Is A Low-Carb Diet Most Effective For Fat Loss?

Is A Low-Carb Diet Most Effective For Fat Loss?

Low-carb diets have gained great popularity the past several years. Even though I’m skeptical about any diet that has the word ”low” in it, many have achieved great results from this way of eating. So it seems like low-carb dieting really works.

That said, hundreds of diets work. The question is, whether it’s superior to other forms of dieting or not. Giving up carbs is not easy for many of us. So if we all decide to go low-carb, then there needs to be an additional benefit.

By using the currently available scientific research on this matter, we will draw an objective conclusion on whether or not low-carb dieting is the most effective way to burn fat.

Insulin, Your Worst Enemy?

Low-carb diets supposedly work better for fat loss because you are keeping your insulin levels most of the time.

Insulin is a hormone that is released after consuming carbohydrates and protein. Among other things, this hormone is responsible for nutrient partitioning. Meaning, insulin transfers the needed nutrients to tissues (including fat tissue) after food consumption.

Once insulin is released, your body’s ability to burn fat is suppressed and you will most likely store body fat.

Before you start throwing out all of your chicken and rice, you need to understand that your body is not in constant “fat-burning” or “fat-gaining” mode. It constantly switches from gaining fat after you feed it to burning it when it’s needed.

This graph by Weightology showcases this quite well.


To clear all potential confusion regarding this graph, read the simple example below.

You consume 800 calories at 3 PM and it gets absorbed in 4 hours (rough estimate). Your body will gain a part of it as fat because in those 4 hours your energy needs are not 800 calories, but more around 400 calories if you burn 2500 calories per day (2500*24/4=417). During periods of fasting (which can be as small as a couple of hours), your body will start burning fat because at that time there’s no external energy source (food) available.

If throughout the day you burn more fat than you gain, you’ve lost fat (and vice versa, of course). This is simply achieved by maintaining a caloric deficit. This forces your body to burn more fat than it gains OVERTIME.

Low-carb diets minimize insulin spikes

During a low-carb diet, you primarily eat fat. Research shows that high-fat food sources don’t trigger a significant insulin response. Since insulin is seen as the only hormone that triggers fat gain by many, it seems logical to think that you won’t be able to gain much fat if you keep carbs and protein low. After all, lower insulin levels equal less fat gain, right?

Not really.

First of all, research shows that your body is capable of gaining fat when insulin levels are low. If this wasn’t the case, you could eat unlimited amounts of dietary fat and stay lean. Fat gain due to excess dietary fat occurs through an enzyme known as Acylation Stimulating Protein”.

Second of all, fat breakdown also gets suppressed after eating dietary fat, just like when you get an insulin spike. In both cases, this happens due to the suppression of the enzyme ”hormone-sensitive lipase”.


And last but not least, research by the Scottish Agricultural College shows that higher insulin responses do not have to equal more fat gain over time. Fat accumulation is not a response to insulin spikes from carbohydrate consumption, it’s a response to systematically eating at a caloric surplus.

So, for healthy individuals, insulin is not something you should constantly worry about. Spiking insulin by consuming carbs or protein will not make you a “fat-gaining machine.”

Comparing Low-Carb To Its Alternatives

In theory, it doesn’t seem like the theoretical ”fat-reducing” benefits of low-carb diets hold much truth. But what matters most are the eventual results you achieve from low-carb diets. That’s what we’ll be looking into now.

By looking at low-carb research, we see that many studies find low-carb diets to be effective for weight loss. This is quite logical since low-carb diets deplete muscle glycogen (glucose stored in muscles).

This, in turn, will make you a few pounds lighter. It’s safe to say that this kind of weight loss is not what you are shooting for. Actually, weight loss, in general, shouldn’t be your number one concern.

Most of us want to improve body composition (less fat and more muscle). So ”more weight loss” doesn’t equal a better end result, more fat loss and muscle preservation does.


