What Is Energy Balance?

What is energy balance?

Energy balance is an extremely simple concept (technically), yet it will play the one of, if not the biggest role in reaching your goal. So what does energy balance mean?

Energy balance is simply the relationship between your energy in (calories from food & drinks) vs your energy out (calories being used for daily energy requirements, such as moving).

Your energy balance relationship is the result of thermodynamics (sciencey word for dealing with heat & energy), the result will be weight loss, weight maintenance or weight gain. The result is based on your energy intake vs your energy output.

For most people, maintaining our weight is pretty straight forward. Our bodies are generally pretty good at doing it. This means you are eating the right amount of calories (energy) that your body requires to function. Therefore your bodyweight remains the same.

energy balance calories in vs calories out

Why is it so important?

If you're trying to change your bodyweight, understanding energy balance is one of the most important things you can learn. So if you listen to one thing, let it be this.

Understanding energy balance will allow you more freedom than you ever thought possible (especially for weight loss) as it completely rules out the need for any 'special diet plan' such as low carbs (we like carbs here at tbfit), low fat, low anything in fact. It allows the freedom you need to eat the foods you love & still continue your progress. We like that.

If you would like to know how many calories you need (roughly) to reach your goals, check out my free calculator here

What is a negative energy balance?

A negative energy balance (known as a calorie deficit) is simple (achieving one can be a different story). You consume (eat) less calories (energy) than your body requires to function as it wants/needs to.

If your goal is to lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit. This doesn't need to be every single day. As long as you are in a calorie deficit over a period of time, you will lose weight for that period of time, how much weight depends on the size of the deficit.

Please note: it is entirely possible to ruin 5 days of a calorie deficit (think mon-fri) by eating in a surplus for 2 days (think the weekend) as your weekly average will no longer be a deficit.

A negative energy balance results in the body turning on it's own 'back up' energy reserves - this comes from body fat (winner), stored glycogen (carbs stored in muscles & liver), or muscle tissue (not so winner). The goal is to maximise fat loss & minimise muscle loss, which we will discuss in a moment.

Example: Dave requires 2500 calories per day to maintain his weight, if he consumes 2000 calories that day, he will be in a negative energy balance of 500 that day. 1lb of fat contains roughly 3500 calories worth of stored energy. So if Dave continue this, he would theoretically lose 1lb over 7 days. This is why consistency is so important.

How to create a negative energy balance

There are many, many, many ways to create a negative energy balance. The true key to success, is finding the one that works for you. For some, reducing carbs (calories) is the answer, for others reducing fat (calories) is the answer. I personally don't like putting people on low anything diets, but for some it does work. Personally, I recommend increasing your protein (helps with hunger), increase your veggies (filling foods without the calories), increase water intake (helps with hunger) & exercise more (increase energy out) and go from there.

Why resistance training & protein intake is so important when in a calorie deficit

If you're in a negative energy balance, you will lose weight (fat, muscle & glycogen)-but your goal realistically is to lose fat (body fat)

How can you do this?

  1. Resistance training. Resistance training gives your body the reason it needs to hold onto muscle, in some cases it will also help you build more muscle. If your goal is to 'tone up', less fat & more muscle is the only way.

  2. High protein intake. For your body to use muscles as energy, it must break it down into amino acids to turn into glucose. Protein is made up of amino acids, so if you give your body enough amino acids? It has much less reason to break down your muscles to find more (it will also aid with recovery & help to build new muscle tissue).

If you haven't already, check out my free calorie calculator here - it will also recommend you how much protein you should be consuming too

What's a positive energy balance?

A positive energy balance (calorie surplus) is eating more calories than your body requires - this will result in weight gain. Just like with weight loss your goal here should never simply to gain weight, it should be to build muscle tissue.

Again, resistance training & protein intake also play a role.

  • Resistance training - to build new muscle, you must give your body the reason to. How? Get stronger & put your muscles under new demands that it must adapt to

  • Protein intake - training is only half of the equation, to build muscle you must break down the muscle (training) & then repair it. To do this you, you will require sleep & sufficient protein.

Eating in a surplus without the 2 above, will result in weight gain - mostly in the form of body fat

How to create a positive energy balance

In theory, this is simple - eat more. For those who don't have a huge appetite, this can actually be extremely difficult - especially when it comes from nutritious foods with a high protein diet.

My advice is to make sure every meal you eat contains protein, carbs & fats. This will ensure each meal is getting a good range of calories. For those who really struggle, protein shakes & calorie dense foods such as peanut butter can be a huge help.

Why being is a positive OR negative balance is hard

In all honesty - it's uncomfortable. Your body naturally wants a nice steady energy balance. Building or burning is a stress for the body it would like to avoid. Being in a calorie surplus or deficit is okay short term, but the longer you're in one - the less your body will want to be in one and will start to fight the process. This is why having a plan that's personal to you & your needs is so important.

Why you shouldn't just focus on your energy balance

Energy balance is extremely important for changing your body composition. But it should never be your only focus. Your health should always be your number 1 priority. There is no point in looking great, if you feel like shit. The most common problems I see are...

  • Calorie surplus - eating anything & everything to just get lots of calories. Pizza & burgers are not a good way to get your calories up regularly...

  • Calorie deficit - extremely low carb/fat/protein diets. If you don't eat enough, you run the risk of being deficient in protein, fibre, essential fats, vitamins & minerals. Avoiding deficiencies should always be the foundation of any diet.

Take Away Notes

  • Understanding energy balance will allow you to eat the foods you love as long as you control your calories

  • It does not matter what diet you try, a successful outcome is simply down to your calorie intake

  • No diet is magic - they simply help you control your calorie intake

  • You must consistently be in the appropriate energy balance for your goals

  • Being in a deficit Monday-Friday can be ruined by being in a surplus Saturday-Sunday

  • Resistance training is important whether you're trying to lose fat or build muscle

  • Protein is important whether you're trying to lose fat or build muscle

If you're still struggling to fully understand how energy balance works, drop me a message any time & I'll be happy to answer your questions!

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