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Keep on imagining, because all of this is a mirage. 

The reality is no food can directly cause fat loss.

(Some foods are more conducive to fat loss than others, but that’s not the same as causing fat loss. More on this soon.)

“What about foods that boost your metabolism, though?” you might be thinking.

And that’s what brings us to the topic of this podcast: the thermic effect of food.

Fitness magazines and “miracle diet” hucksters claim that eating foods with a high thermic effect is the secret to getting the body of your dreams.

If only it were that simple.

The thermic effect of food does play a role in your metabolism and weight loss and weight gain, but not in the way that many people would have you believe.

That is, the foods you eat do affect your metabolism and the speed at which you lose or gain weight, but they aren’t the primary determinants.

And in this podcast, we’re going to break it all down.

By the end, you’re going to know what the thermic effect of food is and several science-based ways to use it to help improve your metabolism and achieve your fitness goals.


4:23 – What is the thermic effect of food? 

8:26 – What happens when you eat and how does it relate to fat burning? 

15:12 – What are the best foods for weight loss? 

20:29 – Does eating more frequently boost your metabolism and help you lose weight faster? 

23:17 – Can you raise the thermic effect of food? 

Mentioned on The Show: 

Legion VIP One-on-One Coaching

What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!


Howdy ho. Welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I’m your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today. Now, imagine for a second that you could lose weight faster by just eating the right food or maybe by just changing your meal schedule around, you know, maybe eating the morning grapefruit.

To slim and trim your thighs, or maybe the daily lunch of canned tuna will help chip away at your belly fat. Or your habit of nibbling on small meals every few hours will help keep fat loss humming along throughout the day by boosting your metabolism versus having three squares a. Well keep imagining because unfortunately all that is a mirage.

The reality is no food can directly cause fat loss. Now, some foods are more conducive to fat loss than others, but that’s different than causing fat loss. And I’ll be talking about that in this podcast now. What about foods that supposedly boost your metabolism, though? Well, that’s what brings us to the topic of this podcast, which is the thermic.

Of food, many Miracle Diet hucksters out there. Gurus claim that eating foods with a high thermic effect is one of the secrets, if not the secret to getting the body of your dreams, getting lean and staying that way if only, right? If only it were that simple. The thermic effect of food does play a role in your metabolism and your weight loss, sore weight gain, but not in the way that many people would have you believe.

That is the foods you eat do affect your metabolism and the speed at which you lose or gain weight, but they are not the primary. Determinants of what happens with your body weight. And in this podcast, we are going to break it down and by the end you’re gonna know what the thermic effect of food is, as well as several science-based ways to use it to help you optimize your diet for fat loss, and optimize your metabolism.

I think it’s a fair way of putting it and achieve your fitness goals. Also, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my v i p one-on-one coaching service because my team and I have helped people of all ages and all circumstances lose fat, build muscle, and get into the best shape of their life faster than they ever thought possible.

And we can do the same for. We make getting fitter, leaner, and stronger, paint by numbers simple, by carefully managing every aspect of your training and your diet for you. Basically, we take out all of the guesswork, so all you have to do is follow the plan and watch your body change day after day, week after week, and month after month.

What’s more, we’ve found that people are often missing just one or two crucial pieces of the puzzle, and I’d bet a shiny shackle, it’s the same with you. You’re probably doing a lot of things right, but dollars to donuts, there’s something you’re not doing correctly or at all. That’s giving you the most grief.

Maybe it’s your calories or your macros. Maybe it’s your exercise selection. Maybe it’s your food choices. Maybe you’re not progressively overloading your muscles or maybe it’s something else, and whatever it is, here’s what’s important. Once you identify those one or two things you’re missing, once you figure it.

That’s when everything finally clicks, that’s when you start making serious progress, and that’s exactly what we do for our clients. To learn more, head over to That’s buly p and schedule your free consultation call, which by the way is not a high pressure sales call. It’s really just a discovery call where we.