Why not all studies are useful

We know through a large body of evidence that a high protein intake is beneficial during any fat loss phase. This enables you to preserve more muscle and burn more fat over time. So protein has to be relatively high for optimal results, regardless of whether you go low- or high-carb. In this article, I show you how much protein you should eat per day.

The studies that suggest the ”supremacy” of low-carb diets, didn’t take the importance of protein intake into consideration. In this study, a low-carb, high-protein diet was compared to a high-carb, low-protein diet. The low-carb group did better, but was this because of the low-carb or the high-protein intake?

To answer this question, we need to turn to studies that equate protein intake between groups.

A multitude of experimental studies have been done and they show that when calories and protein are matched there is no significant difference in fat loss between low-carb and low-fat diets.

Here are a few more examples:

  1. Research by the Harvard School of Public Healthfound no significant difference between low, moderate and high-carb diets.
  2. Research by the University of Arizona, found no significant difference between a low- and high-carb diet.
  3. Research by the Arizona State University, also found no significant difference between a low- and high-carb diet.

Basically, a low-carb diet is generally beneficial for fat loss due to an increase in protein intake. So as long you consume sufficient protein and are in a caloric deficit, it doesn’t seem like your carb and fat intake matter all too much for fat loss, which is great because it allows flexibility.

So, Is Low-Carb Useless?

While writing this article, I have assumed that you are in relatively good health, train often, and are not severely obese. If that’s true, it’s highly unlikely that you will achieve inferior results by eating carbs.

But some people genuinely find it easier to get lean by using a low-carb approach. If you are one of them, you should feel free to maintain a low-carb diet, as long as it consists of mostly nutrient-dense foods.

For example, in this study, some volunteers lost more fat with a high-carb approach, whereas some volunteers lost more fat with a low-carb approach. On average, low-carb dieting doesn’t deliver superior or inferior results, but you might find that this is different in your case.

When insulin resistance comes into play

If you’ve been severely overeating on carbs (or in general) for the last couple of years, research shows that there is a great possibility that you are experiencing issues with the metabolization of carbohydrates.

If you can relate to this, research shows you can benefit from reducing your carbohydrate intake. This likely has much to do with the fact that severely obese individuals often are insulin resistant.

Final Words

Whether you choose to maintain a high-, moderate- or low-carb diet, you will be able to achieve great fat loss results if you are in a caloric deficit and consume sufficient amounts of protein.

If you want to learn more about how you can determine your macronutrient needs and how to approach your fat loss phase, I recommend you check out my free “Fat Loss Checklist.” I will send it to your email if you fill in the form below.

How To Bulk Properly For Lean Muscle Growth

How To Bulk Properly For Lean Muscle Growth

Some say it’s useless, others wholeheartedly believe in its effectiveness. Bulking has been a controversial topic in the “fitness realm” for many years now. In this post, we’ll look at the evidence and theory behind bulking phases and see how you can take advantage of the benefits of a bulking phase without gaining excessive fat.

Why Eating More Works

Although there currently is a large body of evidence showing that muscle growth while losing fat is possible, it’s not the best approach for those who have been training for a while and are looking to maximize muscle gains.

To burn fat, you need to be in an energy deficit. This means you’ll have to feed your body fewer calories than it needs so it will break down internal body fat stores for energy.

This is immediately the reason why fat loss does not support muscle growth

The human body builds (protein synthesis) and breaks down (protein breakdown) muscle proteins constantly throughout the day. If the amount of muscle proteins you’ve built exceeds the number of muscle proteins you’ve broken down, you’ve built muscle. This is also known as having a “Positive Protein Balance.”

Since maintaining a positive protein balance is an energy demanding process, feeding your body less energy (measured in calories) than it needs is not the best way to support muscle growth. This helps explain why research shows protein synthesis rates drop and protein breakdown rates increase. when you are in an energy deficit.

When you’re consuming more calories than your body needs (like in a bulk), you’re ensuring that you’re not in a state of breakdown and therefore are not sabotaging your muscle-building potential.

how to bulk properly

Muscular Potential of Natural Lifters

Before we go into how many calories you need to eat to gain the max amount of muscle, it’s important to get an idea of how much muscle you can build as a natural lifter.

