A Beginner’s Guide to Exercise Volume 2: Weight Loss Basics

As important physical fitness can be in establishing overall health, I personally view it as a mere supplemental piece to the absolute essential concepts of nutrition. Understanding what role caloric intake plays in the overall scheme of energy expenditure is something that is relatively simple to understand and can truly reap tremendous weight loss benefits for beginners and experts alike. Other more complicated topics such as macronutrients, supplements, and performance related nutrients aren’t as important for beginners, and thus will be discussed in future articles.

For a beginner, it all begins with the concept of Total Energy Expenditure (TEE). Total Energy Expenditure describes the three major bodily processes that utilize the calories we ingest from the foods and beverages we consume. Take a look at the chart below:


As you can clearly see, the three main components of TEE are Basal Metabolic Rate, Physical Activity, and Dietary Thermogenesis (also known as the Thermal Effect of Feeding). By far the biggest component of energy use is the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). It uses up a massive 60 to 75 percent of the total energy the human body uses, and I think of it as “Life Energy” because all of these calories are utilized in the maintenance of proper organ function,  the regulation of internal body temperatures, and much more. Basal Metabolic Rate does not require a single movement to burn calories. In fact, it is a measurement of how many calories an individual burns over a 24 hour span by just sleeping or sitting. This rate is different for everyone and is affected by age, lean body mass, body size, height, weight, and other physiological processes. There are several BMR calculators online, and a quick google search will allow you to discover a relatively accurate estimate of the number of calories your body burns by simply maintaining itself.

The next biggest component of TEE is physical activity, and this is the only component of total energy expenditure that you have complete control over. Participating in exercise, regardless of its intensity, increases energy demands placed on the body. In order for the body to satisfy the requirements of these demands it uses the energy from calories ingested from food. Think of Total Energy Expenditure as a test and physical activity is thirty percent of that test. If you don’t take it the best you can get is a 70. If you do well, you burn more calories, and thus lose more weight, or can eat more food.

The final component of TEE is dietary thermogenesis. This is a very scientific term to simply describe the energy required to digest food, and thus I think of it as “Digestion Energy”. This is for the most part completely out of your hands, and your body will burn ten percent of total calories ingested autonomously. It is possible to manipulate this number by eating frequent meals, but overall this will not make or break much.

How Weight Loss Works

Now that we know how the energy ingested from food is utilized, we can understand exactly how weight loss works.

Total Calories Ingested (TCI) – Total Energy Expenditure(TEE) = Net Caloric Deficit/Surplus

If (TCI-TEE) is > 0 Weight will be gained (Caloric Surplus)

If (TCI-TEE) is = 0 Weight will be maintained

If (TCI-TEE) is < 0 Weight will be lost (Caloric Deficit)

If you subtract total calories burned in a day (TEE) from the total calories you ingested from food (TCI), you will arrive at a number that represents your net caloric value. If this number is positive you have a caloric surplus, meaning you ingested more calories than you burned and thus will gain weight. If the opposite occurs and you have a negative number, you have a caloric deficit. This means you burned more calories than you ingested, resulting in weight loss. If the number is zero, you will neither gain nor lose weight as you have burned the same amount of calories that you have ingested. To calculate exactly how much weight is gained or lost, you take the surplus/deficit amount of calories and divide it by 3500. For example, if you had a surplus of 700 calories, you would gain 700/3500 (.2) pounds.

Putting it All Together

Now that we understand exactly how weight loss is achieved, I think providing an example of calculating energy balance would be helpful. So let’s observe a sample of my own personal daily caloric receipt to understand this better.

