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Is your exercise programme enough to help you reach your goals?

Tired of hitting 4-5 gym sessions a week, yet not hitting goals or seeing changes to your body compositions?

A lot of people are under the idea that if they hit 4 or 5 one hour gym sessions a week then that should be enough to see results and hit your goals. However, when you break down a day, 1 hour of exercise accounts for 4%, meaning that if this is the only form of exercise that you are doing in the day the 300 calories - give or take, it is the only additionally calories burnt on top of your basal metabolic rate.

What does this mean…?

Lets break down total energy expenditure.

It should be highlighted that calories burnt in the gym contributes a small proportion to the total calories burnt across your day (unless you are an elite athlete that trains for hours in a day, the calories burnt during exercise will play a much larger role). Figure 1 highlights the number of different metabolic processes that contribute to daily expenditure.

  1. The largest contributor is your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the amount of calories required to fuel to all the essential human body functions without moving- i.e. breathing, functioning of organs, supplying muscles with nutrients. When you exercise regularly and consume an adequate calorie intake your BMR goes up.

  2. Thermic effect of food (TEF) is the energy burnt after eating. Sound wrong to burn energy because you’ve consumed energy doesn’t it, but you need to expend energy to break down the food that you have eaten in order for the foods properties (vitamins, minerals, macros) to be absorbed and utilised within the body or excreted as waste. Protein has the highest thermic effect than other macros, which is why it is recommended when individuals are trying to lose weight or fat, as protein needs more energy to break it down.

  3. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)- which is the calories your burn through completing daily movement; walking, stair climbing, standing, cooking, housework, i.e. when you are not exercising or at the gym.

  4. Exercise activity thermogenesis (EAT)- The calorie burnt when you are exercising and during the periods after a workout.

You can now see why that one hour exercise session is not the main reason why you will achieve your fitness goals. Yes, it will contribute to increasing muscle and strength which will increase your overall energy expenditure as it increases BMR. However, you need to be aware of the other energy expending components to help reach your weight loss goal.

Before we go into more detail remind yourself of how you lose weight…

  • It is not as simple a calories in vs calories out. But it is a good place to start. So when trying to lose weight aim to unbalance the equation

calories in<calories out

You can do this through alteration in your diet however this can come at a cost of your NEAT and EAT. When you diet you reduce the amount of energy consumed, which will in turn reduce activity levels in response to having less spare energy after completing essential body functions (see above). This will therefore come at the cost of being able to create a larger deficit in energy or even not create one at all! I would therefore recommend to continue to consume a ‘good’ amount of calories per day and create the deficit through maximising our NEAT. This can be things like fidgeting, getting off a train one stop earlier, or do 10 minutes of standing instead of sitting. All these little changes will contribute to overall a greater energy expenditure across the day and helping acquire an energy deficit.

For example, my maintenance calories based upon my BMR, age, weight, height and daily activity levels is ~2100 calories. In order for myself to lose weight I would stick to around 1900 calories per day, exercise 1 hour, walk 10,000 steps, this would create a deficit that would allow myself to see results:

This can be through:

  • BMR= ~ 1400

  • TEF = 145

  • 1 hour of strength training = ~300-400 calories

  • Hitting my 10,000 steps= 300-400 calories across the day!

= 2,290 = 395 deficit

Note: I would aim for a 200-300 deficit for an achievable goal that you can stick too without decreasing energy levels too much so that you can keep NEAT high.

Remember that small lifestyle changes equal big results. You don’t have to hit the gym 4-5 times a week and complete gruelling workouts day in and day out in order to be fit and healthy. Starting your fitness journey with hitting 7-10k step per day and building yourself up to the gym or finding an achievable medium is fair more beneficial that creating a goal that is unachievable and you stop it after week 3. Start small, create habits and build on them, eventually you will be at the gym 3-4 times a week, walking 10k steps per day and shedding the weight off! Think 15 minutes of walking every morning = 105 minutes of walking per week = ~5 extra miles = ~10,000 extra steps = ~400 extra calories more than you were to burn without the 15 minutes per day. Same as if you were to do 20 squats every morning, that 600 in a month more than you were doing before.

I will leave you with 7 simple ways to increase your NEAT, pick one or two and start today!

  1. Walk more

  2. Park further away

  3. Can you be active on your way to work (walk, cycle, scooter…!)

  4. Get moving on your breaks (lunch time walk?)

  5. Track your steps - get a watch that tracks movement, set yourself a challenge or challenge your friends, make it fun. You might be surprised how little you move in a day

  6. Take the stairs

  7. Active and productive- can you take your meeting on a walk? Phone a friend outside? Coffee dates switched to walking meet ups.

There are various ways you can increase your activity levels. Finding ways which fit into your life will make adherence a lot easier!

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