Several fitness researchers and top coaches have put together models which indicate how much muscle you can build a year as a natural lifter. I personally like the model of Lyle McDonald, it provides simple estimates for the muscle-building potential of natural lifters.

Lyle McDonald model:

Years of Proper Training Potential Rate of Muscle Gain per Year
1 20-25 pounds (2 pounds per month)
2 10-12 pounds (1 pound per month)
3 5-6 pounds (0.5 pounds per month)
4+ 2-3 pounds (minimum gains per month)

This is probably very close to reality. You won’t be able to gain 40 pounds of muscle a year, that’s just not going to happen. I often see people shooting for 1 pound of weight gain per week when bulking. As you can see in the model, it’s very unlikely that you’ll build 4 pounds of muscle a month, even if someone is a “newbie” lifter.

By maintaining a diet that makes you gain an amount of weight that exceeds your muscle-gaining capabilities, you’re simply setting yourself up for unnecessary fat gain.

There’s research supporting this. Research by the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences divided 39 trained individuals into two groups. One group maintained a small calorie surplus, whereas the other group maintained a large surplus.

Obviously, the group that ate more calories gained more weight. But the extra weight gain wasn’t more muscle, it was body fat. The group that maintained a small calorie surplus, gained the same amount of muscle as the group that ate 600 calories(!) more a day.

So it’s not logical to gain 4 pounds (or more) of body weight per month if your body is capable of gaining (roughly) just 2 pounds of muscle per month at most.

Even if you don’t mind extra fat gain in the short-term, you’re still better off keeping your body fat stores low, as there’s research showing you tend to gain more fat and less muscle if you overeat while you are at a high body fat percentage. But more importantly, if you gain weight at an aggressive pace, you won’t be able to continue your bulk for long without feeling fat and having to transition into a fat loss phase

How Much You Should Eat During a Bulk

Consuming more calories than your body needs is not the hard part. A majority of the Western population is already eating at a calorie surplus without even knowing it! Most people go wrong by maintaining a calorie surplus that is way too high.

how to bulk properly

Your weight gain needs to be in line with your ”Potential Rate of Muscle Gain”, as seen in the graph above. Knowing this, you can easily estimate your caloric needs for effective muscle growth by using the ”3500-calorie rule”.

Roughly, the 3500-calorie rule indicates that a weekly calorie surplus of 3500 calories makes you gain 1 pound of bodyweight per week. This is definitely not a scientific fact, research has shown this. But it’s still a viable way to estimate caloric demands regarding weight gain/loss rates.

A calorie surplus of 200-300 calories is generally all you need

If you’re capable of gaining about 2 pounds of muscle a month at most, then you need a weekly calorie surplus of about 1750 to realize this. This is a daily calorie surplus of about 250 calories. Not only is this generally enough to maximize muscle growth, but it also minimizes fat gain.

This way of bulking sets you up for gaining lean body mass while maintaining low body fat percentages year-round, which is seen as ”impossible” by many.

If you currently do not have a good estimate of your body’s caloric needs, check out the end of this article to find tips about estimating your caloric needs.

Training During a Bulk

Like researcher Dr. Eric Helms once said:

Nutrition is only permissive, training stimulates muscle growth. – Eric Helms

What Dr. Helms means is that resistance training causes the need for muscular adaptations. Solely eating at a calorie surplus won’t build you any significant muscle. Eating at a surplus just “allows” you to make the most out of your training by supplying your body the nutrients and energy it needs to realize your muscle-building potential.

The best way to approach your training is by seeking constant progress in the gym. You will be putting more mechanical tension on your muscles over time, which will cause an adaptive response (muscle growth).

how to bulk properly

That’s why it’s commonly believed that progressive overload is the key to muscle and strength gains. This is especially true when you’re bulking. You’re feeding your body a surplus of energy, put this energy to good use by training intelligently and increasing your main lifts.

