Eat a Big Breakfast for Greater Diet-Induced Thermogenesis

Weight loss is an interesting topic these days. For some, bringing up the topics of keto, intermittent fasting, plant-based or some other popular nutritional topic of the day leads to heated discussions.

Unfortunately, some conversations are prefaced with ‘I believe…’ and then whatever nutritional opinion follows. Emotions can become so strong with nutrition that facts and evidence get thrown out the window. And positions can be maintained as though defending a religious perspective.

When discussing weight loss there are two predominant positions popping up on social media. One supposes that creating a caloric deficit is all that matters. You can eat fast food every day as long as you are eating fewer calories than you burn in a day. This ignores what the other position claims is vital, which is the quality of the nutrition.

Maybe you’ve heard the expression ‘as long as it fits your macros’ to justify eating certain foods. By macros we’re referring to the macronutrients i.e. proteins, carbs and fats.

The truth is that both sides are correct. It matters how much you eat. A caloric deficit is needed to achieve weight loss. And the quality of the matters as well. You cannot achieve healthy weight loss with low quality nutrition..

But there’s one more piece to the puzzle that typically tends to get ignored. And that’s the timing of our nutrition.

In other words, would you expect eating the same foods in the same amounts at different times to have an impact on our weight loss efforts?

For example, if you ate a 2070 calorie breakfast, a 600 calorie lunch and a 330 calorie dinner…

Would this have any difference on our fat loss efforts than if we ate the following:

330 calorie breakfast, 600 calorie lunch, 2070 calorie dinner.

The answer is that it does make a difference.

A recent study looked at whether there was a difference in thermogenesis based on whether a larger breakfast or large dinner was eaten.

16 normal weight men ate either a large breakfast equivalent to 69% of daily calories or a small dinner of 11% of daily calories. In the example above I used 3000 calories to represent total daily intake, 11% equaled 330 calories and 69% equaled 2070 calories. The participants of the study ate the big breakfast or big dinner for three days. They then followed the opposite protocol of what they did for the first three days i.e. if they ate a big breakfast in the first part they ate a big dinner in the second part.

So what did they find?

Diet-induced thermogenesis was 2.5 higher following the big breakfast compared to the big dinner.

Does this really matter?

It can definitely make a difference. When we are seeking a weight loss goal we want to know how many calories we expend in a day. The total is a combination of our basal metabolic rate (70%), our non-exercise activity thermogenesis (15%), our exercise (5%) and the foods we eat (10%). The percentages listed are averages and will vary based on age, sex, level of obesity, which foods we eat and more.

Total daily energy expenditure – Basal metabolic rate (BMR), thermic effect of feeding (TEF), non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) and exercise.

The foods we eat can be responsible for 10% of the total energy we burn in a day. If someone is burning 2500 calories per day than the food we eat, digest and metabolize could be responsible for 250 of these calories. This study found that those that ate a bigger breakfast had 2.5 times the diet-induced thermogenesis. In other words, if breakfast normally accounted for 100 calorie burned this could be pushed up to 250 calories. For someone looking to create a 300-400 calorie deficit per day this is huge.

It get better.

When subjects ate a bigger breakfast compared to a small, hypo-caloric meal they were less hungry during the day and had less cravings for sweets. This is very important when seeking a weight loss goal as there will be less temptation to grab a treat or eat more than is needed for health.

One way we’ve thought about this in the past was to eat like a king, then a prince then a pauper in terms of calories. So early in the day eat the bulk of your calories and gradually reduce these as the day progresses. And for the best results make sure to eat the best quality foods you can at each meal.


Richter J. et al. 2020. Twice as High Diet-Induced Thermogenesis After Breakfast vs Dinner on High-Calorie as Well as Low-Calories Meals. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 105(3).

Fitness Trackers – Are They For You?

How do you track your training sessions? At worst I’m hoping you have a notebook to record your loads, weights, reps, sets, rest breaks etc and be able to refer to this information from one workout to the next.A training journal is a necessity for those seeking the best results.

A training journal is a necessity for those seeking the best results.

With something as simple as bringing a notebook to the gym you’d think everyone would do at least this much. it doesn’t cost anything and takes no extra time or effort. You can make all your entries during a rest break or immediately after training.

But besides going old school and low-budget with a journal there a number of fitness trackers which will monitor and record everything from heart rate intensity and averages, caloric output and even sleep cycles at night.

Recently, a study at the Iowa State looked at the accuracy of 7 different fitness trackers. Researchers looked at BodyMedia FIT, DirectLife, Fitbit One, Fitbit Zip, Jawbone UP band, Nike+ Fuel Band and the Basis B1 Band. BodyMedit Fit and the Fitbit Zip were found to be most accurate. And in a related story Nike may be killing off its fuel band in the near future.

