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.


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