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Balancing Energy Intake & Expenditure

Updated on July 28, 2012

This is the one topic that I discuss with people the most. What variables do you need to take into consideration when trying balance energy (calorie) intake and expenditure to lose or gain weight? Well let's see .. I'll break this down for you to understand and hopefully you can grasp this easy yet often over complicated method.

I guess it's best to start off with the simple explanations of the method. I will describe calories as energy because that's what a calorie is, a name given for a measurement of energy. Energy intake is as simple as the name suggests .. How much energy you intake through consumable items. Energy expenditure is the amount of energy your body expends through, movement, digestive function and that thousands of other expending occurrences in the body.

That is the general idea of the method, that is the concept but why do so many people manage to fall short of their goals even though they claim that they follow this method to the tee? I will explain fully the different variables that need to be considered when determining your energy requirements.

Lean Tissue Mass

Lean tissue mass is one of the main factors that determines our energy intake as lean tissue requires more energy to work and activate or contract as opposed to overall mass (this is a factor that I will cover later)

If we take two people who weighed 220lbs and were 6ft 2 then you would think they have the same amount of energy needs right? Unfortunately this is often incorrect. Lean tissue requires on average 30-35 extra calories per pound to maintain its current state, this doesn't include the energy expended through weight training, and general exercise. Genetics play a big role here, they determine your lean tissue mass post puberty that is gained without weight training and limit you to your genetic potential (the limits that your body can get to without being enhanced on drugs)

So as I'm sure you have gathered someone with more lean tissue mass will require a greater amount of energy as opposed to someone on the opposite end of the spectrum. Below I will explain the ways that you can obtain an idea of what your lean tissue mass is.

The most commonly used body fat calipers
The most commonly used body fat calipers | Source

Body Fat Percentage

Body fat percentage is a calculation of the amount of mass in fat compared to the total mass of the body for example a 200lb male that has 10% body fat will have 20lbs of fat on their body.

200lbs (overall weight) – 10% (Body fat percentage) = 20lbs (Body fat mass) 200lbs – 20lbs = 180lbs (Lean Tissue mass & Bone density & Water weight & Organs etc)

The more body fat someone has stored the less energy they will need to intake because they are already in taking too many calories for what their body requires and the excess energy is being stored as fat.

Body fat is tested in a number of ways,

Callipers - Skin fold callipers are the most common where folds of skin are measures for size and the overall measurements will be taken and an estimate of body fat will be given this is the cheapest and most inaccurate way of testing body fat percentage. Measurements are taken on the triceps, biceps, sub scapula and suprailiac. This method is for amateurs mainly that are looking to control their energy intake and to have measurements to how their current diet is affecting their body as an overall unit.

Hydrostatic/Hydro-Densitometry – This form of body fat testing is a method that submerges the subject into water and the body fat is tested by the density of the bone, lean tissue and fat mass. lean tissue, bone and connective tissue collectively sink as they are more dense than body fat which floats, the test works by obtaining the land mass and the water mass of the subject. and subtracting the two giving you a more accurate result.

One of the more accurate forms of Body Weight Calorimetry testing
One of the more accurate forms of Body Weight Calorimetry testing | Source

Body Weight Calorimetry

This variable is something that most people don't take into consideration. It isn't something that you really need to do but it's another variable that you may want to take into consideration if you want to check everything off the list. I recommend keeping a track of your basal metabolism, but it can be expensive and time consuming.

Basically calorimetry is the measuring of heat of chemical reactions or physical changes within a person or organism. Calorimetry is performed by using a tool called a calorimeter. This method gives that subject a somewhat accurate idea of their basal metabolism and how much energy their body needs to maintain it's current weight.

Indirect - This method calculates the amount heat that living organisms produce from their production of carbon dioxide and nitrogen waste or can be calculated from their comsumption of oxygen.

Direct – This method places the entire person or organism into a calorimeter which then obtains the same values and data as the indirect method.


As mentioned earlier on there are many variables that can contribute to energy expenditure and body composition. In this last section I will go over some more variables in less detail so you can refer to these in the future and it's easy for you to pick out the information that you need for yourself or to pass onto someone.

Age – As a person gets older their basal metabolic rate naturally surpresses which means they need less energy to function their bodies in daily life if they were sedentary.

Gender – Naturally a male will require more energy and use more energy than a female because they have more lean tissue mass and connective tissue on average than a female does, which means they use more energy throughout the day. If both a male and female ran a 10minute mile with the female weighing 150lb and the male weighing 200lb there would be a difference in energy burnt, on average the woman would burn 600 calories while the man would burn 950 calories both in the same amount of time, of course this depends on variables such as speed, inclines/declines etc.

Physical Activity – The most obvious variable other than energy intake that will determine our energy balance is physical activity, the more physical activty we subject ourselves to the more energy we require to maintain those levels and recover after the activity. For one hour of swimming in the breast stroke motion the average male will expend 862 units of energy, if the person was swimming for 2 hours that would be around 1724 units of energy expended

Basal Metabolism – Basal metabolic rate is how many energy we burn through bodily functions everyone has a different rate and there are many variables that contribute to this which have been talked about.

Genetics – This was covered early on "they determine your lean tissue mass post puberty that is gained without weight training and limit you to your genetic potential (the limits that your body can get to without being enhanced on drugs)"

Weight – The more weight you are carrying the more energy that is being expended because that mass has to move (regardless if it is lean tissue mass or not)

I think this covers that basic idea of the method. I will go into greater detail about diets, activity levels etc at a later date with examples of how to obtain the correct energy balance for your goals.

Disclaimer : This information is just advice covering some variables that need to be taken into account when one is trying to reach their goals. Please seek professional medical help if you have an existing medical problem or are unsure if you have a medical problem.


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