Negative Energy Balance – for Fat Loss

What is energy balance?

“Energy balance” is the correlation between “energy in” (food calories taken into the body through food and drink) and “energy out” (calories being used in the body for our daily energy requirements). 

We convert potential energy stored within our food (measured in kcals) into three areas: work, heat and storage. 

Even though a crash diet might seem harmless and a “kick-start” as possibly advertised, being in a severe negative energy balance can be detrimental on your health. Including, a possible decline in metabolism, decrease in bone mass, reduction in thyroid hormones, reductions in testosterone levels, an inability to concentrate and a reduction in physical performance. 

On the flip side overfeeding and not having enough movement can not only mean weight gain but can have more serious implications such as plaques build up in arteries, blood pressure and cholesterol in the body can increase, we can become insulin resistant and suffer from diabetes, we can increase our risk for certain cancers. 

In theory the concept “eat less, move more” sounds straight forward. But implementing it can feel complex. 

Let’s break it down further….

Energy is what we consume, broken down into macronutrients this is made up of protein, carbohydrates and fats. In kcal terms:

Carbohydrates = 4 kcal per gram

Protein = 4 kcal per gram

Fat = 9 kcal per gram 

The energy out is where it gets more complex 

Energy out which is our energy expenditure is made up of Excersice Activity Thermogenesis (EAT), Thermic Effect of Feeding (TEF), None Exercise Activity Therognesis (NEAT) and Resting Energy Expenditure (REE) which is also known as our Resting Metabolic Rate. 

EAT: is defined as planned, structured, and repetitive physical activity that has the objective of improving health (for example; sport or visiting the gym)

NEAT: represents the predominant component of daily activity thermogenesis with the exception of some sports-like exercise and resistance training

TEF: the increase in the metabolic rate that occurs after a meal.

REE: represents the amount of energy expended by a person at rest.

Taking all of this into account it’s clear that just counting calories isn’t the long-term answer, yes it has its place and can give you a starting benchmark but there are so many other factors that need to be considered. Simply blaming weight gain on calories in doesn’t paint the entire picture. Lifestyle and environment play a big role in supporting a goal of fat loss.

Body awareness such as hunger queues and satiety, avoiding processed foods, regular physical activity, sleep and recovery all play a big part.

How to create a negative energy balance

  • Build muscle with weight training 
  • Regularly program change to force new stimuli and adaptation 
  • Increase non-exercise physical activity such as walking, gardening, cleaning
  • Increase thermic effect of feeding by increasing unprocessed food intake and focusing on wholefoods 
  • Eat lean protein at regular intervals throughout the day
  • Eat vegetables and/or fruit at regular intervals
  • Incorporate omega-3 fats
  • Stay involved with life outside of exercise and nutrition
  • Sleep for 7-9 hours a night 
  • Don’t extreme diet 
  • Stay consistent by building good habits 
  • Use a food journal to identify the areas you need to work on. Then put your focus on a weekly total energy rather than a single day to stay consistent
  • Look at overall portion size 
  • Stop thinking of exercise as burning calories instead focus on getting stronger and fitter 

The human body is incredibly complex, and every day brings a new challenge. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too much in one go and break it down to focusing on 1-2 habits every 2-3 week’s, get those right then move on to the next.  

If you found this helpful and want to find out more, please drop me your questions below.


Journal of exercise nutrition & biochemistry

Research Gate

Precision Nutrition

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