Weight loss must be effortless! It isn’t a secret, that people all over the world dream to eat everything they want and lose belly fat at the same time. But, for the majority of people, this dream is just a sweet fantasy. According to research, 2/3 of adult Americans are overweight. A lot of media proposed to seek the main reason for the world’s overweight epidemic in the sedentary lifestyle.
But there’s something we need to consider in addition. It is energy exchange – the process, continuously happening inside and between every object in the universe. And it is crucial for us to understand its basic rules to reveal, what kind of power is hidden inside our food as an energy source.
Eat, convert, repeat – the basics of Thermic Effect of Food
It’s no exaggeration to say, that the most significant knowledge you need to have if you try to stimulate weight loss is the law of conservation of energy. According to it, energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can only change its form. How does it work in practice?
Let’s imagine a small journey of energy, coming from our parent star – the Sun. Every sunbeam carries energy to be used by every live and inanimate object on the Earth. Sunshine is indispensable for green plants because they need it to process glucose and Oxygen to feed themselves. These two constituents allow a plant to grow its body. Hence, it converts the energy it gets from the Sun into the energy for supporting vitality and successful multiplying.
What happens then? This plant can be eaten by a ruminant, for example, a cow. The stomach of any ruminant is a unique system with a lot of various bacteria inside. All this “motley crew” helps to digest plants, dividing and processing all the nutrients step-by-step. This is a long process, requiring a lot of effort from the organism and its friendly “roommates”. And it also requires lots of energy to spent. That’s why a grass-fed cow constantly chews (not because they don’t know how to spend their free time). The cow experiences a constant lack of energy it needs to compensate (so it has no reason to crave for weight loss, what a lucky one).
There was a little adventure of energy – the cow uses the energy from plants, that has come from the Sun. It is significant to stress, that every energy’s transformation step requires energy to be processed. And food, as the basic energy source for any living creature, creates the same effect, which is called the Thermic Effect of Food.
Thermic Effect of Food: how it works?
Thermic Effect of Food (or TEF) – is a raise of energy expenditure of an organism, caused by food intake, digestion, and absorption. According to multiple research, TEF takes about 10-15% of the Total Energy Expenditure rate. And this percentage depends on what and how much we actually eat.
Every steak, sandwich or apple can be decomposed into basic “bricks” of life – macronutrients, known as proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. What we need to know is that they aren’t equal neither as energy sources, nor by way of digesting and absorbing. While proteins and carbs carry 4 kcal in 1 g, fats contain 9 kcal. And, in terms of digestion, they’re even more different.
The highest thermic effect is observed during digestion of proteins. The body can burn up to 20-30% of calories, incoming with each gram of protein, which makes it a perfect partner for weight loss! Sometimes this effect is described as “metabolism boost”, but this statement is not quite correct. Even if people follow a high-protein diet, they still consume other macronutrients along (because otherwise, such diet will cause troubles and disorders in the organism).
If to go back to other nutrients, the thermic effect of carbs looks more modest, showing about 5% to 10%, and depends on types of carbs themselves. For example, we need a little bit more energy to digest “slow” carbs like whole grain oat, because it contains a lot of fiber, which is very hard to digest without special “cow forces” in the stomach.
And fats’ thermic effect closes the rating and shows only 0-3%, which is a quite modest index in comparison with its calorie density. But don’t hurry to remove fats from your life forever only because they are digested so easily. Despite widespread opinion, fats are very significant for your body. For example, they support the nervous and hormonal system and create new cells, and transport vitamins and minerals.
So, every macronutrient is highly important for the body to function properly and stay healthy and should be allowed to vary your diet.
Weight loss and the Thermic Effect of Food – the tips
If you want to lose weight without excruciating and crazy diets, you can use your knowledge of the Thermic Effect of Food to stimulate your belly fat to go away faster. As it was discussed before, proteins, fats, and carbs produce different thermic effect during digestion. And, hence, diets with a various correlation of these nutrients in daily intake figures can show various results in terms of TEF.
Let’s figure out, what TEF can give us in terms of weight loss. In addition, we will be relying on the theory of calorie deficit. It states, that activation of the process of using own fat resources as energy requires to reduce daily calorie intake for 20-25%.
Protein – the TEF king
Want to lose weight without feeling hungry? Choose protein as the main hero of your diet plan. Professional athletes frequently use a science-proven formula of consumption of 0.8–1.2 grams of protein per 1lb (or 1.8–2.7 grams per 1kg) per day of body weight. Higher protein intake not only gives the feeling of high-satiety but also requires more energy to be digested. Let’s take an example.
Let’s imagine a man named Tom. Tom wants to lose some weight, but doesn’t know, what kind of a diet he needs to try for the most effective fat loss. Tom is an average man, so his normal energy intake is 2.500 kcal per day and his weight is 180 lbs (or 80 kg).