Know you better and see if you’re a good fit for the service. And if you’re not for any reason, we will be able to share resources that’ll point you in the right direction. So again, if you appreciate my work and if you want to see more of it, and if you also want to finally stop spinning your wheels and make more progress in the next few months than you did in the last few years, check out my VIP coaching [email protected]

All right, so let’s start this discussion with a simple explanation of what the thermic effect of food is. Now, you will also see this referred to as t e F as just the acronym, t e F, and this is the amount of energy that’s required to digest and process the food that you eat. It’s really that simple.

It’s also referred to as specific dynamic action. SDA is another. Uh, people will refer to it and dietary induced thermogenesis, d i t, and studies show that I’m just gonna refer to it as the therm effect of food that it accounts for approximately 10% of your total daily energy expenditure. Now, generally, t e F is measured as a percentage of the calories of a food that are required to.

That food. So if a portion of a particular food contains, let’s say a hundred calories, and the body burns 20 calories in the course of digesting it and processing it, that food has a t e f of 20%, right? 20 divided by. 100 equals 20%. Now, in this way, your metabolism does speed up when you eat, and the amount that this occurs depends on three factors.

You have the macronutrient composition of the meal, you have the level of processing that the food has undergone, and then you also have how much. Food you eat in a meal. Now the single biggest determinant of the thermic effect of food is the first one, the macronutrient composition of the meal. And here’s how it breaks down.

Protein tops the list with a T E F of around 20 to 35%. And then come carbs, which have a T E F of around five to 10%. And last is dietary fat, which has a T E F of about zero to. Percent alcohol is kind of interesting by the way, because it has a high t e F of around 10 to 15%, which leads some people to believe that drinking alcohol might actually be good for fat loss.

The problem with this line of thinking though, is that although alcohol does have a high T E F, it also can reduce fat burning in other ways and especially when you’re in a calorie surplus. So if you are lean bulking or lean gain, And drinking alcohol regularly, you are going to gain fat quite a bit faster than if you were not drinking regularly.

And if you wanna learn more about that, head over to legion, search for alcohol and check out an article called How Bad Is Alcohol for You? Really, it’s a deep dive into the various physiological pros and cons of alcohol. Alright, so after the macronutrient composition, the second major determinant of T E F is.

Level of processing that a food is undergone. So foods that are more processed have a lower T E F than foods that are less processed. So, for example, a study conducted by scientists at Peno College found that a processed food meal of white bread and American cheese increased. T e F by about 10%, whereas a whole food meal of multi-grain bread and cheddar cheese increased t e F by about 20%.

And quick note there, that that difference in T E F would likely be even higher if the experiment were comparing the white bread and American cheese to a meal of high fiber vegetables and lean protein, which is even less processed than multi-grain bread and cheddar cheese. And that then brings us to the third and final factor here in T E F, which is.

Food that you eat in a sitting, of course, larger meals cause a bigger increase because they cost more energy to digest than smaller meals. Now, if we left the discussion at that, you’d probably walk away with the same misconception that many people have, which is if different foods boost your metabolism more than others, protein.

Boosts your metabolism, so to speak, 20 to 35% because it costs approximately 2230 5% of the energy contained in protein two process it versus zero to 3% of dietary fat that you could lose weight by just eating large amounts of high tea e F foods, or significantly increase your weight loss by, again, just focusing on eating as much high T e F foods as.

I wish that that was a viable fat loss strategy, but it’s not. And to understand why, we need to dive a bit deeper into what happens, what you eat, and how it relates to fat burning. So let’s get into that. When you eat food, your energy expenditure does rise. And that, of course, is good for fat loss because at the end of the day, a calorie deficit is what drives fat loss.

An energy deficit is what drives fat loss. Eating less energy than you’re burning consistently over time is how you lose weight, right? It’s how you lose. That said, what’s bad for fat loss is that after you eat a meal, fat burning mechanisms in the body are reduced and fat storage mechanisms are enhanced.

So fat burning goes down, fat storing goes up, and the magnitude of those effects varies based on what you eat. Some foods reduce fat burning more than others, and some are more efficiently stored as body. Than others. Now, to understand why that is, we have to talk a little bit about what happens, exactly what happens when we eat.

