Energy Balance = Calories In – Calories Out

This seems pretty simple on the surface. If you consume more calories than you expend you will gain weight and if you expend more calories than you intake you will lose weight. However, there are a number of factors that go into this seemingly simple equation.

Energy intake is relatively easy to measure since it is the sum of all energy containing foods and beverages consumed. However, it should be noted that people tend to under-report intake. Under-reporting of calorie intake has been widely reported in the scientific literature [1][2] even in trained dietitians [3]. However, assuming all calorie containing food and beverages are accurately accounted for, energy intake can be measured relatively accurately.

Energy expenditure is more difficult to quantify. Total daily energy expenditure is the sum of basal metabolic rate (the number of calories necessary to keep you alive while maintaining body weight), exercise activity thermogenesis (your workouts in the gym), thermic effect of food (roughly 10 percent of energy consumed is used to digest/absorb food) and non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). To add more complexity, all of the components of total daily energy expenditure can differ depending upon a number of factors.

NEAT is a component of energy expenditure that can vary greatly from person to person [4]. It is the sum of all of the movement done outside of the gym. Some of this movement is voluntary (e.g. shopping, cleaning, work, recreational activity, etc.) while other components of NEAT are involuntary (e.g. fidgeting). Due to the wide variation of energy expenditure from NEAT, it is important to understand how NEAT can affect progress towards your fitness goals.

 

How much can NEAT vary?

Most of you reading this article work out regularly. During the 1-2hrs you are in the gym, energy expenditure is increased. However, what you do during the other 22-23hrs of the day is going to have a large effect on total daily energy expenditure.

For example, compared to lying, sitting increases energy expenditure by 4 percent. This may not seem like much, but if you are fidgeting while seated, energy expenditure increases by 54 percent compared to lying [4].

Fidgeting is an involuntary activity that can have a large effect on energy expenditure. The number of calories burned from fidgeting can range from 100-800 Calories daily [5]. Clearly, there is significant variation in number of calories expended from fidgeting and this can affect total daily energy expenditure.

If you were to stand or stand while fidgeting your energy expenditure would increase by 13 and 94 percent respectively compared to lying [4]. Interestingly, obese individuals have been found to spend approximately 2 hours more seated daily compared to lean individuals. If these obese individuals were to stand for this time they would increase total daily energy expenditure by approximately 350 calories daily [6].

Moreover, if you were to walk at approximately 1 mile per hour energy expenditure is increased by 154 percent compared to lying [4]. Faster speeds of walking increase energy expenditure even further.

As a result of these factors, energy expenditure between similar individuals can differ by 2000 Calories daily or more [7]. Therefore, it is clear NEAT can have a huge effect on the energy expenditure side of the energy balance equation.

 

What affects NEAT?

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