Secret to Loosing or Gaining Weight
Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSCS
overweight/obesity trend in the United States has been
increasing at an alarming rate over the past few decades.
Approximately 61% of Americans are overweight and almost
26% are obese! These obesity rates do not apply as much to
endurance athletes but many endurance athletes do face
weight issues. This article will provide you with some
background knowledge of how to change your weight using an
old, well-known method with new information on how to
effectively use it to lose, gain or maintain your weight.
years health professionals have developed weight
management programs that included the necessary components
for successful weight management-behavior change,
nutrition education, and exercise prescription-yet the
overweight/obesity trend continues to rise. Why haven’t
these popular weight management programs worked? The
reason is because they are missing one key component-a
person’s individual metabolism. The foundation of any
successful weight management program must be centered on a
person’s individual metabolic rate and the energy
balance equation for long-term success. The energy balance
equation may be a new term for you but you certainly know
the concept--calories in versus calories out. (See the
graphic at the end of this article for a visual
explanation of the energy balance equation.)
Energy Balance Equation
specifically, if you want to lose weight, you must be in
negative energy balance (calories in < calories out).
If you want to gain weight, you must be in positive energy
balance (calories in > calories out). And if you want
to maintain your weight, you must be in stable energy
balance (calories in = calories out). The concept is so
simple to understand but it is so hard to do because we
don’t understand all of the pieces of the equation and
don’t know how to put them together to change our
weight. Until now! Let’s take an in-depth look at this
concept in order to understand how to better use it.
energy balance equation has two sides: the calories in
(consumption) and calories out (expenditure). The calories
in side is made up of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
This side of the equation is very simple to understand
because it is only affected by the amount of food you eat.
We all know, or can figure out pretty easily, how many
calories we eat.
calories out side is much more complicated because biology
has more of an impact on each component, which makes it
more difficult to balance and manage. It is made up of the
thermic effect of feeding, the thermic effect of physical
activity, and resting metabolic rate.
thermic effect of feeding (TEF) is approximately 10% of
total metabolism and includes obligatory thermogenesis
(the result of the energy-requiring processes of digesting
and absorbing food) and facultative thermogenesis (the
activation of the sympathetic nervous system and its
stimulating effect on metabolism). The TEF can vary
greatly depending on both the quantity and type of food
eaten. TEF is usually not a primary factor in changing
body weight because of its low relative amount of
contribution to total metabolism.
thermic effect of physical activity (TEPA) is
approximately 15-30% of total metabolism and includes
occupational and lifestyle activity (what you do at work,
running errands, etc.), and purposeful exercise
(training). This is the most variable component and can
contribute significantly to weight loss and weight gain.
More exercise=more calories burned=more weight lost (if
you control the amount of calories you eat). This is what
many of you experience when you first begin training--you
lose weight because you are burning more calories than you
metabolic rate (RMR) is approximately 60-75% of total
metabolism and includes sleeping metabolism, basal
metabolism, and arousal metabolism. RMR is the amount of
calories your body burns at rest to perform basic
functions such as your heart beating and your brain
functioning. RMR is the most important component on the
calories out side of the energy balance equation because
it represents up to ¾ of the total calories burned by the
Fad Diets Don’t Work
that you have a good understanding of what the energy
balance equation is and its different components, let’s
talk about why fad diets don’t work and why 95% of
people who go on diets regain the weight they lost and
more back in 1-2 years. The reason is because they all
address the same factors-exercise, nutrition, and behavior
change. Not one of these fad diets accounts for a
person’s individual metabolism or if they do, they
estimate it. How would you like to go into your doctor’s
office and have your blood pressure estimated? This is
like flipping a coin to decide if you have high or low
blood pressure-you’ll be right half of the time! But
since we can measure blood pressure easily, there is no
need to estimate it.
same thing applies to RMR. Estimating RMR based on
equations could be very inaccurate and detrimental to your
health. In fact, one research study, conducted at the
University of Pennsylvania in 1988, predicted and measured
the RMR of 80 females of the same height and weight. The
researchers found a variance of approximately 500 calories
between the predicted and measured RMR’s. Because RMR
can represent up to 75%, a 500-calorie inaccuracy
automatically sets a person up for failure before they
even begin a program. Eating 500 calories more per day
adds up to a 52-pound weight gain in 1 year! No wonder our
society is gaining weight.
