Thursday, October 30, 2008

Examining Daily Calorie Expenditure

I promised a couple of weeks ago to start posting about things I am learning in relation to nutrition and exercise and perhaps the best place to start is with figuring out where calories go and what the body does with them.

Thermodynamics are pretty clear:
calories in + calories out = surplus/deficit.

There are some cases where this formula seems to break down however they are outside the scope of this overview.

As one would imagine, the formula above is just an easy to remember simplification. The calories in part is of course the food we eat and seems fairly clear cut although I will have some thoughts on this at the bottom.

The calories out part of the equation is where things get really interesting. Caloric expenditure can be broken down as follows:

  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) - This is the base number of calories one's body needs just to stay alive. A quick and fairly accurate estimate is 10-11cal/lb of body weight.
  • Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) - Believe it or not, it costs energy to digest food. The amount of energy it takes is dependent on the type of food being processed. TEF can account for 20% of expenditure. More on this below.
  • Activity Thermogenesis - Calories burned through movement. There are two parts to consider:
  1. Thermogenic Exercise Activity (TEA) - Calories burned through exercise.
  2. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) - Calories burned through moving, walking, fidgeting, etc. but not related to exercise. This value is highly variable and can account for as little as 15% to as high as 50% of caloric expenditure.
OK, um, so what does all this mean? It means figuring caloric requirements is as much art as science. Let's look at an example:

I started bulking at 165 pounds. I was lifting 3 times per week and doing some swimming a couple of times, too. Let's use 10 cal/lb for BMR:

165 * 10 = 1650

That number is a guess at the number of calories I need to just lay in bed and breathe. Now, obviously I'm going to do a bit more than that - I'm also going to eat! I eat a lot of protein which has the highest TEF, so let's figure a full 20%:

(1650* .2) + 1650= 1980 calories for maintenance on rest days.

Now if we figure in either a half hour of swimming or an hour of lifting, we get

1980 + 500 = 2480 calories for maintenance on exercise days.

Using that number as a base, I can then watch my weight over a period of time using a site like Physics Diet and determine if those numbers are correct or need tweaking.

Thoughts on TEF

Just as different foods yield different amounts of energy when consumed, they also require different amounts of energy to process. Fats have the highest caloric value and the lowest TEF value at only 2 or 3% and protein gives the highest TEF at up to 30%. Fibrous vegetables provide so few calories and are so hard to process they can actually have a negetive energy contribution once TEF is included.

Thus it is reasonably easy to see why the MANS diet is so useful for gaining muscle while bodybuilding. High protein insures muscles have what they need for repair plus the veggies all give great bang for the TEF buck and the fat content serves to provide most of the non-exercise energy requirements.

I hope this overview will help everyone dial in their calorie requirements, whether bulking or cutting.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Zen vs. Cat Food

Speaking of progress, this morning I was getting cat food from the vet - our cat needs prescription food - and when I picked up the 40 pound bag, one handed, I was amazed how light it was. I had to check the size to make sure they gave me what I asked for. You see, I instantly flashed-back to a couple of years ago when I was 155 pounds and scrawny and a bag of cat food was an awkward burden.

You can see in the picture above from 2005 how scrawny my arms were and I had no pec development at all. At that time, I was concerned with "scale weight" with no regards to body composition whatsoever. I thought the pipe-cleaner arms looked good.

As I was remembering having to put the cat food over my shoulder because that is the only way I could transport it, I again had the thought, "Life is so much easier when you are strong." Day-to-day tasks like hauling in groceries, yard work, crawling around in the attic (a chore I've been blessed with lately as I fight a squirrel invasion) and even getting up off the floor all require less effort, which means that at the end of the day I'm less tired and in a better mood for my family.

Besides, lifting heavy stuff is cool!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I was finishing my workout last night and caught sight of myself in the mirror and took a couple of pics. I'm really bad at taking before & after pics, but this time I happened to get lucky:

February 2008

October 2008:

Pretty good progress considering the entire summer was devoted to endurance cardio, don'tcha think?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Welcome MuscleHackers!

A great big "Thank You!" goes out to Mark McManus for the opportunity to introduce his readers to my humble abode, and a hearty "Welcome!" to all of you who were intrigued enough to stop by.

By day I'm a computer geek and aside from my regular job I also teach graduate level computer science classes at Regis University. I am just starting the next class, "Enterprise Java Programming" so my posting may be a bit sparse as I'm working on grading assignments and preparing for classes.

In the meantime I thought I'd post some links to entries that might be of interest to the MuscleHack community while I work on new content.

What is This NLP Stuff?
Mexican Food - The Low Carb Way
Avocado and Kidney Bean Salad
Product Review - Sports Instruments Pro9 HRM
Review - TRX Suspension Training System
The Hits Keep Coming - TRX Training System Perspective
What's Cookin', Good Lookin'
TRX Suspension Training Review - Guest Follow-up
Nectar of the Gods?
MCT Oil - The Importance of Being Medium
Insulin, Glycemic Index and Low Carbing
It's All About the Sugars, Baby

That should be enough to keep folks busy for a bit :).

I'd be very interested in hearing what topic folks would like me to cover. Feel free to leave comments, suggestions or questions.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Review of "Rapid Fat Loss" by Lyle McDonald

I've been reading of Lyle McDonald since I started low-carbing in 1998. When I first heard of him he had written what the "serious" LC community regarded as THE authoritative reference work on low carbohydrate weight loss, called "The Ketogenic Diet."

Recently as I was starting to get serious about weightlifting and bodybuilding I decided to see what Lyle had been up to recently and found a wealth of information on his site Body Recomposition. To put it simply, Lyle's work is the answer to every former fat kid's prayers. He has dedicated his career to instructing people in PROPER training and nutrition for fat loss and muscle gain.

Anyone who has followed this blog for the last year or so will remember my weight weight struggles through last fall and winter. When I saw the referenced title in Lyle's bookstore I knew I had to order it immediately. The title said it all, I wanted to lose fat and I wanted to do it fast.

First off, Lyle states at the outset that the diet is very literally a "crash" diet. It is very low calorie and the nutritional requirements are very strict. It is a very short term solution only. The book does describe a maintenance phase and how to move from the low calorie phase - more on that later.

As is typical with Lyle's books RFL is written in a very no-BS style. He does not make promises the diet won't deliver and there is no smoke and mirrors about this being the end-all cure for all one's ills. He spends several chapters explaining the biochemical basis for weight control in the body, which sets the basis for the "why" of every step of the diet.

As with every diet, one gets results based on the hard work they put in. If one has been honest in the calculations (yes, there is math involved to calculate nutritional requirements) and one strictly monitors food intake, the results will be stunning.

To the right is a sample weekly summary from the weight tracking site Physics Diet. As you can see for that week my weight loss was 3.2 pounds.

If we look at the total weight loss graphically the loss is even more dramatic. The straight black line represents the average weight over time. The blue line is rolling average. The green and red represent deficit or surplus intake from average. The red spike is water retention from a vacation and we can see it drops off fast.

All in all the "Rapid Fat Loss" diet is an incredibly powerful weapon in the fight against body fat. I estimate losing about 7% body fat in about a month. Make no mistake - this diet is very, very restrictive and very difficult. It takes work and discipline to stick with it however the obvious and fast changes one can see in the mirror goes a long way to mitigating the difficulty.