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The Most Important Piece to The Nutrition Puzzle

If you get anything right with your diet, it needs to be this. Everything else, including food quality, macro-nutrients, meal timing, etc. is secondary. The success of any diet is dependent on this one variable so it's important we understand what it is to help better guide our nutritional decisions.


So what am I talking about? I'm talking about Energy Balance.


So what is energy in the context of nutrition? Energy is derived from the calories we consume and it’s the balance of calories consumed vs. calories expended that determines how much energy is stored or removed from the body. This is dictated by the law of thermodynamics and can be represented by the following equation:


(Energy In) – (Energy Out) = changes in body energy stores


In the case of the human body, changes in energy stores will show up as changes in the amount of different tissues in the body. Excess energy is converted or stored via conversion into body fat, muscle tissue, etc. Since excess energy is stored in the body as tissues that contain mass the following hold true:

  • If our goal is to lose weight – energy in needs to be less than energy out (deficit)

  • If our goal is to gain weight – energy in needs to be more than energy out (surplus)

Energy In - This represents the number of calories that you ingest each day.


Energy Out - The number of calories your body expends per day, which is split into 4 primary components.

  1. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) – The number of calories needed to sustain the basic functions of the body.

  2. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) – This represents the calories expended in processing the food you eat.

  3. Exercise-Associated Thermogenesis (EAT) – Calories expended through formal exercise

  4. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – Calories expended through non-exercise activity such as fidgeting, moving around, etc.


BMR + TEF + EAT + NEAT = Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)


Example:You eat 2000 calories per day. You burn 2500 calories per day. This means you are eating at a “calorie deficit” of 500 calories per day. (2000 – 2500 = -500 calories)


If you were to sustain this for a full 7 days, you would create an energy deficit of 3500 calories (500 * 7)


Now it’s important to note that different tissues in the body contain varying levels of stored energy. For example, fat yields 3500 cal/lb, while muscle only yields 600 cal/lb.


Therefore, an identical 3,500 calorie/week deficit can yield drastically different changes in body weight depending on what percentage of tissue you’re losing.

  • If you were to lose 100% fat, you’d lose 1 pound

  • If you were to lose 50% fat/50% muscle, you’d lose 1.7 pounds

  • If you were to lose 100% muscle, you’d lose 5.8 pounds

Water balance is another factor to consider as well. Changes in water balance will affect body weight, but since water contains zero calories it does not affect the energy balance equation.


Hopefully this goes to show why chasing rapid fat loss is not the best approach. Rapid fat loss = significant body water and muscle loss, not necessarily fat loss. Our goal is to maintain or build muscle, getting as close to losing 100% fat as we can.


This is best accomplished by:

  1. Losing on average between 0.5 to 1% of our bodyweight per week (1-2 lbs for a 200lb person)

  2. Ensuring adequate protein intake (0.7 – 1g / per pound of bodyweight)

  3. Utilizing a progressive resistance training program.

Stay tuned for future articles on determining optimal calorie intake, optimal intake of fat, carbs, & protein as well as other topics.


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