Taking Control of Your Energy Balance Part 6

Taking control of your energy balance requires knowing how much energy you need to ingest each day in order to achieve your objectives. For example, if you want to lose body fat, the only way to make it happen is by taking in less than you currently need to maintain status quo. As I’ve previously explained, discovering your caloric maintenance level (the amount of energy you need to keep your current fat stores constant) is the essential first step. Once you know this number, you can make adjustments to set up a deficit by manipulating either intake (e.g., taking in less than your caloric maintenance level demands) and/or expenditure (taking in what you currently need for constancy, but increasing your maintenance level by being more physically active and/or adding muscle to your body). A kilocalorie is the unit of measurement used to quantify the energy we ingest and expend. For example, packaged foods contain labels that tell us precisely how many kilocalories (or Calories, for short) a serving contains and treadmill consoles indicate how many kilocalories we’ve expended after completing an exercise session. It is the balance between the kilocalories in the foods we eat and the amount we use during exercise and other energy-requiring events that ultimately dictates how our fat stores are affected.

Most of the energy we require serves to satisfy our resting metabolic rate (RMR). This is the energy we need simply to maintain vital body functions; for example, components include the energetic costs of breathing, circulating blood and maintaining body temperature at a healthy level. This means that even if you stayed in bed and did nothing all day, you would expend this amount of energy. Although highly variable, RMR typically approximates one kilocalorie per kilogram bodyweight each hour (a kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds), so a 180-pound person generally requires approximately 2000 kilocalories per day simply to stay alive. For an average sedentary person, RMR represents 60-75 percent of overall energy needs. Beyond this energetic cost of living, the additional energy we require depends on the costs of the physical activities we perform and digestion and assimilation of the foods we ingest. When a pound of fat is oxidized (i.e., ‘burned’) in the body, 3500 kilocalories are made available to satisfy energy-requiring processes. Conversely, when we ingest 3500 calories more than we need, we’ll store a pound of fat for future use. Obviously, if we never have the need to access such stores, this fat will stay put and even accumulate to a greater extent if excess intake continues. Within this schema, fat stores eventually reach levels that are associated with increased risk for many diseases.

Last installment, I mentioned how reference daily intakes have been established for protein, carbohydrates and fats, which are the macronutrients responsible for the energy contained in foods we eat. For example, it is recommended that 10-35 percent of total energy derives from protein, 45-65 percent from carbohydrates and 20-35 percent from fat. However, it is important to realize that while these proportions are important for ensuring optimal health (each macronutrient satisfies different functions in the body, so the correct balance is critical), they are not relevant for determining the bottom line for fat loss. For example, if you take in more energy than you need, the excess will be stored as fat even if your macronutrient percentages fall right within the desired ranges. Conversely, fat loss can be achieved despite disproportionate intake. For example, if a person with a caloric maintenance level of 2000 calories took in nothing but pure sugar to the tune of 1500 calories each day for seven days, they would still lose a pound of fat despite the fact that they would be eating a diet that would be considered very unhealthy and their macronutrient percentages (0 percent protein, 100 percent carbohydrate, 0 percent fat) would be well outside the recommended ranges.

The take-home message is that once you determine your caloric maintenance level and adjust your intake/expenditure according to your goals, you will have successfully taken control of your energy balance because you can ingest that amount of energy each day content with the realization that your fat stores will be affected as you desire. It doesn’t matter when you ingest the energy (e.g., morning, noon or night . . . or right before bedtime, for that matter) or what specific source(s) you use to supply it. However, if you want to optimize health in the process, a greater level of scrutiny is required. This involves taking control of the composition of your diet. For example, simple sugars can wreak havoc with the regulatory system that keeps your blood sugar in check such that excessive ingestion over time leads to a blunting of the ability to maintain adequate control. Similarly, diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol have been implicated in an increased risk of heart disease. Interestingly, some fad diets of the past actually recommended these foods as superior weight-loss alternatives compared to ‘carbohydrates’ (grouped collectively instead of in a differentiated manner according to their rate of processing; i.e., simple or complex). Consequently, people who lost fat because they were eating the right amount of calories did so despite a poorly composed diet.

This article was originally published in New Living Magazine, which can be accessed on-line at www.newliving.com.





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