14 Jan RNT Back To Basics Series, Part One: Fat Loss
Education is at the heart of everything we do at RNT. We know that the information we surround ourselves with in our own environments will dictate how we act, ‘think’ and feel. Which is why in this information overload world we live in, we aim to provide content that is objective, rooted in science, and based on practicality and context (the often missing piece of the puzzle).
When embarking on any form of journey, we believe it’s important that you understand the process you’re on, even if it’s at the most basic level. Due to the sheer amount of information available laced in bias and minimal context, we spend considerable time and effort educating and correcting a lot of the myths and misconceptions put out there by different media.
Which is why we’re launching the ‘RNT Back to Basics’ series, where we’re simplifying and stripping off the fluff behind key concepts so that you can understand the why behind what you’re doing.
In any field of work, there will be set principles that you must abide by to get a certain result. To achieve this, there will be various methods of getting to the end goal, providing the method uses the principle.
This is the same in the body transformation world. Whether your goal is muscle gain and fat loss, you will need to abide to key principles that’ll form the core of this ‘Back to Basics’ series.
We’ll be splitting this into four parts:
1) The Energy Balance Equation – Fat Loss
2) All About Muscle Building
3) Media Driven Myths
4) Common Mindset & Attitude Pitfalls
Each section will be a combination of written and video content, and the aim will be to arm you with the knowledge to make smart decisions along the journey towards your transformation goal.
Part 1: The Energy Balance Equation – Fat Loss
(A story by Nathan Johnson)
During my final year of high school, I started my very first diet. The years of having a pie and a pastry for breakfast on the way to school, and eating a pack of biscuits when I got back had finally caught up to me.
At the same time, I’d bought a ‘life hack’ book that contained advice on all sorts, but the bit that drew my attention was the section on how to lose body fat and still eat whatever you like.
Not knowing any better, I thought this could be exactly what I needed. The program was very simple. For 5 days of the week, you can eat as much protein, vegetables, lentils and beans you like. For the other two days, you can eat whatever you wanted in any amount.
So in true Nathan fashion, I went all in and dieted hard for those 5 days. It sucked, but I knew on the weekends I planned to eat even harder. I still remember one week in particular. I was a few weeks in and had lost a few kilos, while feeling really happy about my results. Each weekend so far I’d taken my exploration into a food coma further and further. I wanted to test the barriers of this ‘weekend all you can eat’ protocol, and so here’s what I did.
On Friday morning I’d make a list of foods to buy in the evening, ranging from apple pies, chocolate cake, ice cream, Haribo strawberries and Lotus biscuits; all in anticipation of eating them on Saturday morning.
When I woke up at 8am on Saturday, I was so excited I rolled to the side of the bed, reached into the bag, pulled out the chocolate cake first, and then sat in bed while I made my way through the whole shopping from the night before. I was back asleep by 9am in a food coma.
You might be wondering where I’m going with all of this…
Here’s the deal.
If you draw comparisons to this diet with any other methods of dieting out there, from weightwatchers, ketogenic dieting, low-carb dieting, carb cycling for fat loss, whatever it is, it all works by the same mechanism.
Over a set time period, all of these methods cause an energy reduction going into the body compared to a person’s maintenance level of energy required. In layman’s, the calories consumed are much less than they need to maintain their current body’s homeostatic levels. We call this an energy or calorie deficit.
The energy balance equation is the only thing that governs fat loss and fat gain.
In my high school diet, I was starving myself on sub 600 calories per day for 5 days, and exercises sometimes twice a day. This in turn put me in a calorie deficit of at least 8,000 to 10,000 from Monday to Friday. I’d then eat up to 4000 on Saturday, and because of the food coma and residual bloat, ‘only’ 2500 to 3000 on Sunday. Despite this, I was still in a big deficit, so I lost weight. Does this make it a good idea? Probably not if you want to be able to function properly, and maintain a sensible relationship with food!
Another example is the classic low carb diet. They almost always ‘work’ from the outset, and it’s because you’ll go from eating more than your current maintenance with a large percentage of carbohydrates, to then a significant reduction in overall calorie intake when you remove this food group. All you’re doing is driving a calorie deficit.
Here’s the basic premise of the energy balance equation, of which I also explain further in the video below.
Credit for the image here
If your goal is fat loss, and you’re wondering why you may not be progressing as well as you could be, everything you need to be concerned with is in this graph.
Let’s dig a little deeper…
The 3 main contributors to energy expended are:
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)– This is based on the amount of energy your body uses per day to stay alive. It’ll be significantly different between people of different height and weight; for example, smaller individuals weighing 50kg will have significantly less energy demands compared to those who are 100kg.
Changing this and trying to ‘increase your metabolic rate’ is very difficult in relation to fat loss and should be dismissed as a focus point (stay tuned for part 3 as to why this is a myth). One example commonly thrown around is the idea that if you’re gaining muscle, you’ll then be allowed to eat more food. While perhaps true that adding 10lbs muscle may add up to 500 extra calories per day, this is solid muscle that may take 2 to 3 years to build! That’s why you’re better off letting this be a by-product, and worrying about the next two areas.
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)– This refers to the amount of energy taken to digest, use and store the food that you eat on a daily basis. This is higher in proteins, and could be up to 20-30% of protein calories consumed to help with process of usage and storage. Carbohydrates and fats are typically around 5-6% and 2-3%, respectively.
Physical Activity– This is separated into two categories: NEAT and EAT.
EAT – Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. This is the calculation of all the energy burnt during scheduled exercise like weight training, cardio, etc.
NEAT – Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. These are all things that we don’t consider exercise like walking upstairs, fidgeting, cooking your food, facial expressions and moving during the day for work related tasks. It can often be hard to define, but can make up anywhere from 15-50% of total energy expenditure (which is why we recommend daily step targets, as explained here).
Food & Drink– This is the only thing on this side of the scales. It refers to the amount of energy ingested via food which contains calories, and drinks (apart from water and calorie free drinks).
The Energy Balance Trade Off
With a balancing scale like this, if we tip the scales in any direction, we’ll see a change. If we tip it above maintaining balance with more food and drink, we’ll see an increase in fat storage and excess energy, and vice versa.
What’s also worth nothing is there’s also a gradient effect, whereby the more out of balance we get in this equation, the more dramatic the changes.
How To Make The Energy Balance Work For Fat Loss
With this equation in mind, we only have two ways to ensure the right side of the scale is tipping towards a calorie deficit.
1. We can increase the factors on the right side by increasing physical activity, and ensuring that we’re reaching a protein target (around 0.8-1g/lb) for the benefit of TEF.
2. We can lighten the load from energy intake on the left side of the scales by eating and drinking less energy.
What’s The Best Way?
While we’ve covered the basics of what’s needed to drive a calorie deficit for fat loss, we didn’t touch on what we consider to be the ‘best way’.
There’s a very good reason for this, because there is none.
There’s no ‘best’ diet or training plan. Only what works for your psychological profile, and what fits in practically and sustainably with your lifestyle. The ‘best’ plan means nothing without adherence, and that’s why once you’ve created a calorie deficit (along with a protein target to protect and build muscle mass), the most important contributor to your success will be your adherence.
Adherence comes from building a plan that works around your lifestyle, and not the other way around. As soon as you try to conform your life into a diet, you’ll set yourself up for future failure. Which is why at RNT we don’t believe in any specific diet or training plan, or pigeonholing you into any one method. Instead, we’re paradoxically original by being flexible, and using key principles to mould the plan around you.
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