The metabolism is something that most people chalk up to the amount of calories you burn in a day, and while that is a part of the metabolism it’s actually much more complicated than that.
Your metabolism is the combination of all the physical and chemical reactions taking place inside your cells that produce, or use energy.
The are two processes of the metabolism known as catabolism and anabolism. These two processes regulate the building up and breaking down of everything inside your body.
Catabolism is the process of breaking larger molecules down into smaller ones for the purpose of providing energy.
An example of catabolism would be breaking down protein, fat and carbohydrates during digestion to use for energy.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have anabolism. Anabolism uses what was broken down during catabolism to rebuild and repair tissues and muscle.
The very same carbohydrates, proteins and fats that were broken down during digestion (catabolism) are used to build muscle, store body fat or rebuild other tissues (anabolism)
There are four different components of the metabolism we're discussing below are what make up the amount of calories you will burn on a daily basis.
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): The amount of calories your body will use to maintain basic functions such as keeping blood pumping, breathing or keeping organs working. This number would be the same whether you laid in bed all day or ran marathon.
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): This account for the number of calories our body has to burn to break down, digest and assimilate nutrients from our food. Each macronutrient (proteins, fats and carbs) all have a different TEF level meaning the body has to burn a different amount of calories to digest and assimilate them.
Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA): When you’re engaged in purposeful strength training or cardiovascular exercise this falls within TEA and is the amount of calories you expend during this formal exercise.
Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): This is the low grade activities that we do on a day to day basis such as walking, going from sitting to standing, fidgeting, getting ready for work or walking in the grocery store. This is the amount of calories we burn when we’re not trying to exercise or raise our heart rate.
When you combine all the energy expended in these four components of your metabolism what you get is the amount of calories you burn in day also known as your metabolic rate.
BMR + TEF + NEAT + TEA = Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure
For the purposes of this blog we’re going to be focusing on Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) , and how the energy expended by this part of the metabolism Impacts your fat loss.
There are a number of factors that play a role in how many calories burn through NEAT, and while some have to do with your movement others have to do with your gender and your current food intake and metabolic health.
NEAT appears to be a part of the metabolism that would seem pretty straightforward, but there’s a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to NEAT and the impacts it can have on your fat loss efforts.
NEAT is rarely given the credit it deserves for the role it plays in fat loss, and is exactly why we’re discussing it today.
Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
NEAT is your day to day activity that takes place when you’re not exercising or working out. It includes your typing at a computer, fidgeting, going from standing to sitting or walking, doing the dishes, yard work or playing with your dog.
Your day to day NEAT activities end up burning far more calories than you give it credit for. In large you don’t give too much conscious thought to your day to day activity, thus don’t consider the impacts it has on fat loss.
For this reason a lot of the calories that we burn from NEAT fly underneath the radar, I think partly because it doesn’t leave us drenched in sweat and out of breath.
If you want proof of how effective NEAT is at helping to burn extra calories look no further than your fitbit or activity tracker.
While the calories burned on most activity trackers is going to be inaccurate it gives you a ballpark idea of the extra calories expended when you’re walking or doing yard work in a day.
Most people who are looking to lose body fat seem to think that spending an hour at the gym makes up for an otherwise sedentary life, but the amount of calories that are burned at the gym are low compared to the calories we expend through NEAT on a daily basis.
If you compare someone who works at a desk job to someone who is on their feet all day like a manual laborer or waitress the caloric burn for laborer or waiter can could be upwards of double the desk jockey.
In the book “Move A Little, Lose A Lot” Dr. James Levine helps to show exactly how important NEAT is when it comes to creating sustainable weight loss for individuals.
He helped to run an 8 week study with 16 non obese individuals who were overfed by 1,000 calories in excess of what they needed to maintain their bodyweight.
These participants experienced a nearly ⅔ increase in their daily energy expenditure through NEAT once they were being overfed.
Among the participants of the study there was a 10 fold difference in how much fat some participants gained when compared to others.
The people who gained the least amount of body fat were also the people who experienced the largest boost in NEAT in response to the overfeeding.
A number of participants gained such little weight that the researchers assumed they were sneaking off and exercising on their own even though it was against the rules of the study.
When the researchers had participants wear NASA inspired suits that tracked their daily movement they found out the participants who barely gained any weight dramatically increased their NEAT movement to the degree that they burned off the extra 1,000 calories.
The people who gained the most weight in the study were shown to not increase their NEAT activity in response to the extra 1,000 calories per day and as a result gained much more body fat.
Other studies have found that some people can burn upwards of 2,000 calories per day above their resting metabolic rate through NEAT as well.
There’s a trend these days to get away from traditional cardio for fat loss, and I feel a large part of this has to with how people respond to cardio while strength training and personal preference.
When someone is trying to lose body fat strength training is one of the best ways to help preserve lean mass and allow for a higher calorie burn.
When someone does too much cardio it has a tendency to add stress, increases the appetite and hinder recovery.
In response to this you’ll find many nutrition coaches now giving their fat loss clients specific step counts to hit on a daily basis.
One of the largest benefits of using NEAT for fat loss is that it’s appropriate for anyone at any level of fitness. Just about anyone can get out and hit a certain amount of steps per day.
The same can’t be said for traditional cardio because it can cause too much stress on the joints and result in pain for overweight individuals.
When it comes to dieting for fat loss managing appetite, and cravings is a huge part of the puzzle. NEAT doesn’t cause any large increase in appetite like more traditional forms of cardiovascular exercise does. .
Someone who is looking to lose body fat can get out and hit a certain amount steps daily without the added stress on their joints, increases in appetite or added recovery time.
Sitting and NEAT
Sitting for too long kills your NEAT and hinders your full capacity to be burning calories unconsciously, which is why it’s important to go for periodic walks, alternate standing and sitting while working and let yourself fidget.
Dr. James Levine found that the people who were obese tended to burn fewer calories through NEAT, but also tended to sit 2.5 hours more per day than their sedentary lean counterparts.
If these same individuals were to adopt a more NEAT friendly lifestyle in those 2.5 hours they could burn a projected 350 calories more per day.
We’ve been lead to believe that if a form of exercise doesn’t leave you drenched in sweat it doesn’t burn very many calories, but this isn’t true.
We actually burn significantly more calories throughout the day with NEAT activities than we do any other form of movement because we’re constantly moving, fidgeting, walking or standing up.
The true key to your fat loss has little to do with what you’re doing in the gym, but the other 23 hours in a day, obviously including your nutrition habits.
In the next two weeks we’re going to be taking a look at the different factors that can impact the amount of calories you burn through NEAT such as gender, metabolic health and your daily caloric intake.
Lastly we’ll be covering some easy way that you can start incorporating more NEAT movement into your daily routine to increase the amount of calories you’re burning and help you to lose body fat.