Energy balance: Maintenance, Weight Gain and Weight Loss

Energy balance: Maintenance, Weight Gain and Weight Loss  

 In the last blog, we investigated macronutrient recommendations and calculating energy intake. Today we are going to draw upon some of that information, and take a look at energy balance e.g. weight loss and weight gain. Energy balance is the relationship between the energy in (calories consumed from food and drink) and energy out (calories burnt through exercise, metabolic processes, and bodily functions). This relationship ultimately defines whether we are weight-stable, losing weight or gaining weight. And although being in a positive or negative energy balance can help us to achieve our performance goals, either one can have implications when incorrectly implemented.


Negative Energy Balance:

 When the body is burning more calories than it is taking in, we effectively run out of our immediate fuel source e.g. blood/muscle/liver glycogen. Therefore, our bodies break down fat reserves in order to make up the difference, this leads to weight loss. Incorporating an energy deficit can be an excellent way to aid adaptations, and there are safe and effective ways to do this.  However, a severe negative energy balance can lead to a decline in metabolism and bone mass, reduced testosterone and thyroid hormones and negative implications for sports performance. Provided that activity levels remain the same, the ACSM recommends a calorie deficit of 500kcal per day for healthy weight loss in active populations (1lb loss per week). Furthermore, it is recommended to reduce fat intake to < 30% of overall energy intake, whilst maintaining a high protein intake (to reduce lean mass loss), and manipulating carbohydrate around training e.g. fueling before and replenishing after.


7 ways to achieve a negative energy balance:

  • Build muscle with intense muscle-damaging weight training (about 5 hours of total exercise each week) and proper evidence-based nutrition

  • Maximize post workout energy expenditure (afterburn) by using high-intensity exercise methods

  • Boost physical activity outside of your normal training routine e.g. walking/cycling to work

  • Increase thermic effect of feeding by increasing unprocessed food intake (this helps with other things too!)

  • Eat lean protein at regular intervals throughout the day

  • Sleep 7-9 hours each night

  • Don’t engage in ANY extreme diets! This often leads to overcompensation and a “F*ck it” mentality


Positive Energy Balance:

 When we are in a calorie surplus (eating more than we’re burning) the body is able to store this excess fuel for when it is later needed, leading to weight gain. Weight gain can be important for a number of reasons e.g. making weight for a fight, stepping up to a higher level of sport (varsity, college, pro), or simply gaining muscle. However, there are a number of dangerous implications for excessive overfeeding. With prolonged overfeeding, there is a greater risk of plaque deposits in our arteries, increased blood pressure and cholesterol, insulin resistance, as well as other major health implications. But just like weight loss, there is a healthy way to gain weight. It is recommended to increase calorie intake by 500kcal per day, whilst sticking to macronutrient recommendations and keeping a close eye on weight change.


7 ways to achieve a positive energy balance:

  • Build muscle with intense muscle-damaging weight training (at least 4 hours of intense exercise per week) and proper evidence-based nutrition

  • Try to consume calories from liquids e.g. recovery shakes (this helps with maintaining appetite)

  • Build in energy-dense foods that don’t cause rapid satiety/fullness (nut butters, nuts, trail mix, oils, etc.)

  • Eat at regular intervals throughout the day

  • Incorporate additional omega-3 fats from whole food sources e.g. oily fish

  • Sleep 7-9 hours per night

  • Stay consistent with habits (to see results, you have to STICK WITH IT)



Although energy balance may seem like a very simple mechanism, it is extremely complex and should be respected. There are a number of factors influencing this process, and therefore it is continually changing. This means that when employing a calorie deficit or calorie surplus, it is important to pay attention to changes in body weight, health, and performance! Furthermore, it is important to set realistic goals for yourself and to track your progress. This simple technique will avoid going to the extreme in either direction. Lastly, changes to energy balance do not need to be kept for an eternity, once you have reached your goal and are weight stable, there is no need to take the intervention any further.