But back to the point of gadgets to track your caloric output I have never really been sold on them. I’ll admit there are benefits to knowing what your heart rate data is and to monitoring the length of your workouts. However when you think about it these type of products are usually favoured by those with a few pounds to spare.

And my concern is that individuals tracking how many calories they burned at Zumba or spin class will then see this as a credit to indulge later. For example, if a fitness tracker shows that I burned 473 calories sweating to the oldies can I then rationalize a 300 calorie treat later in the day? And does knowing how much I burned influence why decision to indulge and have a treat later that day?

To me it’s kind of like starting a new job. Most people know what they are to be paid. Yet they still wait to actually receive the cheque in their hands before they go out and spend what they know they’ve earned. Until they have the confirmation of how much is coming off for dues, taxes, insurance and everything else they may be reluctant to go out and spend by assuming their new paycheque will cover what they buy.

Case in point…once people have have a job for some time they may know exactly how much they will receive on each cheque and then spend accordingly. They know not only how much they can spend but when payday is and how long the wait is until they can spend again.

Nutrition and creating a caloric deficit probably works in similar way. If we know exactly how many calories we have burned we may feel justified or even entitled to bigger and more frequent indulgences.

The problem then becomes one of accuracy. If we are using one of the less than accurate fitness trackers we may be over-estimating our caloric output. If the best devices were 10% off then how inaccurate were the less accurate ones? 15%? 25%?

Imagine for a second if you were using a less accurate fitness tracker that displayed 500 calories burned for a workout. And then you decide you can have a treat that is only 380 calories. You are still 120 calories ahead, got in your training session and were able to enjoy life by having a treat. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

But let’s back up for a second. If your fitness tracker was 20% off in its accuracy than that means you really only burned 400 calories instead of 500. And if the restaurant that prepares your treat makes it a little differently than advertised you may end up with more than 380 calories as expected.

Now not only is your training a wash when you factor in your treat but you also no longer have  a 120 calorie credit left over from believing you burned 500 calories. And how do people behave when there is surplus? They spend it as quickly as they can! Nobody invests extra money from a tax return or a bonus at work. No way! This is free money to do whatever you like without any pain or guilt associated.

So what is the take home from all this? Well if you use a fitness tracker be aware of the limits on accuracy. And if you are going to pick one up try one of the ones in the study that provided the truest record of calories burned. Either way know that caloric outputs are simply estimates and should not be used as tools to budget your nutritional consumption.

Chris [fb-like]

Putting the Brakes on Your Metabolism

Since we know how the body burns calories it would also make sense to understand what puts the breaks on our ability to burn calories. Or in other words what slows down our metabolism?

Now there are a number of factors that influence our metabolic rate. An older person burns fewer calories than a younger person, usually dropping by about 2% per decade. So if there were such a thing as copies of the same person in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s at the beach the oldest version at the beach would have a 6% slower metabolism than the version of themselves in their 20s. This is due simply to the fact they got older.To rev up our metabolism we need to take off all the brakes.

To rev up our metabolism we need to take off all the brakes.

Now in combination with getting older and having a slower metabolism there is also the fact that testosterone drops as we age as well. From a peak in our twenties this hormone slowly declines starting in our thirties. With less of this anabolic in our body it is more difficult to build and maintain our lean body mass. As a result a smaller frame requires fewer calories to sustain it and our metabolism slows.

And besides our age and hormones there are other things which can disrupt our metabolism including prescription drugs, our sleep patterns, our overall health and our body type. With many of these we can’t do too much to influence our metabolism. For example, we can’t go back and choose better parents to alter our genetics. And it’s tough to stop time and prevent the aging process but some people do a pretty good job of staving off the effects of aging.

So knowing that there are some aspects of our metabolism that are completely out of our control means we have to be even more careful about the aspects which we can influence. For example consider when someone is dieting and trying to lose a few pounds. The typical approach would be to eat fewer calories, create a caloric deficit and hopefully drop some weight.

Here’s the problem.

As we reduce our caloric intake our metabolism slows. We eat fewer calories which lowers our thyroid hormone output, there is less thermic effect from feeding and we reduce our muscle mass. Don’t worry too much if you’re not familiar with thyroid hormone. For now if you understand that it is involved in our metabolism you’ll get the point.

So as we restrict calories we put the brakes on our metabolism. And this confuses a lot of people as they understand that weight loss requires a caloric deficit. And it does. However too much of a deficit and the body will think starvation is imminent and do what it can to slow down the ‘assembly line’ of calorie burning which is our metabolism.

