Energy Balance - The key to losing weightEnergy Balance – The key to losing weight

A calorie is a unit of heat energy, technically: the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram (1 litre) of water by 1 degree Celsius.

Now I am sure we are all much more informed about weight control now we know that!

Well let’s try to unravel the mysteries of our friend the calorie and energy balance…

The laws of thermodynamics dictate that energy is never really created or destroyed, it is transferred between entities. Building upon this, “Energy Balance” is the relationship between the:-

“Energy In” – calories taken into the body through foods and drinks versus
“Energy Out” – calories that our body uses for its day to day requirements.

Simply put, our bodies convert the potential energy that is stored within the food and drinks we consume into three main purposes: Work, Heat and Storage.

Understanding Energy Balance – The Key To All Diets

Negative Energy Balance (more going out than coming in)

The body is in a negative energy balance when it is expending more energy than it is taking in.

The body reacts to the deficit by burning stored fat reserves for energy to compensate for the reduced intake of calories. If weight loss is the intended programme goal then this is desirable and as long as the deficit is set at the correct level the weight loss will: be gradual, controlled and sustainable.

However, a severe deficit between “Energy In” (calories coming in) and “Energy Out” (energy being expended) will lead to the body taking pre-cautionary measures. Your body will react based on survival instincts and does not know the difference between severe dieting for a forth coming wedding and being marooned on a desert island without food!

In both situations the body will attempt to adapt. If this position is held over a long term, this can lead unwanted side effects such as:- a decline in metabolism, decrease in lean body mass (muscle), decrease in bone mass, hormonal complications, reduced physical performance and reduction in testosterone levels.

Severe calorie deficits are as unhealthy as large calories surpluses!


Positive Energy Balance

The body is in a Positive Energy Balance when more calories are being consumed than the body is using.

The amount of calories we eat and drink versus the amount of energy we use on a daily basis determines our body weight and overall health.

Energy Balance - The key to losing weight

A large proportion of the Western World today are eating diets which regularly place them in a positive energy balance.

Continued positive energy balance leads to many issues such as: weight gain, insulin resistance, increased risk of certain cancers etc.

How to correctly implement a negative energy balance – How to lose weight correctly:

  • Set target energy (calorie) deficits at the appropriate levels.
  • Undertake 5 hours of total exercise per week.
  • Use intensive weight training to create muscle damage.
  • Maximise cardio exercises by using High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) methods.
  • Implement periodic exercise programme changes to compensate for adaptation.
  • Boost non-exercise general physical activity.
  • Increase the thermic effect of breaking food down by: increasing protein intake, eating un-processed natural foods, eating at regular intervals throughout the day.
  • Incorporate healthy fats into the diet.
  • Ensure quality sleep of 7-9 hours per night.
  • Stay consistent with eating habits.
  • Avoid extreme diets.

How to correctly implement a positive energy balance – How to build muscle correctly:

  • Set target calorie surplus at correct level.
  • Undertake at least 4 hours per week of intensive weight training.
  • Minimise other forms of exercise.
  • Limit excessive non-exercise activity.
  • If taking in additional calories proves challenging, consume more via shakes and other liquid calories.
  • Consume energy dense foods: nuts, nut butters, trail mix, oils, healthy fats etc.
  • Eat at regular intervals through the day.
  • Incorporate Omega-3 fats into the diet.
  • Implement peri-workout nutrition.
  • Ensure quality sleep of 7-9 hours per night.
  • Stay consistent with habits.

How to calculate your maintenance level calories – Energy Balance!

There are multiple formulas for calculating your maintenance calories (Katch McArdle, Harris-Benedict) and some are more complex than others, taking into account: activity levels, height, age etc.

However what I have found to be a simple and great starting point is the formula:-

Body Weight in Lbs x 15 = Maintenance Calories.

So as an example, if you currently weight 155Lbs, 155 x 15 = 2325 calories per day to remain at exactly the same weight. This gives a good starting point to allow monitoring of your daily calories and can be tuned based on performance.

The bottom line on weight loss and weight gain

A change in “Energy Balance” is required to create an overall change in body weight and or composition. The body naturally gravitates towards homeostasis where the natural order is maintenance.

To effect a controlled weight loss – you need to place yourself into a moderate calorie deficit (maximum maintenance -20%).

To lose weight you MUST burn more calories than you consume each day.

To effect a gain in lean body mass (muscle) – you need to place yourself into a controlled calorie surplus (maximum maintenance + 20%).

To gain weight you MUST consume more calories than you burn each day.

Using our quick calculator from earlier, we can apply the same formula with different weightings to determine the calories for all three goals:-

So using a 154Lb individual as an example:-

Weight Maintenance

15 x Lbs of Body Weight.

E.g. 154Lbs x 15 = 2310 calories. Round down to 2300 calories per day to maintain this weight assuming average daily activity and exercise.

Weight Gain

19 x Lbs of body weight.

E.g. 154Lbs x 19 = 2926 calories. Round down to 2900 calories per day assuming average daily activity plus additional strength training exercise 4 days per week.

Weight Loss

12 x Lbs of body weight

E.g. 154Lbs x 12 = 1848 calories. Round down to 1800 calories per day assuming average activity. Any additional strength and HITT cardio activity will assist with loss.

That’s it – it’s as simple as numbers in versus numbers out. In future articles we pick away at the smoke and mirrors that some systems use to disguise this, have you counting points and buy their own branded foods all to achieve a negative energy balance!

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