggests that the nutrition versus exercise story is a 100%-each, best-fit, hand-in-glove story. Both are miserably inefficient without the other. Nutrition requires the additional oxygen that consistent and strenuous exercise can provide, and exercise absolutely needs the energy that nutrition gives. One just cannot do without the other.

Active even in sleep

Inseparable: Healthy eating and fitness regimens go together.

A 30ft-long digestive system with one-and-a-half tennis courts worth of surface area gets busy digesting your soup-salad-and-grilled-fish dinner easily, or struggles over your weekend Budweiser-biryani binge. Proteins that you got through the day, from foods such as eggs, chicken and tofu, are broken down and rearranged to make essential enzymes (which digest foods) and hormones (such as insulin, which controls blood sugar; endorphins that make you feel good; cortisol, which controls your sleep, and many other hormones).

How nutrition and activity integrate

Here are but a few of the bodily processes that work simultaneously—the point is that they rely not just on nutrition or on exercise alone, but on interactions between the two.

• The calcium from the milk and green vegetables that you consume in your diet is constantly nourishing your bones and teeth. If you engage in weight training, then your bones would become tougher and you could prevent osteoporosis.

• The omega-3 fats that you get from fish and nuts reinforce the connectivity between neurons in the brain and keep you in a good mood. An hour of aerobic activity during the day could improve your mood even more because of the release of feel-good hormones, endorphins, that aerobic activity produces.

• The heart is lub-dubbing away, propelling blood through as many as 50,000 miles of arteries. If you exercise regularly, then your heart muscles are becoming stronger and more efficient—propelling more blood through these 50,000 miles with fewer beats, making you fitter.

Together isn’t better, it is indispensable

Nutrition nourishes while exercise strengthens. Together both enhance life, build stamina, zest, moods, productivity and looks. Exercise regimens that comprise one strenuous activity or several (weight training, brisk walking, playing squash or rock climbing) are ways of strengthening the body and, importantly, accessing more oxygen. For a healthy body, such exercise has to be fuelled with dietary energy from multicoloured vegetables, nuts, seeds, seafood, low-fat dairy and poultry, and unrefined grains and pulses.

Madhuri Ruia is a nutrition specialist, functional health and Pilates expert, and founder, HALF, Mumbai’s first functional health studio.

Write to Madhuri at