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Know your TDEE, EAT and NEAT

Say what? TDEE stands for Total Daily Energy Expenditure and is the sum of all calories used on a daily basis. We tend to get overly concerned about our calorie INTAKE, but this information is pointless if we don't know our calorie OUTPUT. If you're familiar with P&L's, it's the same thing - what goes in and what comes out of the piggy bank. Though it is a bit more complicated than that. So let's dig a little deeper and look at the various line items involved in TDEE. When you know your TDEE, you're in a better position to tweak your calorie intake, if weight loss or weight gain is on your agenda.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

The biggest piece of the energy expenditure pie has nothing to do with how much cardio we do, rather our basic metabolic rate (BMR). We use around 70% of our calories to simply be alive. To go back to the P&L metaphor - it's fixed overheads in a business, like rent and salaries. BMR is largely genetic and depends on your body composition. A simple calculation can give you an indication of what your BMR is and I suggest having a look at this one:

Whilst we can't do much to adjust our BMR, making changes to our body composition towards a higher muscle mass vs fat mass can help slightly increase calories burnt at rest. This is where resistance training comes into its own. The more muscle you have vs fat, the 'faster' your resting metabolic rate is (resting metabolic rate and basal metabolic rate are used interchangeably).

Thermic effect of food (TEF) is around 7-10% of TDEE, another factor we have little control over. It relates to the calories burnt to digest and metabolise food. Some foods, such as protein, takes longer to digest and therefore increases TEF, but limited research exist on what, how and when we eat influences TEF.

What we CAN influence - NEAT & EAT

EAT (exercise activity thermogenesis) is what is says on the tin - exercise, but specifically planned exercise, such as going for a run or doing a class. Whilst there is a plethora of good reasons to exercise, it only uses 5-10% of your daily calories. However, exercise does influence your BMR and body composition, so all that sweat and effort is worth it!

NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) accounts for 10-15% of your daily calorie output, so not one to ignore when you're doing your calorie budgeting! This is your non-exercise activity that you do on a daily basis: Walking the dog, walk to/from the train, grocery shopping, using a standing-up desk, cooking, cleaning, fidgeting and doing house work.

How to increase NEAT & EAT

Recommended guidelines for exercise is a good place to start. On a weekly basis, the following is advised: 150 minutes moderate intensity activity, 75 minutes’ vigorous activity, or a mixture of both. Include strengthening activities on two days and reduce extended periods of sitting (Source: What does this look like?

EAT - get your exercise plan right

150 minutes of moderate activity: It's when you feel warm, but can still have a conversation, e.g. a brisk walk, playing doubles tennis or cycling for 20 minutes every day, or 3x 50minutes/week.

75 minutes of vigorous activity: This is when you're heart rate is up, your breathing harder and you struggle to say more than a few words, e.g. swimming, running, walking fast up stairs or sports, e.g. doing a circuit class. This adds up as 10 minutes daily, or 3x 25 minutes/week.

In addition, you should add focused resistance training 2-3 times/week. If using relatively heavy weights and having a well-rounded programme of compound movements in place, you can go a long way with 2-3 sessions of 15-30 minutes each.

Example weekly programme (note colour coding: blue=moderate, green=vigorous):

Mon: 45min fast-paced walk/jog + 30min resistance training with weights

Tue: Rest day

Wed: 45min Circuit/spin class

Thu: Rest day

Fri: 30min swim + 30min resistance training with weights

Sat: 45min flow yoga (not restorative/yin) +15min bodyweight resistance training

Sun: 60min brisk walk

This example gives you is a well-rounded foundation covering cardio, strength and flexibility/mobility. It is easy to stick with what we know, so challenge yourself and try new activities/classes to keep things interesting and avoid getting stuck in a rut!

NEAT - burn calories for 'free'

The easiest way to increase NEAT is simple - don't sit down. Use a standing desk at work, stand up on the train, walk to the next station or the coffee shop a little further away and stand up when you take phone calls. Take the stairs, not the escalator. Walk/cycle with the kids instead of taking the car. And whilst it sounds naff - whizz around the house with the hoover or do a tidy up, that's a few dozen calories burnt right there (and you get a bonus presentable house in the process)!

Below is an example of a day during half term from my Apple Watch. My short 'focused' workout (i.e. EAT) calories, is a total of 191 kcal. This means that out of my total 2,348 kcal burnt that day, 2,157 calories were burnt from NEAT! That day, I took the kids to the pool, went to a few shops and was generally hanging out with the kids in the neighbourhood and at home. This just goes to show how much of a calorie deficit we can create from 'keeping busy'; which is good news for those who tend to avoid focused physical activity.

Further reading:

-Effects of habitual physical activity on the resting metabolic rates and body compositions of women aged 35 to 50 years:


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