Learn More In My New eBook

If you are interested in learning more about maximizing your muscular potential, check out my new eBook “The Art & Science of Muscle Growth. This book translates the currently available scientific data about muscle growth in “Basic English”, so everyone can start implementing an evidence-based approach to training and nutrition.

The Art & Science of Muscle Growth

Click here to purchase this eBook

Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle

Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle

Muscle growth doesn’t come quickly to us natural lifters. That’s why you want to cherish every pound of muscle you build. The last thing we want to do is lose a significant amount of muscle during a fat loss phase.

If you approach your fat loss phase incorrectly, this can occur. But as you’ll see in this post, it’s more than possible to preserve muscle well while you are in a fat loss phase.

How Fat Loss Affects Muscle Growth

When your body is in an energy deficit, it will have to tap into its energy reserves. The most obvious reserve to turn to is body fat. This is why your body gains fat when you overfeed it, so it can use it in times of food scarcity.

But body fat isn’t the only energy source available that is used to balance out an energy deficit. For instance, research shows that protein breakdown also increases when you’re in a calorie deficit.

The human body builds (protein synthesis) and breaks down (protein breakdown) muscle proteins every day. If the number of muscle proteins you’ve built exceeds the number of muscle proteins you’ve broken down, you’ve built muscle.

In a calorie deficit, research shows that protein synthesis rates drop and protein breakdown rates increase. This negatively affects the amount of muscle you build and can potentially make you lose muscle if your approach is too aggressive.

lose fat without losing muscle

There are 3 main factors that can minimize (or maximize if you do it incorrectly) the negative effect an energy deficit has on muscle growth.

  1. Caloric intake
  2. Protein intake
  3. Resistance training

We’ll discuss how you can use these factors to your advantage, one by one.

Caloric Intake

You’re probably thinking that I’m going to tell you to ”maintain a small deficit” or ”keep fat loss very slow”. I’m not, the slower you’re losing fat, the longer it takes to reach your fat loss goal. Why is this not beneficial for muscle growth, you ask?

Well, research shows that the longer you’re underfeeding your body, the more susceptible to muscle loss you become. That’s why you don’t want to drag out your fat loss phase if there is no need to.

That said, severe calorie restriction is also not the answer (unless you’re morbidly obese). Research by the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences shows that muscle and strength loss is significant when non-obese individuals eat way below their caloric requirements.

So how many calories should you eat to maximize muscle preservation while still losing fat rapidly?

A good starting point is found in a scientific review paper, which was designed to provide evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilders (people like you, who want to gain more muscle and lose more fat).

They found that losing 0.5-1% of total body weight per week is a good starting point for those who want to improve their body composition. This generally can be achieved by maintaining a calorie deficit of roughly 20-25%. Like in this study, in which athletes lost an average of 1.2 lbs per week by maintaining a deficit of 24%.

Protein Intake

The role of protein during a fat loss phase is very simple: it increases muscle preservation and keeps you full for longer. That’s why it’s highly beneficial to maintain a somewhat high protein intake during your fat loss phase.

lose fat without losing muscle

But most people take this the wrong way. Because a higher protein intake is beneficial, they think they should stuff themselves with protein every 2-3 hours. This is not necessary.

A 2017 systematic review indicates that consuming as low as 0.7g/lb. (1.6g/kg) of body weight is able to maximize muscle growth. If you want to err on the safe side of things and make use of the satiating effects of protein, you can feel free to consume more protein in a day.

Resistance Training

The human body is quite fascinating. It’s able to survive in extreme circumstances due to its adaptive capabilities and efficiency.

It won’t hold on to muscle tissue that is not used for an extended period of time. It sees this as unnecessary extra weight, which costs energy to preserve. For the same reason, you won’t just build muscle.

You need to give your body a reason to preserve and eventually build muscle. You provide this stimulus simply by using your muscles in training. This helps explain why research by the Washington University shows that weight training increases muscle preservation in calorie-restricted individuals.

lose fat without losing muscle

To maximize muscle preservation and perhaps even build muscle during your fat loss phase (depending on how close you are to you are to your genetic limit), you need to train for progressive overload.