If to offer our hero a high-protein diet, we can now count, how much protein he needs to consume, using “the athlete’s” formula. Let’s take the max number of the recommended correlation and multiply it to the given weight:
Lb formula: 180lb x 1.2g protein = 216 g protein per day
Kg formula: 80kg x 2.7g protein = 216 g protein per day
Now we can measure, how many calories Tom can eat, excluding the derived result. Remember, that 1 g of proteins gives us 4 kcal? Multiply 4 kcal to the result of the previous equation:
216 g protein x 4 kcal = 864 kcal (per 216 g protein)
How many calories will Tom really get after digesting? Proteins’ TEF is equal from 20% to 30%. Let’s take an average percent:
864 kcal – 25% = 648 kcal
Alright, we’ve got it! Now we make a subtraction to get remaining available calories Tom can get from other nutrients. For the convenience of following counting, we use previous figure instead of the one we’ve got after TEF equation:
2.500 kcal – 864 kcal = 1636 kcal remained
Now we know, how many calories are “available” to be taken from other, non-protein foods. And the next tip is about that.
Carbs on the second place
Carbs are wonderful, and we all love them. As we’ve found out from the TEF indexes for various nutrients, carbs are second-best in this race. But not all of them are equal.
Nowadays, a lot of us believe, that brown rice is much better in comparison with white rice, but what’s the true reason for that? In terms of the Thermic Effect of Food, the answer is dietary fiber. The thing is that the fiber is very hard to be digested and absorbed. To distract at least 2 kcal from 1 g of the fiber, the organism spends a lot of time and energy. Usually, we meet the fiber in whole grains, seeds, and nuts, beans, and vegetables.
According to USDA, the average daily carb intake should be around 45-65% of the daily consumed calories. Going back to our hero Tom, wanting to lose some weight with the help of the Thermic Effect of Food, we can measure his average carb intake and find out the real figure after the TEF equation.
First of all, we are finding, how many g of carbs does Tom need. Let’s take the lowest percent:
45% of 2.500 kcal = 1125 kcal
1 g of carbs contains 4 kcal. So we divide the derived result by 4:
1125 kcal / 4 kcal per 1g carbs = 281 g carbs per day
Carbs’ TEF is equal from 5% to 10%. Let’s take an average percent:
1125 kcal – 7% = 1046,25 kcal
It’s time to find out, how many calories are remained for fat intake:
2.500 kcal – (864 kcal (prots)+1125kcal (carbs) = 511 kcal remained
Don’t ditch fats
It is easy to believe, that fat is the nastiest nutrient: it’s too easy to digest and it gives 9 kcal of energy per 1g! So the idea of excluding fats from your diet may seem to be very seductive. But fats are very important for the proper body’s functioning, that’s why it is crucial to consume them enough. But everything must be in moderation though. According to research, fat intake for an athlete in period of weight loss should be minimum 20% of total daily calories. For female athletes, this figure must be increased up to 25% as a minimum to support health of the reproductive system and normal menstrual cycle.
Going back to our imaginary hero Tom, we can figure out, what’s his normal fat intake:
20% of 2500 kcal is 500 kcal
1 g of fat gives 9kcal. Let’s divide the derived result by 9:
500kcal /9 kcal (per 1 g fat) = 55,5 g fat per day
Fats’ TEF id equal 0-3%. Let’s take an average percent:
500 kcal – 1,5% = 492,5 kcal
To raise your fats’ TEF, opt for healthy fats as avocado, fish, nuts and seeds. Besides enforced TEF, they’re great sources of vitamins and minerals in comparison with simple vegetable oil.
Now we can get the final daily intake of Tom, making an equation:
2.500 kcal – (864 kcal (prots)+1125kcal (carbs)+500 kcal (fats) = 11 kcal deficit
Almost fit into the average daily intake!
Always think about TEF to successfully lose weight
Now, we can finally see, what’s the true deficit our sufferer Tom can get, applying the Thermic Effect of Food to his dieting principles.
Average daily intake – 2.500 kcal
The Thermic Effect of:
- proteins – 648 kcal
- carbs – 1046,2 kcal
- fats – 492,5 kcal
648 kcal + 1046,2 kcal + 492,5 kcal = 2186,7 kcal of real daily intake
Daily deficit percent:
100 % (2.500 kcal) – 87, 4 % (2186,7 kcal) = 12,5 %
As we can see, usage of the Thermic Effect of Food is not enough to start significantly lose weight (we still need to cut off our daily calories for at least 20%). Despite that, the numbers are still impressive! Simple adjusting daily protein intake and maintaining the balance between carbs and fats can give you an effortless opportunity to eat a lot and slowly move to the desired number on scales. To enforce this effect, just try to cut off some more kcals, start to be more active in your daily life, using NEAT principles, or chose your sports.
The main thing to remember is that “We are what we eat”. Always fill your plate wisely and opt for the best combinations for your body and soul. Stay healthy!
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- Oliver C. Witard, Ina Garthe, Stuart M. Phillips, Dietary Protein for Training Adaptation and Body Composition Manipulation in Track and Field Athletes, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2019, 29, 165-174