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Decoding the Energy Acronyms: TEF, BMR, NEAT, TDEE - A Guide to Weight Management/Loss



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Metabolism and what it means for weight loss

You can't look at weight loss without looking at energy. A lot of acronyms are thrown around in the nutrition world including BMR, NEAT, TDEE, and TEF, but what do they all mean in regards to weight management/loss? To find out, take a look at this guide to weight management/loss and energy.


The buzzword in health and fitness circles these days is "metabolism." It's no secret that your diet and exercise efforts don't just affect your external appearance; they also profoundly impact your internal well-being. There's a debate in the fitness world, however, regarding the importance of metabolism versus calorie control and macronutrient tracking. Today, we will navigate this debate and introduce you to a groundbreaking dieting approach that prioritizes metabolic restoration.


First, let's clear up what metabolism really is. Metabolism encompasses all our cells' chemical and physical processes to generate energy. It's the engine that keeps our body running smoothly. Regarding metabolic repair, we're about fixing our entire body, not just counting calories.


Regarding your body composition goals, it's crucial to understand the energy aspect of metabolism – the calories your body burns daily. This is known as your metabolic rate. But remember, metabolism is more than calories; it's a multi-faceted process. Your metabolic rate is made up of four key components:


Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): The energy required to fuel your organs and essential physiological functions while at complete rest. It's like the calories you'd burn lying in bed all day.




Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): TEF represents the energy needed to digest, absorb, and process your food and nutrients. Protein demands the most power to break down, roughly 20% of its calories.


graphic showing caloric expenditure for food
Thermic Effect of Food


Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): Often overlooked, NEAT includes all the non-purposeful activities like sitting upright, standing, walking, fidgeting, and even chewing. It significantly affects your metabolic rate.




Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): RMR combines the energy requirements of BMR, TEF, and NEAT. It's what nutrition programs commonly refer to as "maintenance calories."


Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE): TDEE estimates how many calories your body burns daily by accounting for three major contributing factors: your basal metabolic rate (BMR), your activity level(NEAT), exercise, and the thermic effect of food (TEF) metabolism.



Now that we've got the basics down, let's dive into the exciting world of reverse dieting – a game-changer for metabolic restoration. Developed by Layne Norton, this approach is particularly beneficial for those who have undergone drastic calorie-restricted diets and experienced fatigue and energy loss.


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What's up with Reverse Dieting?



Reverse dieting gained popularity in bodybuilding circles, where athletes needed to shed that last bit of body fat for competitions. However, severe calorie cuts reduced their metabolic output, creating a situation where they required less energy than before. Sound familiar? Everyday folks on aggressive calorie-restricted diets can somewhat relate to this phenomenon.

Picture of lifting a barbell
Reverse dieting started in the body building population

The reverse dieting protocol, as outlined by Norton, focuses on incrementally increasing calorie intake while reducing physical activity. It helps restore metabolic rates and, in some cases, deliberately increases body fat levels, which is desirable for athletes at a certain point.

Here's a step-by-step breakdown of reverse dieting:


  1. Track Your Intake: Record your calorie intake for a day or two using a food diary or an app like MyFitnessPal.

  2. Determine Your Maintenance Needs: Calculate the energy you require based on your weight, height, and activity level. Don't consider any prior down-regulation.

  3. Find the Difference: Since you've been on a calorie deficit for a while, you consume less energy than your maintenance requirements.

  4. Calculate how you'll gradually increase your intake to reach maintenance, accounting for your prior deficit.

  5. Calculate Macronutrient Ratios: Maintain a constant protein intake based on your ideal body weight. Prioritize carbohydrates to fill the calorie deficit, which can positively impact hormone levels like leptin and thyroid hormones. The remaining calories should come from fats, vital for hormone production.

  6. Plan the Progression: Define a timeframe and weekly calorie increases that suit your preferences and lifestyle. Gradually raise your intake by 50-100 calories daily every 1-2 weeks until you reach maintenance.

  7. Return to Baseline: Congratulations! You've hit your maintenance level with minimal fat gain. If your goal is further weight loss, avoid aggressive deficits to prevent another metabolic downregulation.


Remember what Layne Norton said, "Diet on as many calories as possible!"

Now, let's address a common misconception – cheat days. These days, people sometimes indulge in unrestricted eating after following a calorie-restricted diet, thinking it will boost their metabolism significantly. However, evidence suggests otherwise. A cheat meal or a cheat day can do more harm than good.


For instance, imagine someone with a maintenance calorie requirement of 2,400 calories per day. On a cheat day, they consume a whopping 6,000 calories, thinking their metabolism will soar. Their metabolic rate only increases by 50-100 calories per day. In comparison, they've consumed 3,600 calories they didn't need.


Instead of cheat days, consider a more evidence-based approach known as diet breaks. This strategy involves returning to your maintenance calories for 1-2 weeks, depending on the duration of your diet. It helps prevent a slight downregulation of your metabolic rate that can occur with continuous dieting. However, this isn't suitable for those following a moderate calorie deficit (5-10% of energy intake).


What does it all mean?


Metabolic restoration is crucial to achieving your body composition and lifestyle goals. Reverse dieting and diet breaks are practical tools to restore your metabolic rate while minimizing fat gain. So remember, it's not just about calories in versus calories out; it's about finding the balance that works best for your body and your goals. Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Is all of this WAY too confusing? Here's a simple way to sort through this - hire a nutrition coach! At Anchor to Life, nutrition is part of our bread and butter (pardon the pun!) Reach out today to find how Anchor to Life can help you Anchor to Nutrition!



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