The Myth Of Low Calories

I thought I'd send you a little article about a common myth in the fitness industry, need for low-calorie diets to get in great shape. Calories in, calories out doesn't necessarily work the way people assume it does — because metabolism is actually really complicated.

It's like a thermostat that measures all the stress that we experience and it works out what's happening in the world.

With that information, it will send messages to your cells via hormones. Once these messages are received a whole cascade of things happen like the promotion of certain actions in the cells or enzymes getting released to increase the speed of reactions in your body.

That's metabolism. That's its job.

You metabolism's actual main priority is to maintain what we call homeostasis, it wants your body to stay the same.

When you exercise metabolism is sensing the inflammation response in your muscles as mechanical tension tears muscle fibres. It then sends resources to those areas to build new tissue. This means your body can stay in homeostasis in the future. (After that it wants to stay the same so you better increase the weight again in the future)

It's trying to keep your blood sugar level. So if you eat sugar your metabolism makes sure you don't get heaps of sugar in your blood. Instead, you get a heap of insulin because your body is trying to take the sugar and put it somewhere. Your metabolism keeps your temperature stable by making you sweat. So when your temperatures get higher and stay higher you're either going to sleep or you're getting sick.

Your metabolism tries to regulate you and keep everything nice and level and that includes the levels of your hormones.

So for example, if people take certain steroids or certain drugs and they increase their hormone levels, your body will stop producing those hormones because it wants to keep it pretty level.

If things go out of whack for a while, your body will often react the other way and get them level as soon as possible. So it might not do it right now but it'll definitely try and do it later. One of the things that we've realised is your bodies desire to maintain homeostasis also extends to your energy expenditure.

Let's consult the research...

So there's a really interesting piece of research done a few years ago with the Hadza. The Hadza are a group who live in Southern Africa I believe and they live a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle. So people are interested in them because they are living a palaeolithic lifestyle, the way humans lived before the agricultural revolution which lead to modern sedentry lifestyles.

The Hadza are walking five, six hours a day. Men are hunting for protein and the Women are gathering all day. Now gathering is a really hard, actually maybe harder than hunting.
The women move close to the ground, they are picking things up carrying heavy bags and children and moving pretty big distances over the day.

So it's a difficult lifestyle, they are exercising five hours a day, researchers tracked the total energy expenditure of the Hadza and they compared that to the energy expenditure of sedentary humans like us who are working in an office.

They expected that the Hadza would have a huge energy expenditure that their metabolism would be ramped right up because they're doing all this activity. What they found actually was that the Hadza were burning roughly 2000 calories a day. It was slightly different depending on the size of the person and individual factors. The metabolic rate of the Hadza and the metabolic rate of sedentary people in a modern lifestyle were similar. So that's pretty weird, right?

Most people would expect that a more active lifestyle means you burn more total calories each day.

... but they didn't.

How the hell is these people exercising five, six hours a day and ending up with the same energy expenditure as us in the modern world who are not exercising at all.

We assume that if we go and do cardio and we burn 500 or 600 calories in that cardio session, that's 500 calories less of our total energy in- energy out, then we're going to lose body fat.

However, the Hadza study tells us that this isn't the total story

It's because your body down-regulates a whole heap of other processes.

Your metabolism might take energy out of your immune system. So your immune function decreases but you've got more total energy for the body.  Energy may come out of our reproductive system and you lose your period, or you affect your fertility in the long term.  Or our health is effected in the long term because these long term processes that are supposed to be happening in the background when your body heals itself stop happening, and you get injured six months later.

So you get injured, you get sick, you lose your period, you mess with your hormones — these are all things that can happen, or alternatively, your body says:

Hey you can exercise all you like but when you're not exercising

- I'm going to kill you of energy.
- You're not going to talk.
- You won't move.
- You're really boring.
- You won't want to have sex.

All these things that happen, so that you don't expend energy in those places.

When we look at energy expenditure, exercise, particularly intense exercises, is the smallest portion.

The biggest portions are incidental exercise, how much you move around outside of that "NEATt" which is how much you like fidget and move around outside of your training, and then all the processes that we need your body to work.

So, your metabolism which is a thermostat that measures total stress and energy expenditure that we're doing during exercise and downregulates the energy for everything else.

So what does that mean for us who want to get on stage to compete?

So what most people try to do is go,
"hey I'm going to eat 1200 calories for the next 12 weeks and then I'll get lean"

and you will.

For a period of time, it will work but your body's going to try and get you straight back to homeostasis, it will downregulate other functions and increase feelings like hunger and cravings.

So for a competitor, we try to increase the amount of calories that your body can use.
Then when we drop your calories leading into your show, you will lose body fat because your body goes: that's cool, we're in a bit of an energy deficit but not so low that there's this huge swing back after your show.

The other thing that just tells us is that huge calorie deficits don't work because your body is too smart for that.

Eventually, if you go that route people just keep ratcheting down their calories over and over again and mess with systems which are importsnt for your health.

The big take away is that you can't out-exercise your metabolism.

You can't just keep exercising more to burn more and more calories. It doesn't work like that.
The answer has to be, a reasonable calorie deficit that your metabolism recognises as being OK.

If we're in a band of a deficit that's fine. We're just going to use some of the body fat that we've got but we're not going to reduce our lean tissue or take energy out of the process that are a key to our health.

The only way you know when that's happening is you track your training program, you track all the food you eat and we see what happens.

Did you lose the amount of fat we need to?
Are you feeling okay in all the other areas?
Are you feeling excessive hunger or cravings?
What is your mood and sex drive like?
Are you really tired?
Do you have a regular cycle?

If you're losing body fat, your strength is increasing and your feeling good in these areas, your energy deficit is reasonable.

So just to go through those points and then I'll leave you.

  • Our body will always seek homeostasis.
    It wants to stay level.
  • You can't put yourself on a huge long term calorie deficit.
    It doesn't work. Your body will find a way to only expend around 2000 calories a day.
    The only way we can do it then is to be in a relatively small calorie deficit.
  • We need to track what happens to our body,
    Our strength and how we feel, so we know if we're in the right amount of calorie deficit.
  • Then you've got to give yourself the time.
    We need a reasonable ammount of time to lose body fat, maintain lean muscle AND stay healthy.

You can't really speed it up because your body is too smart for that.

If you'd like to know how much should be eating on a daily basis - the best place to start is with my Ultimate Macro Plan. It will take your specific details and goals and come up with a macro plan that is going to make sure you're eating enough while also hitting your goals.

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