Must Measure RMR
the number one factor that influences RMR is body mass, a
loss of body weight will decrease a person’s RMR, and
vice versa. When you lose weight, your RMR also decreases.
This is the explanation for the infamous "yo-yo"
dieting phenomenon that happens with people trying to lose
weight-they decrease the amount of calories they eat, they
may exercise a little, and voila!, they lose weight. But
their RMR decreases because they are now at a lower body
weight, which isn’t a big deal except when that person
looks in the mirror, likes what they see from the weight
they have lost, and decides to celebrate by eating a
couple of cookies, or going out for drinks with friends.
This person is now increasing the amount of calories they
eat each day and guess what? Their new, lower RMR has a
hard time catching back up to support this new increased
calorie balance and since it cannot catch up, the person
begins to gain weight again.
the key factor that will determine success with any type
of body weight goal is measuring resting metabolic rate
frequently in order to accurately provide you with the
correct amount of calories you need to eat and the amount
of exercise you need to perform in order to reach your
weight goals. .
your RMR measured on a consistent basis with weight loss
or gain is the most important thing you can do to succeed
in changing how much you weigh. I cannot stress enough how
important it is to get your new RMR measured whenever you
lose or gain a significant amount of weight (5-10 pounds).
Even with a loss of 5-10 pounds, your body will require
fewer or more calories to maintain itself, which makes it
so crucial to readjust the energy balance equation and how
many calories you are eating and burning.
example, in a recent 12-week weight loss study, subjects
lost 17 pounds and their RMR’s decreased by 125
calories. The researchers constantly re-adjusted the
amount of calories the subjects ate based on their new
RMR’s at each 4-week interval. If they hadn’t done
this, the subjects would not have lost weight and in fact,
would have gained weight over this small time period.
How Do You Measure Your RMR?
easiest way to measure resting metabolic rate is by having
the amount of oxygen you breathe in and breathe out
(oxygen consumption or VO2) measured with an
indirect calorimeter. This is a very noninvasive test. In
fact, you simply breathe into an instrument from 5-30
minutes. After your VO2 is measured, your RMR
in calories per day can be determined. All indirect
calorimeters can measure VO2 and provide
resting metabolic rate in calories per day. Look for this
type of testing in human performance labs, hospitals, and
some fitness centers.
the Bottom Line?
key to weight management is not following a certain fad
diet or banning certain foods. The key is to measure the
amount of oxygen you consume to determine RMR so you can
accurately determine how many calories you should eat to
either lose, gain, or maintain your weight. When your body
weight is changing, be sure to have your RMR determined
again in order to readjust your personal energy balance
equation. It may sound a little complex but
always, please email me with any questions you have.
McArdle, Katch & Katch. (1996). Exercise Physiology:
Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance. Fourth Edition.
Foster, G. et al. (1988). Resting Energy Expenditure, Body
Composition, and Excess Weight in the Obese. Metabolism,
Alexander, H.A. et al. Efficacy of a Resting Metabolic Rate
Based Energy Balance Prescription in a Weight Management
Program Obesity Research, Presented at Nutrition Week
Seebohar, MS, RD, CSCS is the Performance Director at the
Colorado Center for Altitude Training and Performance (ATP
Center) in Evergreen, Colorado.
The ATP Center provides training, coaching,
physiological testing and nutrition services for all ages,
types and abilities of endurance athletes.
Bob Seebohar, MS,
RD, CSSD, CSCS has been a USA Triathlon certified coach
since 1999 and is one of the first USA Triathlon Certified
Level III Elite Coaches in the United States. He has
worked with beginners to Olympians and currently
specializes in working with advanced to elite athletes.
Bob was on the Performance Coaching team for Susan
Williams, 2004 Olympic Triathlon Bronze medalist, as he
served as her strength coach and sport dietitian during
her journey to becoming the first United States athlete to
medal in Olympic Triathlon.
He blends his extensive education with his experience as
an athlete, exercise physiologist, sports dietitian and
Bob has a Bachelor's degree in Exercise and Sports Science
with a concentration in Wellness Program Management, a
Master's degree in Health and Exercise Science and a
second Master's degree in Food Science and Human
Bob is also the author of the book
Periodization for the Endurance Athlete
Bob can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org