The training you perform in the gym is considered a stress that forces an adaptive response. Your body adapts to training by building bigger and stronger muscles so that it can deal more efficiently with the provided training stress in the near future. So for consistent muscle growth to occur, you need to constantly challenge your muscles beyond their present capacity (a.k.a. Progressive Overload)

Final Words

As you just read in this blog post, you do not need to go to any extremes to preserve muscle during a fat loss phase. As long as you eat at an appropriate deficit, consume enough protein and train regularly, you will not lose muscle.

If you are interested in learning more about maximizing your muscular potential, check out my new eBook “The Art & Science of Muscle Growth. This book translates the currently available scientific data about muscle growth in “Basic English”, so everyone can start implementing an evidence-based approach to training and nutrition.

The Art & Science of Muscle Growth

Click here to purchase this eBook

Why Cheat Days are Ineffective

Why Cheat Days are Ineffective

We all like to eat high-calorie foods that are not nutrient-dense once in a while. It’s human, we enjoy good food and crave it after not having it for a period of time. But eating too much on your cheat day or cheat meal can offset some of the progress you’ve made in that same week.

Many maintain a diet that’s so strict that they have to cheat once in a while to remain sane. In this post, we’ll discuss how cheats days can affect you and why you would want to approach your diet differently if you feel the need to constantly cheat.

The Big Downside of Cheat Days

Fat loss is dictated by something called the Energy Balance”. If you consume fewer calories than you burn (caloric deficit), your body will have to tap into its fat stores to balance out this energy deficit. If you eat at a moderate deficit for the first 6 days of the week and then devour every snack you see on Sunday, your weekly caloric deficit will be affected.

Let’s take an imaginary person named Bob as an example.

Bob has been sticking to his calories and macros all week. It’s Sunday and he feels like he deserves to eat whatever he wants. After all, 1 day of clean eating won’t get him ripped, so how can 1 cheat day ruin his progress?

With a bit of simple math, I can show you exactly how it can ruin Bob’s progress.


So let’s say Bob:

  • Burns 2700 calories a day.
  • Maintains a calorie deficit of 20%, this is a daily calorie deficit of 540 calories (2700*0.2 =540).
  • Maintains this deficit from Monday till Saturday. So far, this puts Bob in a weekly deficit of 3240 calories (540*6=3240).

Now Bob goes ahead and eats whatever he wants on Sunday (I’m talking ice cream, pizzas, french fries, all that good stuff) and ends the day with 5500 calories consumed.

Believe it or not, Bob just undid almost all of the progress he has made the last week.

This cheat puts Bob in a caloric surplus of 2800 calories on Sunday (5500-2700=2800). So Bob went from a weekly deficit of 3240 calories to a weekly deficit of 440 calories (3240-2800=440) in just one day.

Let’s assume it’s true that we burn 1 lb. of fat with a weekly deficit of 3500 calories (research shows that this is not always true, it depends on the person, but it’s close enough). Then the amount of fat Bob has lost in that week is minimal, even though he’s been so strict all week.

This is what happens to a lot of people. They feel like they’re stuck because even though they eat “clean” all week with just one cheat day, they just won’t burn a noticeable amount of fat.


But My Cheat Days Aren’t That Bad

Research shows that an average restaurant dish in the US contains around 1200 calories. Chocolate covered donuts contain around 330 calories a piece. So if you just eat 2 restaurant dishes and 3 glazed donuts, you’re already at 3400 calories. As you can see, the calories add up quickly.

So, if you’re not tracking what you eat on a cheat day (most don’t), there’s a great chance that you’re eating way more than you’re supposed to. Especially if you’ve been craving high-calorie food all week.

However, if you are tracking what you eat and making sure you’re eating around or slightly above maintenance, then such a cheat day will not have an impact on your weekly calorie deficit. But let’s be honest, usually, we just stuff ourselves with whatever we crave on cheat days.