So digestion, the whole process starts right as we put food into our mouth. Enzymes in our saliva start breaking down food as it moves toward the stomach, which then takes over the whole process of reducing that food into usable nutrients. So the protein we eat becomes amino acids. The carbs become glucose and glycogen.

The dietary fat becomes fatty acids. And so, Then we have the small intestine, which continues to digest food into these usable nutrients, and then absorbs those nutrients into the blood. Now, once the nutrients have passed through the walls of the small intestine and into the bloodstream, they need to be transported into cells for use, and this is where the hormone insulin comes into play, as well as shuttling.

Into cells. Insulin inhibits lipolysis, which is the breakdown of fat cells for energy, and it stimulates lipogenesis, which is the storage of calories of energy, the expansion of fat cells. Now, insulin also shuttles nutrients into fat cells whose job is to get fatter, to get larger, to hold more energy in case we run out of.

and that process makes sense because why should your body burn? Its precious fat stores, its energy reserves when it has an abundance of food, energy, calories available from the food that we just ate. And that might sound bad, but realize that if your body were unable to continually replenish its fat stores via the food we eat, they would simply slowly or quickly, depending on how active we are, shrink until we.

Because if our body did not have food energy available to burn or fat energy available to burn and it couldn’t burn anything else for energy, which it could, it could burn muscle, for example. But the point is, if it can’t obtain energy that it needs to keep cells working, then that’s it. The lights go out.

And that mechanism in insulin’s role in it is why many gurus vilify insulin and they vilify eating carbs because carbs spike insulin levels and as insulin blunts fat burning and triggers fat storage. The idea is that a diet. That results in more insulin production, higher general levels of insulin, higher spikes of insulin is going to be inherently more fattening regardless of calorie intake than a diet that results in generally lower insulin levels and smaller insulin spikes and so on.

Now, this theory is fully debunked as very fake news, and it’s something that I have written and spoken extensively about. So I won’t go into all of the particulars again here, but if you. To learn a bit more about that before I talk about how all of that relates to the thermic effect of food. Head over to legion and search for energy balance, and you’ll find an article called How to Use Energy Balance to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle.

You’ll also find a podcast probably by the same title. so you can read or listen and then come back and continue here. But for the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to assume that you understand that when you consistently eat more energy than you burn, then you gain fat. And when you consistently eat less energy than you burn, than you.

Lose fat. Now, what does that have to do with the thermic effect of food? Well, we recall that TF contributes to overall energy expenditure, and that means that it slightly decreases the amount of energy that is available for fat storage when we eat food, that it can slightly decrease the amount of post-meal fat storage.

And in that way, T E F can contribute to weight loss by increasing the amount of energy that you are burning every day, but the magnitude of its effects are too small to really move the needle. You can’t just rely on T E F to drive fat loss. It’s not a target worth shooting for in and of itself. It’s kind of like time under tension in training.

You don’t want to try to just maximize time under tension. You want to maximize progressive overload and make sure that you. Getting enough time under tension, which happens naturally if you are doing what it takes to progressively overload your muscles. So similarly, you don’t want to only focus on eating a high T e F diet and think that that is going to be enough to help you lose weight because you can certainly gain weight on a high T E F diet.

If you just eat too much food, too many high T E F calories will result in weight gain, and you can also lose weight on a diet full of low T e F foods, very highly processed foods because if you know how to control your calories and your protein intake, you can do just. Fine if we’re talking about bottom line results, that said, you are probably going to struggle with hunger and cravings, and if you have at least a couple of months of cutting to reach your goal, you’re probably not gonna feel too good, at least around the midway mark because if you’re eating a lot of highly processed foods, you’re probably not giving your body the nutrition that it needs to feel good and that will catch up with.

So what you want to do then is make sure that you know how to maintain a calorie deficit. And if you don’t know how to do that, again, check out the article or podcast that I created on energy balance. Just head over to legion, search for energy balance, and you’ll find both. And you want to, generally speaking, eat a lot of foods that are conduc.

It’s a weight loss that are good for weight loss because they are relatively low in calories and high in volume, so they’re very filling, and those are the foods that often have a lot of nutrition, and many also have high T E F values as well. And that is an added. Bonus, so what am I talking about? I’m talking about basically all forms of protein, particularly lean protein.

