A Calorie Is Still a Calorie

Andy Peloquin

Personal Training


A Calorie Is Still a Calorie - Fitness, fitness, weight loss, metabolic conditioning, energy expenditure, Trending, physical activity


Weight loss is a fairly complicated process, one that requires a balance of macronutrients, plenty of exercise, smart natural food choices, a healthier lifestyle, and a great deal of time and effort. However, most experts agree that weight loss can ultimately be boiled down to a simple formula:



Calories in > calories out = weight gain, while calories in < calories out = weight loss.

Simply put, as long as you are burning more calories (via daily activity and exercise) than you consume, you should be able to lose weight.


A paper released by the Tudor Bompa Institute took a closer look at this theory.

The paper cites three factors that play a role in the "calories out" part of this theory:


  • Resting energy expenditure, the calories your body burns throughout the day to power your organs, digestive system, brains, and other internal bodily functions.

  • Physical activity, the calories you burn while at the gym, running, or engaging in any mild, moderate, or vigorous activity.

  • Diet-induced thermogenesis, also known as the "Thermic Effect of Food", which are the calories required to absorb, transform, and distribute the food you consume.


According to the researchers, there's a chance the theory won't hold water. "In response to reduced energy intake, metabolic adaptation or adaptive thermogenesis occurs, referring to a decrease in energy expenditure." Basically, the body decreases resting energy expenditure (which accounts for 70% of your calorie-burning) as the available energy (provided via the calories in food) also decreases. "For these reasons, the inability to lose weight as diets progress and prevent weight regain is explained by these adaptations."



As one previous study discovered, "an imbalance between energy in and energy out was buffered by body fat stores, resulting in a large proportion of fat stored during daily fluctuations in energy balance."


However, over the course of the paper, other diets—including both the high-fat and high-carb diets—were analyzed for their effectiveness. The manipulation of specific macronutrient intake was cited as being potentially useful for regulating weight gain, but not the most accurate way to predict and encourage weight loss.


The paper closed by agreeing that the "Calories In, Calories Out" (CICO) theory is still the most accurate. To quote:


"Weight gain or loss is not primarily determined by varying proportions of carbohydrates and fat in the diet, but instead by the number of calories ingested. Changes in energy expenditure, which metabolic pathways are used and other considerations are quite modest when compared with caloric intake. Until high quality, metabolic ward primary data become available indicating otherwise, a calorie is still a calorie."

There are some, in reaction to this study, who have picked wholes in the CICO findings by arguing that are other factors at play, such as your body's hormones, and the macronutrient breakdown were not addressed adequately. Adherents of the ketogenic diet are quite vociferous, as are followers of other low carb diets. 


We won't get into that debate because it is very tribal. We will say that the notion that you can't just assume that 3,500 calories cut equals a pound of weight or fat lost. Sure, you can't argue with the math, more calories in than used imeans, potentially, more weight. What you can argue about is how we measure the deficit and keep track of it as individuals.


The quality of food and macronutrient ratios do have an impact - it's different for everyone - on how efficiently your body uses up those calories, and how effectively you control your intake. You stop eating carbs and you might create a calorie deficit without having to count calories, for example. Or, you may be someone who naturally tends to have a higher metabolism - we all know someone who seems to eat seemingly vast amounts of food and rarely puts on weight. Yes, there are such things as genes and they do play a role in how you physically develop.


So, be careful of absolutes, but don't be shamed to think that you can't stick to the general guideline: you tend to put on weight if you eat more than you need to eat. The devils in the details.

See more about: , , , , ,
Breaking Muscle Newsletter

Breaking Muscle Newsletter

Get updates and special offers delivered directly to your inbox.