I’ve churned through over 150,000 emails, social media comments and messages, and blog comments in the last 6 years.
And that means I’ve fielded a ton of questions.
As you can imagine, some questions pop up more often than others, and I thought it might be helpful to take a little time every month to choose a few and record and share my answers.
So, in this round, I answer the following question:
- Does energy flux have any significant effects on fat loss and muscle retention?
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What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hey, Mike Matthews here and welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. Thank you for joining me today. Now, as you can imagine, I have fielded a lot of communication and a lot of questions over the years. I’ve easily gone through over 200,000 emails, social media comments and messages, and blog comments.
Since I got into the fitness racket back in 2012, and some questions pop up more often than others, and some are very topical, sometimes they are related to things that a lot of people are talking about, and so I thought it would be helpful to take some time on the podcast now and then and answer.
Questions that people are asking me, ones that I think all of you out there may benefit from or may enjoy as well. So in this episode, I will answer the following question. Does total energy expenditure have any significant effects on fat loss and muscle retention? For instance, which is better? Eating 2000 calories per day and burning 2,500, or eating 3000 and burning 3,500, or is it basically a.
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To buy legion.com/mike, that’s b u y L E G I O n.com/mike. And just to show you how much I appreciate my podcast peeps, use the coupon code M ffl checkout and you will save 20% on your entire first order. Now, this is a great question. It is something that occurs to many of us fitness folk as we get more experienced, especially after we’ve done a couple of rounds of cutting and lean, gaining, we wonder would it be better for us to be as.
Active as we can. There’s obviously a point where it becomes too much, but should we lift weights for as much as we can get away with, and should we do as much cardio as we can get away with without suffering any major side effects, and to bring our total daily energy expenditure up as high as possible?
And then bring it down, let’s say 500 calories to create the calorie deficits needed to drive the fat loss. Or should we follow the advice of people who say to do the opposite? Some people say that you should train as little as you can when you’re cutting two, maybe three strength training sessions per week.
Just enough volume and intensity to maintain your muscle and strength, little or no cardio. And if you are gonna do cardio, make it walking. Something that is very low intensity, low stress. And then of course, just cut your calories, drop them three to 500 calories beneath your intake, and ride that out until you are as lean as you want to be.
Now in the scientific literature, this is referred to as. Energy flux or G flux. And just to make it extra clear, let’s walk through a simple example. Let’s say we have three people and the first person is sedentary. And to maintain his current weight, he eats, let’s say 2000 calories per day. And that’s about what he burns.
And so over time, his weight doesn’t. Change. That said, of course, his body composition over a long enough time period does change for the worse. If he’s not training his muscles, for example, he will slowly, and this would be applicable to a she as well. They will slowly lose muscle over time, but that’s not something they’ll.
Notice in the day-to-day, in the day-to-day, things will seem more or less the same. Now, over time, as this person loses muscle, their metabolism will slow down a bit, and if they don’t bring their food intake down accordingly, then that can lead to fat gain. And so while they’re. Weight may actually not change much.
Their body composition changes, so their total lean mass goes down and it is replaced, you could think of with fat mass. And so they just look and feel a bit worse and are a bit less functional and a bit less healthy despite being maybe the same or similar weight. To when they were younger and had a better body composition.
So according to this energy flux theory that I’m gonna share with you, this first person would be classified as a low flux individual. Now, let’s say the second person is more active. Let’s say they do a few workouts per week, maybe they play a recreational sport, something like that. And because they’re more active, let’s say it’s the same guy.
So now we take that guy, we make him active, and now he eats 2,500 calories per day. Let. Maintains his weight over time, depending on what type of workouts he’s doing. If they train his muscles at least semi effectively, then that would probably be enough to at least maintain his body composition. So he probably won’t lose any significant amount of muscle over time.
If those workouts involve some sort of resistance training or if the sport that he’s playing has some sort of explosive element to it, that may help for preserving lean mass in the lower body, for example, as well as the upper body. But most recreational sports don’t involve the upper body nearly as much as the lower body.
And maybe this person will even gain a little bit of muscle here and burn a little fat there. But general, This person is going to maintain both their body weight and their body composition over the long term. And so this person would be classified as mid flux. And then let’s take this third person.
Let’s say they’re very active. Let’s say this person’s doing five to six strength training workouts per week, as well as a couple of hours of cardio per week. And because this person’s very active, he has to eat about 3000 calories per day to maintain his weight. That’s me by the way. I lift weights for about five hours per week, and I do two to three hours of low slash moderate intensity cardio per week, and I eat around 3000 calories per day to maintain my weight and body composition.
