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Are you exercising for weight loss?

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

This post is specifically about fat loss and changes to your physique (body shape) if this is an objective of yours - ignore if it's not! Try not to get too hung up on the scales - your bodyweight doesn't matter when it comes to fat loss really. Your body composition does - shifted in favour of muscle rather than fat.

I'll start by saying, the only way that we can we lose fat is by being in an energy deficit. Simply this means using more energy than we take in via food and drink. The intake part is a different post altogether, but I thought it would be helpful for those of you wanting to lose fat to break down how our bodies typically use energy as this might help you in determining what you do to approach your fat loss goals.

In TYPICALLY descending order, your body uses energy in the following ways:

1. Basal Metabolic Rate (your BMR): simply what your body uses at rest and to function. - to breathe, to pump your heart and to stay alive! This is typically around 50% of your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE)

2. Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): this is your movement that isn't really categorised as 'exercise'. So moving around the house, climbing the stairs, cleaning, going to the shops, the school run, cooking, putting away the washing etc. This is typically around 30% of your TDEE. Note this probably goes DOWN the more EAT you do (see next point).

3. Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT): ALL targeted exercise. Typically 10% of TDEE. Obviously this is variable depending on what your exercises choices are. But as I said above, if you have a long and hard exercise session then you're likely to move less around it so your NEAT goes down.

4. Thermic effect of food (TEF): this is the calories your body uses in breaking down different foods. Typically this takes up around 10% of TDEE. Protein and fibre have the highest thermic rates, followed by carbohydrates and then fats.

So those are the ways in which our bodies EXPEND energy. The only things that affect your energy INTAKE are your choices around food and drink.

On the EAT side of things, I'm a runner and you all know that - but I do that because I LOVE it and not to burn calories and lose fat. I also enjoy getting sweaty and pushing myself to see if I can get faster over certain distances. But after a long run, I don't have the energy to do much else and then I definitely compensate by eating more that I've burnt (or prep by eating a lot!). Every time I've trained for a marathon I've gained fat - I'm just so hungry and fear not having enough energy for my training runs which is counter-productive when you're trying to progress. Don't get me wrong though, "cardio" definitely has it's place for many things (mood, healthy cardiovascular system, etc) including additional calorie burn but HONESTLY, if I want to lose fat, I look at the complete picture and will look at my diet FIRST rather than 'exercise more'.

So what does this mean you should do if you want to target an increase in your own energy expenditure:

  1. Build some muscle to increase your BMR. The more lean mass you have the greater your BMR, so you burn more energy just existing. #winning.

  2. Try and move more in the day if you can to boost your NEAT. This includes the classics around taking the stairs rather than the lift, walking the school run rather than driving, cleaning, tidying and all those kinds of things that you have to do all add up. It is really important for those of you who work from home more these days and therefore missing out commutes and walks to the office, try and take some calls on the move if you can, or get outside for a walk before your working day starts, at lunch or between meetings, or even after dinner. If it helps, give yourself a purpose, like a trip to the shops to buy some vegetables, walk the dog (if you have one) or to listen to a podcast. I know this isn't easy when you've a day full of meetings but even as little as 15 minutes once or twice a day will make a difference to both your NEAT and how you feel, manage stress and your productivity.

  3. Exercise in ways you enjoy (EAT), that get you a bit sweaty, are positive around your health and well-being and if that is cardio then FAB. But if fat loss is what you want, you don't have to hours of "cardio" if you don't want to. And in general, I do suggest a variety of 'exercise' - muscle building, flexibility, cardio and some intensity (def for peri-post menopausal).

  4. Increase the proportions of fibre and protein in your diet - to increase the thermic effect of what you eat. Increase your vegetables intake and ensure you've got some protein sources at each meal.

I hope this is helpful when you're thinking about 'exercise for fat loss' - there is a bigger picture, so don't ignore it!

If you've questions on this this please do drop me a line or post a comment below.

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