Alex’s Caloric Receipt

Breakfast                    +400

                                                                 Lunch                           +650

                                                                 Dinner                          +500

                                                                 Snacks                          +250

                                                                 BMR                              -2078

                                                                 Exercise                       -400

                                                                 Digestion                      -180


                                                               Caloric Deficit of 858 calories

As you can see, I ate three total meals throughout the day, and two snacks in between these meals for a total of five meals. The way you figure out the caloric values for each of these meals is to ensure you are tracking the calories that are portioned for the serving size you consume. For example, if I was eating a serving size of chicken (one piece) I would see on the back that this relates to 425 calories. You must do this for every meal you eat or drink, and at the end of the day tally up the total amount of calories you consumed. However, if you are busy, or just lazy like me, you can use one of several phone applications that will not only do all the math for you.  All you have to do for these apps is search what you ate, tell them how much you ate, and then it will tell you exactly how many calories you consumed. It will also keep track of your calories for the day. If we add all the calories from my meals together, we get a total of 1800 calories, and this number represents by total calories ingested for the day.

Now that we figured how many calories I ingested, it is time to figure out how exactly I calculated my total energy expenditure. If you do a quick search on Google for “Basal Metabolic Rate Calculator” you will find an abundance of websites that will ask for your height, weight, age, and gender. If you are willing to provide this information, the websites will give you a rough estimate of your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This rate stays relatively constant and only changes with increases in the things mentioned above (age, height, weight, etc.). After plugging this information in, my estimated BMR was 2078 calories. In addition to our BMR, we still have to calculate my Dietary Thermogenesis (Digestion Energy) and my physical activity to see exactly how many calories I burned. Digestion energy is simply about ten percent of the total calories you consumed. So for this, I added the calories consumed from breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks (1800) and then multiplied it by (.1) resulting in 180 burned calories. As far as calculating exercise goes, you can either purchase a heart rate monitor and it will measure your burned calories, or you could also use apps made for phones that will provide an estimate of how many calories you burned during your workout based off what you did and how long you did it. Add all three of these things together, and you will get your total energy expenditure.

Although these numbers were artificially created (except for BMR), you can see that I subtracted my ingested calories from my total energy expenditure to find out that I was at a calorie deficit of 858 calories, which would be amazing. If everything were to stay exactly the same (highly unlikely), I would burn a total of 6006 calories in one week, and thus lose approximately 1.71 pounds in that week. I calculated this number by multiplying my daily caloric deficit by seven and then dividing that number by 3500. Generally, most people try to be at a deficit of 500 calories per day, because this means that they will burn exactly one pound a week.

Weight loss, as you can probably see, is a very inexact science for someone who isn’t necessarily an expert in nutrition like most of the population is. It relies heavily on technology measuring ingested calories, tracking how many calories we burn in workouts, and our Basal Metabolic Rate. However, understanding how weight loss work is incredibly important, and learning how to track calories really can make a tremendous difference for people who struggle with their weight. With a little precision and discipline, a new and better life is completely attainable!

Author: Alex Perelló –  click here to view his bio and other articles

*As a certified personal trainer, I am to make explicitly clear that I am not a qualified to create individualized dietary plans, and I am not necessarily a nutrition specialist. However, I have taken several college courses on nutrition, received several basic nutritional guidelines while studying for the certification, and have years of experience of personal research. This article reflects some useful information I have discovered through these endeavors.


A Beginner’s Guide to Exercise Volume 1

Entering the health and fitness world can be an overwhelming process because of the incredible amounts of information that is presented to beginners. One minute you hear about crazy mass building protein shakes, and the next you are hearing about falsified nutrition plans that get insane results in two days. All this information makes it difficult to get a basic grasp of the essential information that is necessary to creating your own sustainable, healthy lifestyle. It is my goal as a personal trainer to change this trend, and empower and educate normal, everyday people to have the knowledge necessary to revolutionize their own lives.

Exercise Science Basics

Exercise has many guiding principles, but none more important than the Principle of Overload. This principle is extremely simple, but the very foundation that all training programs are based upon. The Principle of Overload states that in order to experience physiological adaptations, you are going to have to place a physical stress on your body that it is not accustomed to. This stress comes from performing workouts that include weight, tension, or an increase in muscle energy demands. In addition, it comes from other things such as frequency, duration, and intensity. These things will be discussed later on.