If you’re cutting often, because unless you really like fatty meat for example, or just sources of protein that come with a fair amount of fat, you’re gonna be better off eating the lean protein and then saving those calories that you would normally be eating in the fat for other foods, because the protein is already going to be very filling.

And if you are willing to try a little bit, you can make lean protein taste quite good. So lean chicken, for example, can be made to taste quite good with a simple recipe, and if you cook it right, it also will be very moist and enjoyable to eat. You don’t necessarily need the chicken thighs, for example, which of course do naturally come with more flavor, but also come with more calories anyway.

Other foods that fit the bill here, other foods that are conducive to successful cutting include whole grains. Oatmeal and rice brown or white quinoa is also popular. And you could argue that whole grain bread counts. And as far as the research is concerned, it does count. I would say there are some additional benefits to eating, let’s say a cup of oatmeal over a couple slices of whole grain bread.

But whole grain bread would count toward whole grain intake. Uh, seeds and nuts are good. They contain a fair amount of calories, of course, but they do have a high t e F value. They require a fair amount of energy to process, which offsets some of those calories. And they also are very filling. And then of course you have many fruits and vegetables.

And it is great to load up on vegetables in particular when you’re cutting because they’re very filling. They provide a lot of nutrition, and they don’t contain very many calories. Now, if you were lean bulking or lean gaining, then I would say you may want to limit your vegetable intake, still get your, let’s say, four or five servings per day.

But don’t go for eight plus servings a day necessarily, because what you might find is that you are too. To eat all the extra calories that you need to eat. For example, the last time I lean bulked, I ended on about 4,000 calories per day, maybe a bit more than that, and I have a normal appetite. I don’t have a big appetite naturally, and I found it hard after.

Probably about four to six weeks of eating that much food. I vividly remember just having to force down my final meal of the day, which was pasta. And I normally love pasta, but I really got to the point where I was just sick of eating. And I also am the person who can eat the same food every meal, every day for long periods of time and actually enjoy it.

I am going to eat my vegetable. Dinner, which is just a bunch of vegetables with some spices and some sauces and some protein, and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been eating this vegetable slop five to six times per week for like two years now probably, and I still like it, but when I’m lean, bulking, I really get sick of eating.

And so when that is the case, eating a bunch of vegetables just makes it even harder to hit your calories because not only are you just tired of force feeding yourself, cause that is really what you’re doing right when you are maintaining a steady calorie surplus that just gets bigger as time goes on because you have to, if you’re gonna keep gaining muscle and strength, you are almost certainly going to have to.

Increase your calories over the course of a four or five or six month long lean bulk. You’re not gonna be able to finish your lean bulk eating exactly what you were eating in terms of calories at the beginning. Just like when you’re cutting, you have to slowly reduce your calories if you’re going for months and wanting to get either from, let’s say, overweight to lean or lean to very lean.

And so when you are consistently. Overfeeding your body. It has mechanisms whereby it can decrease your desire to eat. Just like when you’re cutting your body uses mechanisms to increase your desire to eat and to reduce your energy expenditure. And if you are lean bulking and you have a big salad for lunch, for example, that normally keeps you full for several hours, four or five hours maybe, but doesn’t really contain that many calories.

That can be a problem. You might wanna replace that meal with more calorie dense foods that are less filling, so you can get in, let’s say, double the calories and be hungry ish, three or four hours later.

If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my v i p one-on-one coaching service because my team and I have helped people of all ages and circumstances lose fat, build muscle, and get into the best shape of their life faster than they ever thought possible. And we can do the same for you.

Anyway. Getting back on topic here to the thermic effect of food, I want to quickly talk about the claim that eating more frequently boosts your metabolism and helps you lose weight or lose weight faster. Because if somebody is going to make that claim, they’re probably going to ref. Fur to T E F. They may not refer to it as the thermic effect of food, but they’re probably going to say that by eating more frequently, you are boosting your metabolism more frequently.

