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Eat More To Burn More For Body Composition

What if you were able to lose body fat without going through the hassle of dieting? What if you could increase your calories and end up with more muscle and better body composition?

Although a calorie deficit is always necessary for fat loss, research shows cutting calories isn’t always the best approach. The human body is a dynamic system. When you cut calories, the body reacts. It ratchets down energy expenditure and you burn much fewer calories.

Luckily, the opposite happens when you have a calorie surplus. When you eat more calories than you need for a sustained period, your body raises your metabolic rate and burns more energy daily (1).

How To Burn More

Several factors contribute to the bump in energy expenditure (1):

First there is the thermic effect, which refers to the calories required to break down food. This includes the energy used to synthesize enzymes and perform metabolic processes. It is typically about 10 percent of daily energy expenditure. However, when you are in a calorie surplus, the thermic effect increases. The bump is relatively small, but shouldn’t be discounted: Eating a high-protein diet that supplies an energy surplus may increase energy expenditure by as much as 120 calories daily.

Second, a calorie surplus increases body temperature. Higher body temperature raises metabolic rate. Known as “luxuskonsumption,” scientists theorize that body temperature rises as a protective mechanism against obesity that can “burn off” upwards of 30 percent of the excess energy consumed.

Finally, extra calories make you more active. For example, a fascinating study took normal weight young volunteers and fed them 1,000 extra calories for 8 weeks (2). The participants gained significantly less weight than would be predicted by the increase in calories. Scientists attributed this to the fact that eating more resulted in subjects burning more calories, mainly because they were more physically active.

Of the excess calories consumed, 432 were stored and 531 were burned through increased energy expenditure. Resting energy expenditure increased by an average of 79 calories daily, and the thermic effect of food by 136 calories daily. The rest was burned off through non-exercise physical activity (abbreviated as NEAT). As a group, volunteers burned an extra 339 calories daily through NEAT.

Everyone Is Different

The most interesting finding was the variation in NEAT between individuals. The range of NEAT-related changes in calorie expenditure was between -98 kcal to +692 kcal per day! A few subjects became less active, but the majority started moving more. This protected against fat gain from overeating:

A volunteer who gained the least amount of fat (0.36 kg) burned an extra 692 NEAT during the energy surplus period.

A volunteer who gained the most fat (4.23 kg) decreased NEAT by 98 calories over baseline.

Changes in NEAT directedly predicted resistance to fat gain from excess calories. In simple terms, being more physically active over the course of the day is your best bet for preventing fat gain.

Eat More To Burn More: Practical Tips

Hopefully, you are ready to say goodbye to obsessive dieting. Start by identifying a goal:

Gain Muscle, Eat An Energy Surplus

If you want to increase muscle mass, you will want to eat in a significant energy surplus. This means providing your body with all the calories to cover total energy expenditure. To minimize fat gain, an energy surplus of 360 to 480 calories per day is a good place to start (1). If you are an endomorph and gain fat easily, opt for the lower end of the range. For mesomorphs and ectomorphs who tend to be leaner, the higher end of the range should be most anabolic.

Reduce Body Fat Percentage By Gaining Muscle

If your aim is body recomposition (reducing body fat percentage by increasing muscle mass), you want a calorie intake to meet total energy expenditure needs. Use an online calculator such as this one from Omni to identify calorie needs. Experiment to get your calories right so that you maximize NEAT energy burned while fully stimulating protein synthesis for muscle gains. If you find yourself fatigued or generally moving less over the course of the day, try increasing calories slightly.

Lose Fat, Never Go Below RMR

If your goal is strictly fat loss, an energy deficit is necessary. But the key is to achieve the right energy deficit. The most common pitfall is undereating. People (especially women) drop their calories so low that the body starts to panic. When calories go below your resting metabolic rate (around 1,200 to 1,600 calories), you’re no longer supplying your body with the energy it needs and your metabolism drops. Often, by increasing calories, you’ll find that body fat starts to decrease when your body “calms down” and senses that you are eating enough to fulfill your energy needs.

If you’re currently eating below your metabolic rate, start increasing calories until you find the sweet spot that your body can handle without gaining fat. People with smaller body sizes may benefit from increasing 50 to 75 calories a week, whereas larger frames may be able to go as high as 150 calories a week.

Prioritize Protein

Leverage protein for its high thermic effect and muscle building benefits. The body is constantly in a fluctuating state of muscle loss and gain. The more often you trigger protein synthesis, it is a good thing. Scientists recommend a minimum of 1.6 g/kg for maximal muscle gains for recreational trainees. For more serious trainees, 1.7 g/kg is the baseline protein intake to sustain muscle and offset protein breakdown when in energy balance. Maximal muscle building occurs at 2.2 g/kg (3).

Use Healthy Fats

Take advantage of the thermogenic effects of healthy fats. Certain fats including those found in avocados, coconuts, and salmon increase body temperature, bumping up energy expenditure. One study found that men who ate about 3 grams of omega-3 fat a day increased metabolic rate by a whopping 51 percent (4). They burned an extra 920 calories during the period after eating when metabolism was elevated and burned more fat for energy.

Choose Whole Foods

Prioritize high-quality whole foods over processed foods. Getting your calories from junk food isn’t the same as eating a diet rich in vegetables, meat, seafood, fruit, nuts, and so on. Not only are whole foods more nutritious, they help manage appetite, and in the case of proteins, lead to a greater increase in muscle building. For example, a study that compared the effect of whole eggs or egg whites after a training session found that protein synthesis rates in muscle were 40 percent higher after eating whole eggs (5).




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