I seem to recall from my Precision Nutrition certification course that our resting metabolic rate is most severely depressed when calories are reduced to the 1000-1200 calories per day range. So if someone required 1800 calories to maintain weight and reduced this to 1000 calories they may find that their metabolism slows, weight loss stops and it becomes more difficult to fuel their workouts without enough energy.

Guess what? The opposite is true of people  looking to add lean mass. If the same individual that requires 1800 calories per day jumps their intake to 4000 calories they will see their metabolism spike. The body is overwhelmed with the overload of additional calories and ramps up metabolism in an effort to burn off the excess calories. Young skinny guys looking to add 10-20 pounds of muscle know this first hand.

So what’s the solution?

Whatever your goal make small changes and then track the results. By a small change I’m talking about a 10-20% difference in what your body requires for normal day to day activities where you maintain weight. Using the 1800 calorie example this might be 1440-1620 calories per day for weight loss. And for the person looking to gain mass this might be 1980-2160 calories per day. Monitor the changes in terms of your strength, energy levels, waist circumference, body-fat and mass then go from there making small adjustments every couple of weeks.

Chris [fb-like]

The calories v. sugar debate

So recently on the interwebs there was a bit of discussion on a social network about the importance of sugar in the diet. Actually it was more than just a discussion as some members took to mocking the other side who then responded to blocking the immature commenter from their profile.

Now what that is all about was the fact that one group was of the belief that the increased consumption of sugar is the culprit of our deteriorating health i.e. obesity, metabolic syndrome etc. And the other side was dismissing the notion of sugar being responsible and favouring the opinion that increased calories were the root cause of society’s declining health.

A couple of points on this:

1. This isn’t religion and we don’t need to get overly offended about the position of another individual or group based on what they believe with respect to nutrition.

2. The two positions aren’t mutually exclusive. Why can’t we believe both positions? In other words isn’t it possible that we are both eating more calories and eating more sugar today than we ever have in our history? It kind of seems like a silly 80s beer commercial.It doesn't have to be just one.

It doesn’t have to be just one.

So it is possible for both sides to be right. We are consuming more sugar than we have in our history and we are consuming more calories as well. The solution doesn’t have to be one or the other in terms of reducing calories or reducing sugar. The answer should be both.

And this is something we have been preaching to our clients for as long as I can remember. Actually I can remember as it was something I learned from an American colleague of mine at a conference in Colorado. You see as soon as I realized Shawn was a registered dietician I was peppering him with questions for the entire conference. And one of the things he said that stuck with me was that we have to consider our nutrition in three areas. If we meet two of the three conditions than we will have problems when it comes to meeting our weight loss, performance or health oriented goals.

And these three conditions for nutrition were:

Dose – How much we eat of something matters.

Quality – How good or bad something is for us matters.

Timing – When we eat matters.

The interesting thing is that many who believe they have everything dialed in with respect to their nutrition are addressing only two out of three. Here’s how this would look with each of the three scenarios above.

Dose/quality satisfied, timing ignored – This would be the person who eats the right amount of calories of the best quality foods but skips breakfast and lunch. This person then eats 2000 cal dinners every night, has difficulty sleeping as a result, is not hungry upon waking in the morning. In fact they may be so full from the previous night’s meal that they complain of nausea when training the following am.

Dose/timing satisfied, quality ignored – If an individual required 2000 calories to maintain body mass than this is the person that eats exactly that amount. And unlike the person in the previous example who eats all 2000 at one sitting this person eats 500 calorie meals spread out over four meals throughout the day. The problem is that the 500 calorie meals consist of ice cream, pizza, nachos and cotton candy. In other words although the timing and amount of calories is good the quality is terrible.

Quality/timing satisfied, dose ignored – This is the person that eats the best quality foods at the right times but not the right amount. And while we typically might think of this of being an issue of over-eating it can work both ways. In fact it may be more limiting for those looking to drop some weight if they cut calories too much. Using the same numbers as above for the 2000 calories required per day this might be the person that eats broccoli, chick breast, spinach, fish and many other healthy proteins, vegetables and drinks water. The problem would occur if this person only eats 1000 calories per day of these foods. On the other hand it would also be a problem if someone were to eat 4000 calories per day of the healthiest foods and then struggle to lose weight.

To summarize you can’t worry simply about sugars intake and ignore the basics thermodynamics which dictate whether weight is gained or lost. At the same time a calorie is not a calorie. There needs to be some consideration for the quality of the food we consume and not simply look to create a deficit regardless of which types of foods make up the calories.

In the next post we’ll look more closely at which factors influence weight gain or weight loss.

