How Your Body Uses It's Energy

It’s easy to get a myopic view of your weight loss goals – must lose weight, must workout more and eat less(read in a mouth breathing caveman voice). I’m not saying that these are not important factors in one’s journey to achieving a weight loss goal but there are more things to consider.

Human metabolism is a complicated system that is still not fully understood despite what some will say. In order to accomplish a goal all the important factors should be realized and then acted upon. When I talk to people, very few know these simple aspects of the metabolism so it’s important to discuss them.

This will be covering how the body uses its energy to fuel you throughout the day. I will dive into hormonal factors in another article because this is another huge piece of the puzzle.

Being in a caloric deficit is the foundation of weight loss, don’t get me wrong, but it’s critical to understand how your body is using the energy(calories) that you’re giving it.

For example, it is absolutely necessary to know that your body will use about 60-70% of all calories ingested to fulfill your basal metabolic rate(BMR). This is what you’d burn just laying in bed staring at the ceiling. This pumps your blood, fuels your brain… basic human functions.

Another calorie burning mechanism is the thermic effect of food(TEF). It costs calories to digest all that food! It can take up to 10-15% of all your calories to process your food. This is actually a decent amount of total calories, that is why optimizing this is important.

Protein takes about 30% of its total calories to digest. Meaning for every 100 calories of protein 30 of them will be used in digestion. This is one way in which the “a calorie is a calorie” myth is completely busted! Carbohydrates will use about 5-10% to digest and fat is 0-3%. Therefore, protein is the hardest for your body to assimilate while fat is the easiest and carbs are rather easy as well.

Using this information can be useful while planning your nutrition. Not to mention that protein will build muscle and prevent muscle depletion during a weight loss phase. In my experience most people fall short on their protein intake, which will hamper them achieving both fat loss and muscle building goals!

Exercise activity thermogenesis(EAT) is as it sounds – the calories you use during your specific and intentional bouts of exercise. It makes up about 5% of your daily needs depending on the level of exercise activity. Obviously large amounts of exercise will drive this higher.

Your non-exercise activity thermogenesis(NEAT) accounts for another large portion of the energy used daily. This will differ wildly between people depending on the amount a person moves throughout the day. This would include cooking, walking, cleaning, working… This makes up about 15-20% of calories needed.

So what does all this mean to you? The first step to losing body fat or gaining muscle is finding what your caloric needs will be depending on your goal. You need to find your total daily energy expenditure(TDEE), simply put is all of these previous numbers combined – BMR, EAT, TEF, and NEAT. Once that is completed you can calculate your deficit or surplus from there.

There are a ton of calculators online that will assist with this. They will take age, gender, activity level and use an algorithm to produce your TDEE, from there you could work backwards to find the approximate numbers for all of these points, which isn’t necessary, nor accurate.

Once you have this number of total calories needed for maintenance you can find your target based on your goals. For weight loss, it’s usually suggested to not go below a 500 calories deficit per day or the risk of losing too much muscle tissue will be a problem, it will lower your BMR.

Hitting this target for 2-3 weeks will be the goal. Making adjustments from there based on weight change will be the next step.

Armed with all of this information you can make well informed decisions about where to devote your energy when it comes to accomplishing your goal. In a weight loss goal it would be unwise to not pay attention to the 60-70% of calories that are burned for the BMR wouldn’t it? Looking for ways to increase your BMR would be the best plan to use that energy up.

Adding muscle to your frame will be the most effective way to increase your BMR. Not to mention that you will add strength, confidence, balance, range of motion, reduce injuries, control blood glucose, put an end to frailty, and improve many other hormonal functions(but I’m trying not to be biased).

Always keep in mind that as you lose weight the BMR and metabolism will adapt so it’s important to re-adjust as you progress. The BMR of someone who weighed 200lbs will be different than when they weigh 170lbs.

Secondly, moving more through your day will help with a weight loss goal a great deal! Another 15-20% of your energy goes into the NEAT category. Pay attention to the amount you move through the day.

Take the stairs, park farther away from stores, go on 10 minute walks after your meals… Just move more intentionally!! This is perhaps the area in which most changes can be made.

Exercise is still very important, as it can serve to build muscle and increase your BMR but don’t rely on it for an intense calorie burn which will be responsible for losing all the body fat you’re looking for. It’s about 5% of your daily calories so treat it as such. After months of weight training your BMR could improve up to 5% as well with added muscle.

If you workout 2-3 times a week then sit on your butt the rest of the time progress will be much slower; being intentionally active everyday or even adding more workout sessions will garner much quicker improvements.

Eating a high protein diet has been shown time and again that it will aid not only with weight loss but also showing off a muscular physique once the extra body fat is gone. It will help preserve muscle during a weight loss phase, where both fat and muscle are lost from the total body weight. Keeping muscle on keeps the BMR high which keeps the fire burning hotter!

Understanding how you use your energy is very important to your health. A well thought out combination of these factors will show the best results in a weight loss goal.

If you or someone you know would like to learn more, improve on, or help correct issues surrounding this please share this article or contact us!

Wade Dickinson