I got asked the other day “what is a calorie deficit?” and I realize that maybe many of you might be wondering the same thing.
You’ve no doubt seen me or someone else say something about ‘calories’ and a ‘calorie deficit’ and it’s importance in weight loss and toning up.
So what is a calorie deficit?
A calorie deficit refers to you being in a state of which you are burning more calories than you consume.
e.g you expend more energy than you consume.
That’s it in its simplest terms.
Doing this over an extended period of time will yield weight and fat losses, which will bring about changes in your bodies appearance (especially when combined with resistance training!).
Because you aren’t meeting the energy demands of the body, the body NEEDS to break down tissues (like body fat) to replace this shortfall of energy intake.
But the reality is that there are greater complexities within.
We need to consider what contributes to what goes out and what comes in.
What ‘comes in’ is relatively straight forward, as it is entirely made up of what eat and drink and trust me, it all counts unless it is calorie free (Pepsi Max folks).
That means gluten free products count, so do avocados, as does coconut oil and lets not forget about alcohol (FYI: this isn’t a comprehensive list).
Meanwhile ‘what comes out’ has many more facets to it..
And ‘what comes out’ just refers to our metabolic rate, which is comprised of these several factors:
- Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) – This is the energy required to sustain vital functions in the waking state like; Brain function, Respiration, Digestion etc whilst in a completely sedentary state. This is largely determined by your weight, the bigger you are, the more energy to require than a smaller person.
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – Defined as “The energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise” –Levine (2002). However, this definition bunches conscious activity with sub conscious activity. NEAT includes conscious activity; Shopping, getting 10k steps, gardening, cleaning.
- Non-Exercise Non-Activity Thermogenesis (NENAT) The energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating, daily activity or exercise like fidgeting and facial tone.
- Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) – We experience an increase in metabolic rate after ingestion of a meal and this is due to the calorie content of the meal (not how many meals per day) and the macronutrient composition (protein, carbohydrates and fat). Why? Because it costs energy to digest and absorb food. Digesting and absorbing protein requires more energy than it does for carbohydrate and fat, which means it has a slightly elevated ‘metabolic boosting’ effect (this never offsets the amount of calories consumed though).
- Lastly, Exercise Energy Expenditure (EEE) – Why last? Because this in reality makes up less of your metabolic rate than the other factors (although this depends on frequency and time) and is often way overestimated.
Now you might be wondering, how the hell do you create a calorie deficit to lead to the proposed benefits of weight loss, toning up to achieve a rocking hot body?
A calorie deficit kinda looks like this!
That’s not helpful right? You want to know how much you should be eating?!
Well okay then! Fortunately that’s generally quite easy to come up with (but it is just a starting point), here’s how!
As an example, if you are a 170lb female then 1700kcal on average per day should get the job done, we should also be hoping to hit the gym at least 3x a week and being generally active outside of that (8-12k steps per day) and this should be a great start!
Overtime these values might need to adjust when you plateau for a few weeks to reinstate a calorie deficit (because as you lose weight, your RMR decreases and it’s likely that your NEAT & NENAT will also decline too – negatively impacting how many calories you burn per day).
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