Chris [fb-like]

8 Steps for Weight Loss – Where hCG Fits In

Last week I introduced some of you to the hCG Diet. And a few of you were already familiar with it which is good. In fact one of you replied with what your experiences with it had been.

 8 Steps for Weight Loss   Where hCG Fits In

Just to let you know in January, I did use HCG. I lose 40lbs in 40+ days. The HCG came in a spray so there were on injections. I did not have any side effects (discounting the breasts I grow – just kidding). I was eating more than 500 calories daily, but not much more.

 I agree that I could have lost the weight without the HCG but it does help you focus on your goal and in the final view I did lose the weight.

 It is 8 month and I still have kept the weight off but I have watched what I am eating and eating less.

 I am not recommending HCG but I lost the weight.

 Thanks for the feedback.

 And besides this comment there was some other feedback as well. So it has people taking I think it makes sense to clarify my position on this.

 I don’t the doubt effectiveness. I don’t doubt that it can be safely administered.

 Here’s my issue with it.

 It can become step #1 for some people.

 Step #1? What the heck am I talking about, right?

 Well here’s how I approach weight loss and body transformation in terms of 7 steps. So I guess you could call this my 8 Steps for Weight Loss.

 Step #1 – Get Your Head in It

 8 Steps for Weight Loss   Where hCG Fits In

 I’ve mentioned this many times before and probably sound like a broken record. If want to have success at anything in life you need to believe in the process and in your ability to achieve that success.

 For example, if a health practitioner is advocating a prescription (not necessarily a drug) towards better you either take and follow the prescription or your don’t. You either believe it’s going to work and you follow it to a ‘T’ or you don’t bother.

 This is no different than someone seeking weight loss. You either buy into the plan or you find another plan.

 Step #2 – Get Your Rest in Order

 Most of us don’t get enough sleep. And then we disrupt the hormones related to fat loss. And we have trouble finding the energy to work out. Or if we do workout we give half the effort and it takes us twice as long to recover.

 We always advocate ensuring your sleep is of the highest quality and quantity before progressing to the next stage.

 Step #3 – Eliminate the Negatives

 Usually this has to do with food. You need to go through your fridge and pantry and throw out the processed foods, diet sodas, the refined sugars and anything else that doesn’t bring you closer to your goal.

 But besides food you need to cut ties with other negatives in your life. Maybe this is the relationship you’ve developed with your TV for 3 hours after work every night. Or the friends who aren’t into fitness but know where all the weekly beer and wing specials are.

 In other words, if it doesn’t bring you closer to your goal, eliminate it.

 Step #4 – Buy Quality Groceries

 8 Steps for Weight Loss   Where hCG Fits In

Learn how to fuel your body properly. Figure which foods contain which nutrients. And then buy the best quality you can.

 A couple more tips towards knowing which foods qualify as high quality:

 * they are food around the periphery of the grocery store

 * they will go bad if not eaten fairly soon

 * they have one word in their name

 Step #5 – Move Fast or Move Heavy

 Exercise. A minimum of 3 times per week. You either need to move fast or you need to lift heavy weights.

 Golfing is fun and takes 4 hours but doesn’t count. Nor does hiking. Or gardening. Or playing with your kids unless your kids weigh 200 lbs.

 Step #6 – Fill the Gaps

 This is the point where you might look at an omega-3 supplement. Or maybe you need to get a little more protein.

 This one is a little more specific to the individual, their goals and their ability to consume all the nutrients they require for optimal health and performance.

 Step #7 – Performance Boosters

 This is where I ‘may’ recommend sports supplements for athletes and individuals with specific training goals. And even with that we with the more proven and recognized ones such as creatine, whey protein, beta-alanine and a few others.

 If you notice these come way down the list after you should have eliminated all the crap from your diet, fuelled up on the best quality nutrition and attained a high enough level of competition to justify supplement with any of these substances.

 Step 8 – Alternative Methods

 Here’s where the chg. Diet should rank for most people. Why at this stage?

 Because most people don’t do a complete job of #1-7.

 But here’s where it can be unique.

 Sometimes there are very unique circumstances where nothing else has worked. Sometimes you have individuals who are not able to move, for whatever reason, to create a caloric deficit and lose weight. And sometimes there are those who are simply in a position where they can afford to follow this protocol, which works, and realize the results it offers.

 I know intent can sometimes be lost in the written word.

 And so I want to clear that this opinion is simply just that. There are unique circumstances to every situation and as fitness professional I need to be sensitive to this fact. But at the same time I want the best for everyone we work and I believe following these 7 steps, in this order, allows for the greatest chance of long term weight loss.

 As always, I open and willing to consider any critique or commentary.