What To Do Instead

If you feel like you need a cheat day to stay sane and enjoy foods you like, your diet is probably too restrictive. For most people, there is plenty of room in your calories to consume a few snacks you enjoy. You just have to plan correctly so you stay in that caloric deficit.

There’s no need to restrict yourself from all the foods you like during a fat loss phase. There’s not a single type of food or macronutrient that will make you fat. Overeating makes you fat. A funny experiment by a nutrition professor at the Kansas State University showcases this quite nicely.

The professor went on a two-month diet. In this diet, he was mostly eating Twinkies, Nutty Bars, Oreo’s, and lots of other snacks. While doing this, he maintained a caloric deficit of about 800 calories and lost 27 pounds.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should mainly eat snacks to burn fat, but it means that you can consume snacks you enjoy and still burn fat if you fit them into your calories.

Cheat days

This is essentially ”flexible dieting.” The benefits of flexible diets are simple: you have a healthier relationship with food and you enjoy what you eat.

This helps explain why research shows that flexible dieters don’t experience as many symptoms of eating disorders, mood disturbances, and excessive concerns with body shape when compared to “rigid dieters.”

Final Message

Cheat days are not the answer if you want to have an enjoyable fat loss phase. Consuming foods you enjoy is key in every fat loss plan. It ensures you enjoy the process towards your goal, which is important if you want to sustain your healthy habits.

In this post, I discuss ”refeed” and “diet breaks.” These are superior alternatives to cheat days and have some benefits for fat loss. If you like to (slightly) overeat once in a while and still burn a significant amount of fat, then short diet breaks may be what you’re looking for.

Free Fat Loss Checklist

If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about effective nutrition for fat loss, check out my free “Fat Loss Checklist.” It covers the most important points you need to consider prior to embarking on a fat loss phase. You can get instant access to the checklist by filling in the form below.

What Should Be Your Daily Protein Intake?

What Should Be Your Daily Protein Intake?

Protein requirements have been the subject of debate for decades now. Because of all the conflicting opinions, many still don’t know how much protein they really need to support their training goals.

In this article, you’ll get a science-based answer to the common question ”How much protein do I need to eat per day?”. So, if you’re tired of all the guesswork, I encourage you to read on.

What Is Protein, Actually?

Your muscles are made of the molecule, protein, in this case, also known as “muscle proteins.” These muscle proteins are made up of something that probably sounds familiar: amino acids.

You need a great variety of amino acids to build muscle proteins. Your body produces some of these amino acids but not all of them. The amino acids that your body cannot synthesize need to be consumed through your diet and are known as “essential amino acids.” There are 9 essential amino acids:

1. Leucine
2. Isoleucine
3. Lysine
4. Methionine
5. Phenylalanine 6. Threonine
7. Tryptophan
8. Valine
9. Histidine

These essential amino acids are also found in your everyday protein sources, like chicken and eggs.

Amino acids are used to build muscle proteins (through muscle protein synthesis). So, if you do not consume enough essential amino acids, your body’s ability to build muscle proteins is limited.

That’s the main reason research shows a low-protein diet simply builds less muscle than a high-protein diet.

So, consuming enough protein is definitely important.

protein intake

How Much Protein Is Enough?

Just because sufficient protein is important, doesn’t mean that you need to stuff yourself with it. Your favorite 250lb. bodybuilder may eat 300 grams of protein a day and builds massive amounts of muscle, but as a natural trainee, you won’t get similar results by simply mimicking his protein intake.

The FDA recommends a minimum daily protein intake of 0.8g/kg (0.36/lb). This recommendation is for the “average Joe” who doesn’t lift weights and is mostly sedentary.

Considering you’re reading this article, you are no average Joe. You train and want to build muscle and burn fat. The FDA’s recommendation does not take your training goals into account, this is recognized in science. Research shows that active individuals need a higher protein intake than the general population.

protein intake

Typically, we’ve been told to maintain a protein intake of 1 gram per lb. (2.2g/kg) of body weight. If we take a look at different studies that investigate the protein needs of athletes, we see that this recommendation isn’t very off, but it seems to be a bit on the high side for most people.

