Because I’m a nerd, I wrote a research paper on Thermogenesis- an important factor of weight loss. Enjoy 🙂
Choosing the proper nutrition program can be a daunting task. We’ve all heard that
a “calorie is a calorie”, and therefore, a caloric deficit leads to weight loss. However,
many diets now recommend consuming high protein meals often throughout the day. So
which is it??
The answer is simple science and can be defined by the process of thermogenesis, or
the energy used to digest, absorb and assimilate nutrients. Thermogenesis accounts
for approximately 5-10% of the body’s total energy expenditure and is activated by
nutrition, exercise or exposure to cold. The type of nutrient ingested also affects
thermogenesis. Protein consumption produces the greatest thermic effect at 20-
30% of intake, followed by carbohydrates at 5-6% of intake, and finally, fat at 2.5-
4% of intake. The reason proteins create such a high thermic effect is because the
body requires more energy to process amino acids, which are the building blocks for
growth and repair. This is also why it is important to consume an adequate amount of
carbohydrates, the macronutrient primarily used to provide the body with energy. An
inadequate supply of carbohydrates and fat will cause the body to use amino acids for
energy, eventually leading to muscle catabolism.
Studies have also shown that a higher thermic effect occurs when daily caloric intake is
spread throughout the day. Our bodies actually burn more calories when we eat at least
5 small meals a day vs. the standard 3 meals. Every time you eat, a small increase in
metabolic rate occurs, and consequently, when you fail to eat, your energy expenditure
Specific foods also play a role in thermogenesis. For instance, caffeine has been
proven to elevate the body’s metabolism by 3-4%. Capsaicin, the chemical found in hot
red peppers, can also help increase the body’s energy expenditure. Of course, these
substances should be used in moderation, as abuse can lead to negative side effects.
As you can see, weight loss is not as easy as just cutting calories, and a calorie is NOT
just a calorie. The most efficient nutrition programs for weight loss should be 5-6 small,
high protein meals. Carbohydrate and fat utilization should be accounted for depending
on your activity level. The more active you are the more carbs and fats you should
consume to avoid protein catabolism.
So, this is why a diet not just about the number of calories you need, but also the composition
and timing of those calories.
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2. Katch, Frank L., Katch, Victor L., Kreider, Richard B., Leutholtz, Brian C.
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3. Groff, James L., Gropper, Sareen S., Smith, Jack. Advanced Human Nutrition
and Metabolism. Cengage Learning 2009: 168.
4. Naik, Pankaja. Essentials of Biochemistry. Jaypee Medical Publishers (P) Ltd.
5. Summerfield, Liane M. Nutrition, Exercise and Behavior: An Integrated Approach
to Weight Management. Wadsworth Learning 2001: 104-5.