Energy Balance explained

Energy Balance explained

In my previous post, I outlined the truth about weight loss and why popular diets work. In this post, we will examine in closer detail the Energy balance concept and why it is very IMPORTANT that you understand it.

We have seen this infographic before, but in this post we will look at what makes up the ‘energy intake’ and energy expenditure’ boxes.


Energy intake

Energy intake consists of every Calorie-containing food or beverage that you put in your mouth. The tricky thing is learning which foods are higher in Calories and which foods and lower in Calories, and of the lower Calorie foods, which are filling enough to make you not be hungry all the time.

Higher Calorie foods that are generally not filling:

  • Soda (190 Kcals in a 16oz bottle)
  • Coffee with a bunch of syrups and stuff (190 for a Venti white chocolate mocha from Starbucks)
  • Lots of Ranch, ketchup, mayo etc. (145 Kcals in a serving of ranch)
  • Junk food (890 Kcals in a Big Mac and Medium fries)
  • Cooking oils (100-120 Kcals per teaspoon. Note: there are some health benefits to certain cooking oils, but they are still super high in Calories, so don’t use too much)
  • Fruit juice (168 Kcals in 12oz of orange juice. Note: fruit juice is high in sugar with none of the fiber of whole fruit)

Lower Calorie foods that are filling:

  • Lean meats
  • High fiber carbohydrates e.g. Baked/Mashed potato (just don’t go crazy with the butter and cheese)
  • Fruits and vegetables with lots of fiber
  • Greek yogurt

This is not an exhaustive list, by any means. However, it does give you some examples.

Energy Out

Energy out consists of 3 things: metabolism, NEAT, and physical activity.

Metabolism: This is the energy you burn just by being alive; your body is very complicated with lots of things going on a once. All these processes take energy. Your metabolism makes up the majority of your ‘energy out’.

  • Contrary to widespread belief, the heavier you are the higher your metabolism (you have more body, so more energy is required to maintain it). So, when you lose weight you actually lower your metabolism.
  • The best way to counter this issue is to increase your muscle mass while you reduce your body fat.

NEAT: Short for non-activity thermogenesis, NEAT is the second most important part of the energy expenditure side of the equation. NEAT encompasses all of the moving you do that is not working out/exercise. Walking up and down stairs is NEAT, checking the mail is NEAT, walking around the grocery store is NEAT.

  • There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say you sleep for 8 hours per night, that leaves 112 waking hours. If you workout for 3 hours per week, that leaves 119 hours where you could be sitting, standing or moving. If you spend less time sitting and more standing and moving your Energy expenditure will be MUCH larger. This is why tracking your steps can be a huge factor in losing weight.
  • Physical activity: While planned exercise is important for losing weight, it’s role is somewhat overplayed. When trying to lose weight, exercise should be something you enjoy (so you keep doing it) and preferably something that builds muscle (to maintain your metabolism, as mentioned above). This is why I prescribe clients a lot of resistance training during a weight loss program. However, if you have the time to do extra cardio, in addition to your weight training, you should absolutely do it. It will only help.

Why is any of this important?

The energy balance equation is important because it may enlighten you as to why you didn’t make progress before. Let’s look at ‘Bill’ as an example. Bill was overweight and wanted to ‘get in shape’. He thought that going using the treadmill for 30 minutes 3 times per week would definitely get him in shape. Bill liked working out in the morning before work. Bill had such good workouts in the morning that he would ‘reward’ himself with Fast food at lunch. During his workouts, Bill burn 400 Kcals…impressive! However, by having fast food at lunch, instead of bringing something from home, he added 400 Kcals to his Energy In (this is very easy to do and 400Kcals is probably an underestimate).

Because Bill didn’t understand energy balance he was making zero progress towards his weight loss goals and getting very frustrated. Bill was sad. Don’t be Bill.


  • We know that ‘Energy Out’ must be more than ‘Energy In’ (resulting in a Calorie deficit) to lose weight.
  • We can achieve a Calorie deficit by reducing Energy in, increasing Energy out, or both.
  • Decreasing Energy In can be done by reducing the consumption of higher Calorie foods that are less filling, and increasing the consumption of lower Calorie foods that are more filling.
  • Increasing energy out is best done through a combination of increasing muscle mass (boosting metabolism), increasing your NEAT (reduce sitting, increase walking), and doing physical activity (weights, cardio, group exercise classes).

What did we learn?

Today, we looked at the energy balance equation, why exercise is not the only thing that matters for weight loss, and some helpful tips to put yourself in a Calorie deficit.

If you learned something today, or have a question, please leave a comment below.

– Coach Alex

No Comments

Post A Comment