On July 2017, a large meta-analysis came out that gathered the data of all relevant protein studies to provide evidence-based protein intake recommendations. The researchers found that a protein intake as low as 0.7g/lb. (1.6g/kg) of total body weight is sufficient for maximizing muscle growth.

Now, this is all research on trainees when they are in a non-dieting state. When in a caloric deficit, protein requirements may increase due to an increase in protein breakdown. So as a safety net, going a bit higher in protein, say around 1g/lb. of body weight, can’t hurt.

So, based on the currently available scientific data, having a protein intake in the range of 0.7-1g/lb. (1.6-2.2g/kg) will ensure that you are consuming sufficient protein in a day.

How About If I Want To Eat More?

Contrary to commonly voiced concern, high-protein diets are not detrimental to your health.

A 2016 study led by Dr. José Antonio made 14 healthy resistance-trained men maintain a very high protein intake of 1.1-1.5 grams per lb. of body weight for 12 months. No negative health effects were found.

Plenty of other studies, including literature reviews, have also shown that a relatively high-protein intake does not harm overall healthy individuals. So, unless someone has pre-existing health issues, there’s no need to fear a high-protein intake if it’s part of an overall nutritious diet.

Therefore, eating more than the recommended daily protein intake for optimal muscle growth is not necessarily a bad thing if it helps you stay more consistent with your diet.

Final Words

That’s it regarding protein intake. If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Also, if you’re planning on doing a fat loss phase soon, I highly recommend you check out my free “Fat Loss Checklist.” It covers the essential points you need to consider before you start your fat loss phase. You can download the checklist by filling in the form below.

Understanding the Energy Balance

Understanding the Energy Balance

With thousands of questions like “Can I eat white bread without getting fat?” hitting the internet every day 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 of nutrition for fat loss. That’s why I decided to get rid of all the confusion by discussing 1 fairly simple 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 number of calories consumed is higher than the number of calories burned, you gain fat (positive energy balance).
  • If the number of calories consumed is lower than the number 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 the human 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 1000 calories. This means that the volunteers would eat 1000 calories more than they burned per 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, only transformed. So the human body has to tap into its (fat) reserves to receive the needed energy.

Knowing this, you could just eat 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 the “fitness industry” has been telling us.

Energy balance

To anecdotally 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 consumed came from junk food.

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 this isn’t that you should eat junk food to burn fat, but that you must maintain a negative energy balance if fat loss is the goal.

Remember, fat loss occurs in times of food scarcity. When you feed your body less energy than it needs.  That’s why the goal 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 per se.

How Many Calories Do You Burn?

In order to know how many calories you should eat, you need to have a good estimate of how many calories your body expends per day on average. Some think that if they eat 2,500 calories a day, 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 inactive.

The number of calories you expend is determined by 3 main factors.

  • At rest, your heart still needs to pump blood, you still need to breathe, and muscle needs to recover. Things like this cost 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 has the greatest effect on total daily energy expenditure.
  • The food you eat needs to be absorbed and digested. This process costs energy and is known as the ”thermic effect of food”. The type of food you eat influences the number 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 many calories 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 depended on the length and intensity of your activities. If you have a very active job and train regularly, you burn many extra calories. If the opposite is true, then you burn fewer calories and generally need to eat less than a very active person to lose fat.

Energy balance

As you can see, determining the number of calories you expend in a day isn’t that simple. Things like age and height also come in to play when trying to figure out how much you should eat.

Luckily, there are calculators that help us estimate the number of calories we expend per day on average. I’ve found this calculator to be quite useful. It’s based on the Mifflin-St Jeor. equation, which has been shown to provide a good estimate.

Is The Energy Balance All That Matters?

The energy balance may sound too simple to be true, but it’s is a well-known phenomenon in nutritional sciences. 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 caloric 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 ”Fat Loss Checklist” for you. I take you through everything you need to know to start burning fat at a – faster than usual – rate. I will send you your free fat loss checklist if you fill in the form below.