If you are looking to gain or lose weight, you need to pay attention to how you balance calories in with calories out, right?
That’s one way, but by understanding how our bodies take in and use ENERGY we will have a far more effective framework for understanding how we lose or gain weight.
The amount of calories we consume is but one factor influencing the balance of energy in our bodies. However, there are a host of other factors that affect this outcome.
Factors Affecting “Energy In”
- Food Hygiene
- Cooking our own meals helps us control the amount of salt, sugar, and other additives commonly found in meals in restaurants. Most of the time we either bake or stir fry home cooked meals instead of deep frying and this allows our guts to not to have to work so hard. We can also control the portion sizes of our food when we cook our meals.
- Chewing your food thoroughly improves your body’s ability to absorb food. Given that food is predigested through abundant chewing, your gut spends less time and energy breaking down food and is able to more easily absorb more nutrients. Taking your time to chew your food thoroughly also helps you slow down when eating, thereby speeding up the feeling of being full and helping you eat less.
- Body Type
- We are all built different. Taller leaner individuals (ectomorphs) tend to process and use energy more quickly. Shorter stockier individuals (endomorphs) process and store energy more easily. Folks in the middle with more athletic builds (mesomorphs) can store and use energy efficiently. Food types and macro combinations can vary based on our body type.
- Stress Levels
- How much stress we have in our daily lives impacts our energy consumption. With increased stress, our hormonal makeup can influence our bodies’ needs and change our behaviors. For example, increased daily stress levels affects two key hormones, ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and leptin (the satiety hormone). With more stress, our ghrelin levels increase while our leptin levels decrease. The result? You feel higher levels of hunger and therefore consume more food, thereby offsetting energy balance.
- Food Sources
- High-glycemic index carbohydrate like pure sugar or processed starches will do very different things to your body compared carbohydrate from low glycemic sources like brown rice, corn, or potatoes. A diet low in high quality protein sources will create increased feelings of hunger and reduce the body’s ability to recover from workouts. Without high quality fat consumption, our body cannot balance hormones or transport certain vitamins throughout our body.
- Eating certain foods at different times of day can affect our body’s blood sugar levels. Increased carbohydrate intake increases blood sugar. If the body doesn’t need to replenish its stores of muscle or liver glycogen (stored carbohydrate), that excess blood sugar must go somewhere. Insulin, a storage hormone, shuttles that excess blood sugar to fat stores throughout the body. Instead of burning energy, energy is being stored. Eating higher proportional amounts of fat in the evening keep blood sugar and insulin much lower and allows the body to pull from current fat stores (the energy of choice while at rest) instead of using circulating blood sugar and then storing excesses in new fat deposits. Post workout would be the most ideal time to consume more carbohydrates to help replenish muscle and liver stores without the chance of being converted to fat stores.
Factors Affecting “Energy Out”
- Types of Activity
- Do you like running or lifting weights? Do you prefer high intensity work or lower intensity methods? The manner in which you train will impact how you process energy. For example, higher intensity training (like weight training) burns less energy during the session, but due to the muscle type and energy systems they train, more fuel is used for several hours post workout. Lower intensity work (cardio events like running, cycling, etc) involves longer durations of time that burns more energy during the activity , but due to the muscle types and energy systems used, energy expenditure returns to a baseline, resting state quicker. A blend of both types of activities is recommended as too much high intensity work will reduce your body’s ability to recover for future sessions. Too much low intensity work doesn’t stimulate the muscle fiber types and energy systems that help build lean muscle and post workout fat uptake.
- Training Age
- Unlike biological age which refers to how old we actually are, training age refers to how many years/time we’ve spent practicing an event, sport, or activity. With more time practicing we become more efficient. Our brains develop more neural connections with muscles thereby allowing us to lift heavier or move faster. Our bones and connective tissue become more resilient and durable allowing us to train unimpeded. However, the more our bodies increase in efficiency, the less energy they use. If weight loss involves more energy out through exercise, increased efficiency isn’t a good thing. Influencing energy balance out for athletes with higher training ages means more variation in training is required to challenge the body to work harder.
- Stress Management
- Much like stress influences how much energy we take in, it also affects how we expend energy. High levels of stress result in a “catabolic cascade”. Depending on your body type, chronic stress affects your body’s ability to build muscle and burn fat. Ectomorphs under high stress tend to burn more energy including muscle. Endomorphs under high stress tend to conserve more energy and increase fat storage. When stress is low, an “anabolic ascension” is more likely. Your body releases more muscle building hormones like testosterone instead of the muscle wasting cortisol.
Paying more attention to the factors affecting our energy intake and output is much more sound strategy than simply counting the calories you consume and expend. By understanding the many factors affecting this balance you’ll more easily gain/lose weight AND keep it on/off through an effective nutrition and training program unique to your needs.
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