Understanding the Energy Balance

Energy balance

With thousands of questions like “Can I eat white bread without getting fat?” hitting the internet everyday and thousands of articles with titles like “the Top 5 Fat Burning Foods” showing up after every Google search, it’s clear that the fitness community lacks basic knowledge about nutrition and fat loss. That’s why I decided to get rid of all the confusion by discussing 1 scientific term, ”the energy balance”.

What is the energy balance?

The energy balance describes the relationship between “energy in” (calories consumed) and “energy out” (calories burned).

  • If the amount of calories consumed are higher than the amount of calories burned, you gain fat (positive energy balance).
  • If the amount of calories consumed are lower than the amount of calories burned, you burn fat (negative energy balance).

Positive energy balance

When you are in a positive energy balance, you are consuming more energy than your body needs. The scientific law of thermodynamics shows that energy can’t be destroyed, only transformed. So a surplus of energy has to be saved. How does our body do that? By saving the extra energy as fat, which can be used as “fuel” in times of scarcity.

Simple example, a study by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center put 25 healthy male and female volunteers on several types of diets that put them in a daily surplus of a 1000 calories. This means that the volunteers would eat a 1000 calories more than they burned a day. Regardless of what type of diet they followed, they all gained fat. Why? Because the volunteers were maintaining a positive energy balance.

Negative energy balance

When you are in a negative energy balance, you are consuming less energy than your body needs. The scientific law of thermodynamics shows that energy also can’t be created, just transformed. So our body has to tap into its (fat) reserves to receive the needed energy.

Knowing this, you could eat just Twinkies, Oreo’s, Nutty Bars etc. and still burn fat. Just by maintaining a negative energy balance, right? Students of Human Nutrition at the Kansas State University didn’t believe this and to be honest, I didn’t either. This goes against everything that has been told to us by “fitness experts”.

Energy balance

To proof the validity of the energy balance, a professor of Human Nutrition at Kansas University State, Mark Haub, went on a 2 month diet. During this diet, around 70% of all the calories he ate came from junkfood, like powdered donuts.

While doing this, he maintained a calorie deficit (calorie deficit = negative energy balance) of 800 calories per day. He lost 27 pounds!

A negative energy balance is essential for fat loss

The takeaway message from the experiment from professor Mark Haub, isn’t that you should eat junkfood in order to burn fat, but that you must maintain a negative energy balance to burn fat. Research, shows that if your body has enough energy available from food, that it won’t to tap into its fat reserves.

Remember, fat loss occurs in times of scarcity, when you feed your body less energy than it requires.  That’s why the essence of every fat loss program should be to put you in a negative energy balance, not to make you perform extra cardio or eat less bread.

How many calories does a human body burn?

In order to know how many calories you should eat, you need to know how many calories your body burns. Some think that if they eat 2,500 calories a day, that they need to burn off 2,500 calories with just physical exercise to maintain their physique. This is not the case. The human body is constantly using energy, even when it’s completely passive. The amount of calories you burn is determined by 3 factors.

  • At rest, your heart still needs to pump blood, you still need to breathe, muscle needs to recover etc. Things like this costs energy, which we measure in calories. Research defines the amount of calories your body burns to function (excluding physical exercise and absorption of food) as the ”metabolic rate”. The metabolic rate is the greatest calorie-burning component. The metabolic rate is responsible for about 50-70% of your total daily caloric expenditure.
  • The food you eat needs to be processed and stored. This costs energy and is known as the ”thermic effect of food”. The type of food you eat influences the amount of calories your body burns. Through research we know that absorbing processed food costs less energy than absorbing wholesome food. Even though the differences are small (100-200 calories max), it can make a difference for a person trying to eat as much as possible during a fat loss period.
  • Every physical activity, from raising your hand to sprinting, costs energy. The amount of calories you burn here is completely in your hands. If you have a very active job and train regularly, you burn many extra calories. If the opposite is true, then you burn less calories and you need to eat less in order to burn fat.

Energy balance

As you can see determining the amount of calories you burn isn’t that simple. Things like age and height also come in to play when trying to figure out how much to eat.

Luckily there are calculators that help us estimate the amount of calories we burn per day. I’ve found this calculator to be the most accurate, since it’s based on the ”Mifflin – St Jeor equation”. Research shows that this is the most accurate equation to estimate the amount of calories you burn per day.

Is the energy balance the only factor for fat loss?

The energy balance may sound too simple to be true, but it’s is a well known fact in science. As mentioned earlier, it’s even backed by a scientific law, the law of thermodynamics. Knowing how the energy balance works is important, because without a negative energy balance, your body won’t burn any fat.

But if you want to maximize the amount of fat you lose, there are some other factors you need to keep in mind. For example, research shows that a high protein diet forces your body to burn more fat than a low protein diet, within the same calorie deficit.

There are several other factors like this, but I don’t want to make this blog post too long. That’s why I’ve put together a free ”Maximizing Fat Loss Plan” for you. I take you through everything you need to know to start burning fat at a – faster than usual – rate. Obviously, by implementing a negative energy balance. From how to track your calories to detailed information about calorie and macronutrient intake for maximum fat loss, it’s all in this free eBook.

Download your free Maximizing Fat Loss Plan by filling in the form below!

142 thoughts on “Understanding the Energy Balance

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    I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post, it covers a really important topic.
    If you have any questions, just comment below and I’ll get back to you!

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