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Energy Compensation and Calories Burned

Have you all seen the new study floating around?

If you go back to my IGTV’s I did one a few weeks ago on another study from this group on metabolism changes across the lifespan!

For this study, they looked at how our basal metabolic rate AKA resting daily just stay alive metabolism, is related to our activity energy expenditure. Aka, does it go up with activity, down, or stay the same?

What they found was that when we increase our activity expenditure, our basal/resting metabolism doesn’t go up in a 1:1 manner. In fact — it compensates by decreasing our total energy expenditure by ~28%. This makes sense in a “run around to kill & find food” context. Just not so helpful in the age of computer work and Uber eats!

This data also showed that those with more adiposity (fat) assessed as a higher BMI compensated for calories more. (Yes, BMI isn’t perfect, but this is a large data set that accounted for FFM.).



A) Shows that basal energy expenditure & total energy expenditure is <1 (meaning there is compensation)

B) When plotting basal energy expenditure & activity energy expenditure, we see a negative relationship.


A) Distribution of the 1,754 subjects by BMI

B) Total energy expenditure vs. basal energy expenditure controlling for sex age & body comp.

Compensation for individuals in the 10th % is 27.7% but increases to 49.2% in the 90th %. Meaning those with more fat mass compensated more.

Overall, metabolisms are complex & adaptive. This paper supports intelligent nutrition, NOT in any way saying exercise is inadequate or useless. Other data shows exercise does help maintain healthy fat tissue, and plays a role in regulating our hunger + fullness. ONE PAPER ≠ all answers 🙌🏻👏🏻

And lastly. My god, if I see one of you read this and start multiplying your fitness trackers calories by 72% and eating that, I’ll smack you with my dissertation document. I have multiple posts + an IGTV explaining the flawed logic in this!

Key Points:

  • Increased activity does not directly result in higher total energy expenditure because other things may decrease/compensate in response.
  • Energy compensation is ~28% in the typical human, meaning ~72% of our exercise calories burned result in more energy expended. 
  • Individuals with more fat compensate more (~50%), but it is unsure if this is a cause or result of one another at this time. 
  • Their measures did control for muscle mass, but as their other study shows, this is still important for preserving metabolism — don’t get it twisted. You should still lift.
  • This didn’t account for NEAT, which may or may not decrease with increased activity. 

So please keep exercising. Keep lifting. Keep doing your stupid little walks for your health. But recognize it doesn’t always mean you’re a massive calorie burning machine into infinity and beyond 🚀!

If you found this helpful, please share along to your story with someone who might benefit from this. Sharing is caring and a $FREE.99 way to help keep sciency swipes on my feed! 🙌🏻💕

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Hey, I'm Lyss!

I’m Exercise Physiologist, sports nutritionist, weight lifter, and ultra runner. I am here to bring science to your training in a no-nonsense way. I have helped thousands of women crush big lifting goals, cross race finish lines, and even do both. I’m here to help you do the same!

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