Another important principle is the Principle of Specificity (also known as the Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands principle). This is another important foundation that describes the body’s ability to adapt to whatever demands you place on it. In other words, a workout program should reflect the desired outcome. For example, if you want to get good at running, your workout program is going to have to include running, if you want to get a stronger chest, your workout program has to include chest exercises, so on and so forth.

The fitness industry is incredibly superficial and predicated over aesthetics. Because of this, it would only be fair to discuss the term Muscular Hypertrophy. Muscular Hypertrophy in very simple terms is the increase in the size of a muscle as a result of some kind of resistance training (weightlifting). The weightlifting needs to be specific and these specifics will be discussed shortly. In general, people who want to increase muscle mass and increase the appearance of size participate in this kind of training.

Muscular Hypertrophy has a brother and its name is Muscular Endurance. Muscular Endurance is a muscle’s ability to produce and maintain a force for an extended period of time. Much like Hypertrophy, training for endurance also creates muscular adaptations, but instead of an increase in muscle size, it generally leads to a toned muscular appearance. How to train for endurance will be discussed below.

Workout Basics

Now that we discussed general exercise theory at a basic level, we can dive into topics that are important for the creation of workouts. In addition to introducing these topics, I will also discuss how to manipulate them in order to gain muscle size (hypertrophy) or muscle tone (endurance).

A Repetition is probably the simplest term in the entire workout industry. It is the completion of an exercise one time (i.e doing one push-up).  In order to gain muscle tone and improve endurance, one must perform 12-20 repetitions of an exercise. In order to increase muscle size and train for hypertrophy, perform 6-12 repetitions of an exercise. Body weight exercises are an exception, and should always be conducted until failure.

A Set is another simple term, and it is just a group of repetitions. To increase muscle tone, perform 1-3 sets of an exercise. To increase muscle size perform 3-5 sets of an exercise.

Failure is the point in which you have done so many repetitions of an exercise that you physically cannot do anymore. This is the point you want to reach for each and every set, so one must ensure that they are using the appropriate weight in order to reach this point for the kind of training they wish to participate in. For example, if you want to train for hypertrophy, and you are doing 6 repetitions in your training, you need to use a weight that is heavy enough so that when you reach that sixth repetition, you cannot do a seventh.

A One Repetition Maximum is an important measure to let you choose the appropriate weight so that you can reach failure. It is exactly what it sounds like, the maximum amount of weight you can (with good form) perform one repetition of an exercise with. This goes hand and hand with Intensity, which is a measure of a level of effort that is generally represented as a percentage to your One-Repetition Maximum. Gaining Muscle size requires training in the 75%-85% of one rep max, and gaining muscle tone requires training in the 50%-70% range.

Rest Interval is a measure of the time you rest between each set. For tone, rest between 0 and 90 seconds. For size, take rests between 0 and 60 seconds.  

Training Volume is the amount of total sets of exercises you do in a single workout. For weight training, begin by shooting for 16 total sets of exercises, and then try to move up to 24 total sets of exercises.  For example, if you are working out your arms (shoulders, biceps, triceps) try to do 5 sets of each muscle group for 15 total (beginners), or 8 sets of each for 24 sets total (advanced).

An often overlooked but extremely crucial aspect of creating a workout is having an appropriate warm-up and cool-down. Performing both of these exposes your body to a vast array of physiological benefits, such as a decreased risk of injury, proper muscle activation to ensure maximum performance when it counts, and an increase in psychological preparation. A warm-up lasts generally 5-10 minutes and precedes any of the actual workout. A good split for warming up is to start with a quick 3-5 minute cardio warm-up (running, jump rope, etc.), and then stretch the muscles that your body will be tackling in the workout for the remainder of the time. The Cool-Down more than likely will mirror the Warm-Up, with a 3-5 minute cardio cool down, and stretch for the remainder of the time.

You now have the necessary knowledge to understand what causes your body to change, and how to manipulate the basic components of a workout to get your body to change in the way most people want it! Check out volume two, where we tie all this knowledge together, and address Program Design and Nutrition basics!