So if you eat three meals per day, you are going to benefit from the thermic effect of those meals just three times per day. But if you eat six times per day, the claim goes, you are going to be benefiting from the thermic effective. Six times per day and six is greater than three. Therefore, the calories burned from the thermic effect of food.

In the latter case of six meals supposedly exceed the calories burned from the three meals, and that can make sense on its face. But there is a. In the logic, and that is the assumption that all meals result in more or less the same amount of increase in energy expenditure. The reality though, is small meals result in smaller, shorter metabolic spikes and larger meals produce larger, longer lasting effects.

And this is why. Then a number of studies have shown that there is no significant difference in total daily energy expenditure between nibbling and gorging. What happens is your total daily calorie expenditure from the thermic effective food balances out to more or less the same number. Regardless of how many meals you break your calories down into or how often you eat those meals, therefore the best approach is to just use the meal frequency that works best for you.

If you’re like me and you enjoy eating smaller meals every few hours, do it. However, if you like to wake up and have a big breakfast and then have a. Lunch later, or maybe even a late lunch. Maybe you prefer to eat breakfast at nine or 10:00 AM and then you like to wait until two or 3:00 PM and have a bigger lunch, and then wait until maybe seven or 8:00 PM and have a bigger dinner.

That’s totally fine. Or if you like to do something else, if you like to do a big breakfast and then a little snack in the morning, and then a little snack for lunch, and then a little snack in the afternoon and a big dinner. Totally fine. Again, so long as you’re controlling your calories and your protein in particular, and making sure that you’re getting the majority of your calories from relatively unprocessed, highly nutritious foods, how often you eat and the exact composition of those meals really doesn’t matter in terms of direct physiological processes and results.

It’s all about what works best for you. What do you. So aside from that, is there anything else you can do to raise the thermic effect of food? Yes, there probably is. First, at least one study has shown that strength training can boost T E F considerably, which is kind of interesting. Specifically in this case, people who ate a 660 calorie meal experienced a 20% increase in T E F over the next two hours, whereas people who ate the same meal after lifting weights enjoyed a.

4% increase in T E F. That’s big. That’s a 73%, relatively speaking, of course, increase just by doing a weightlifting workout and then eating the 660 calorie meal. Research also shows that the lower your insulin sensitivity is and the higher your body fat percentage is, the lower your T E F will general.

Thus, it’s possible that the reverse is also true, that improving your insulin sensitivity by exercising regularly and by maintaining a healthy body fat level, and by maintaining good sleep hygiene and even by supplementing with something like legion’s balance supplement, for example, which really is a gut supplement, but because it contains burberine, it also can help improve insulin sensitivity.

By doing those things you may be. Increase the amount of energy that is used to process the food that you eat. Now, it’s not clear if being insulin sensitive and lean causes an increase in T E F or if it’s just correlated with a high T E F, because people who are lean and insulin sensitive might just happen to have higher.

TF, for example, but it’s one of the few things that you might be able to do to raise T E F. And of course there are many other benefits to strength training regularly doing some cardio as well, and maintaining a healthy body composition. So it’s worth mentioning that it also may just help you burn more energy in general, which of course makes it easier to maintain your optimal body composition.

And that really is the name of the game, right? It’s great to lose fat and gain muscle. But we really want to be able to maintain the ideal body composition for the rest of our life. Alright, well those are the key points I wanted to share with you on the thermic effect of food and how it impacts your weight loss efforts, or weight gain efforts, or even weight maintenance efforts really, and how it also relates to the nutritious of your diet and your overall health and wellness.

And the reality is, is. T E F is not terribly important in the overall scheme of energy balance, but if you are eating well, if you are eating the type of diet that is conducive to weight loss or healthy weight gain, or effective weight maintenance, it is also going to be highly. Thermogenic, you are going to benefit from a much higher T e F than someone who eats poorly because protein, carbs and fats affect the metabolism in different ways.

They have different T e F values and they’re processed and they’re stored differently. And the big movers of the needle are protein and carbs, particularly relatively unprocessed carbs. And those have a much higher thermic effect than fat. Which are also important for health and performance of course, but which are also stored very effectively as body fat.

That is one of the reasons we have to eat body fat, replenishing our body’s fat stores. And so what that means then is if you are eating a high protein diet, which you should be, and if you are eating a moderate to high carb diet with a lot of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, which you should be if you want to maximize your muscle and strength gain and maximize your performance in the gym.

And if you are eating a lot of protein and a lot of nutritious carbs, then you are probably also following a low-ish to moderate ish fat diet, unless you. A lot of calories to work with, and you want to eat a higher fat diet, but so long as you’re eating, let’s say something around 0.3 grams, 0.3 grams of dietary fat per pound of body weight per day, you are going to do fine.

And if you have a lot of weight to lose and that number is quite high, then you can think of it more like 25 to 30% of your daily calories. If 25 to 30% of your daily calories are coming from healthy sources, Fat like oils and nuts and avocado, and not just butter, although you can have some butter, you can have some saturated fat, of course, some meat.

But I would recommend that no more than 10% of your daily calories come from saturated fat, because if you’re saturated fat levels get too high, then you can raise your quote unquote bad cholesterol levels, LTL levels, and if you maintain that for too long, it can increase your risk of heart disease. So I recommend focusing more on.

Unsaturated fats, the poly and mono unsaturated fats. And again, if you follow that kind of diet, you also are going to be benefiting greatly from the thermic effect of food. And it could be to the tune of a couple hundred calories per day versus somebody who doesn’t eat as well, who doesn’t eat the fruits and vegetables in whole grains and nuts and seeds.

And who doesn’t consistently eat enough protein? Many people. Into fitness, know that they need to eat a fair amount of protein, but in my experience, what can happen is they eat enough protein a few days a week and not nearly enough protein a few days a week. Often on the weekends, I’ve seen this with guys in particular who are quote unquote good during the week and they eat a fair amount of protein, something maybe around 0.8 to one gram per pound of body weight per day, and then eat.

Half of that or less on the weekend because those are their quote unquote cheat days. You can get away with stuff like that if you’re brand new to weightlifting, but if you’re an experienced weightlifter, that alone can be enough to slow down your progress. So being consistent is very important, and it’s also important, again, for maximizing the thermic effective food, which just bumps up your total daily energy expenditure, which again, just makes it easier to cut and makes it easier to.

It can be a little bit annoying when you’re lean bulking, but you just deal with it until you are really struggling and then you change your diet to start drinking calories or eating less filling foods. Maybe reducing your fruit and vegetable and whole grain intake a little bit, and replacing those with more processed foods, which wouldn’t be ideal if you were to eat like.

Ever. But it’s totally fine if that’s your last month, let’s say. Or maybe six weeks of a lean bulk. Alright, my friends, that’s it for today, class dismissed. Thanks again for joining me. I hope you found this episode insightful and helpful. And here’s a little sneak peek of what I have coming down the pipeline.

I have another q and a where I’m going to talk about fiber and counting carbs. Fiber count towards your carbs. A question I often get asked. I’m going to also talk about soy protein myths and food combining diets, and then the following week I have a monologue coming about when you should consider giving up on a goal.

I have another installment of the best of Muscle for Life coming and more. All right. Well, that’s it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting and helpful. And if you did and you don’t mind doing me a favor, please do leave a quick review on iTunes or wherever you’re listening to me from in whichever app you’re listening to me in.

Because that not only convinces people that they should check out the show, it also increases search. Ability. And thus it helps more people find their way to me and learn how to get fitter, leaner, stronger, healthier, and happier as well. And of course, if you want to be notified when the next episode goes live, then simply subscribe to the podcast and you won’t miss out on any new stuff.

And if you didn’t like something about the show, please do shoot me an email at mike muscle for Just muscle f o r and share. On how I can do this better. I read everything myself and I’m always looking for constructive feedback. Even if it is criticism, I’m open to it, and of course you can email me if you have positive feedback as well, or if you have questions really relating to anything that you think I could help you with, definitely send me an email.

That is the best way to get ahold of me, mike Muscle That’s it. Thanks again for listening to this episode and I hope to hear from you soon.

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