And so this third person, unlike the first person, the low flux, or the second, the mid flux person, this is someone in. State of high flux. They’re taking in a lot of calories, a lot of energy, and they’re burning a lot of calories, burning a lot of energy. Now, according to proponents of the energy flux theory, this third person is in a superior muscle building and fat burning situation that the environment you could think of in their body is more conducive to gaining muscle and burning fat.
And some people say that this person. Can actually build muscle and lose fat at the same time, can recomp despite being in neutral energy balance, meaning that this person theoretically does not have to go through a, a lean gaining phase where they intentionally maintain a small calorie surplus. And of course that comes with some fat gain according to energy Fluors.
If you just get active enough, you can recomp even as an intermediate or advanced weightlifter without having to be in a calorie surplus or a calorie deficit with just generally eating maintenance. Calories and that sounds great. And some of the proposed mechanisms are speeding up your metabolism because your body composition is better and improving nutrient partitioning.
So helping your body better make use of the food that you eat in the nutrients, in the food that you eat. Higher levels of insulin sensitivity. Which is good for, for gaining muscle, improved micronutrient delivery, so nutrients, you know, vitamins, minerals, other things that nourish our body, they can better get to where they need to go.
Enhanced sympathetic nervous system activity, which means better performance in the gym because the s n s governs the fight or flight response while the parasympathetic nervous system, the p n s controls. Rest and digest response. And finally, the list rattles on improved post-workout recovery and improved tissue remodeling and turnover, which is the reorganization and renovation of existing tissues.
And depending on whom you listen to, the energy flux theory, the energy flux approach to body recomposition can seem pretty persuasive and pretty appeal. But you should know that it has not been extensively studied. There is not much scientific evidence to show that it beats the traditional lean, gaining, and cutting approach.
That said, research does show that maintaining a high level of flux, maintaining a high activity level can improve or can benefit your body composition and benefit your health in many ways. , and especially when it comes to maintaining high levels of lean mass and low levels of body fat. So we’re not talking about recomp in the absence of a calorie surplus or a calorie deficit.
What we’re talking about is. A very effective type of maintenance. Basically a very optimized approach to maintenance for maintaining a very optimized body composition. And you can see a lot of anecdotal evidence of that in athletes. Look at most professional athletes like football players and sprinters and boxers and so forth, and you’ll find.
Most of them eat a lot of calories and are very active and have very high levels of muscle and very low levels of body fat. Now, you could question that evidence because of the prevalence of anabolic steroids in many, many sports at the highest level, and that’s a, a fair point, but, I don’t think it completely invalidates the observation, especially when you line it up with the scientific research that we do have on the phenomenon.
Now, something else to consider though is even if the energy flux approach is superior to the lean, gaining, and cutting approach, let’s say we fast forward 10 years and some additional research has been done and the weight of the evidence now supports that. The practicality is always a problem because let’s say that we wanted to apply that.
What would that mean? That would mean that somebody like me who currently maintains on about 3000 calories per day, and I’m pretty active, again, I’m exercising. Eight to nine hours per week, and I’m not currently experiencing any magical recomp. So let’s say I would have to get my calories up to 4,000 per day to tap into the power of energy flux.
That would require a lot of extra activity that would require on average an extra hour to maybe two hours per day, depending on what I was doing, and I wouldn’t be able to do. Additional weightlifting, five to six hours per week is really all I can do given the intensity of my training. If I start doing more than that, I would start to run into problems related to overreaching, and it wouldn’t be smart for me to do an hour of moderate intensity cardio on top of the 30 minutes that I do every day because if you want to minimize the interference effect that cardio can have on your strength training, You want to limit it to know more than about half of the amount of time that you put into your strength training.
So I’m strength training five to six hours per week, and I’m doing two and a half to three hours of cardio per week. It would be a mistake for me to just add seven hours on top of that, just do another hour every day so I can eat 4,000 calories per day. . And so then there is low intensity cardio, which minimizes the interference effect, but you just don’t burn that many calories.
Like walking, for example, you only burn a couple hundred, a few hundred per hour, and you can bump that up by turning it into ruck sessions. So put on a backpack with some stuff in it, and you can maybe increase the calories per hour by a couple of hundred, but that would be a lot of walking. Now, what I would probably do if I had to.
Would be, I guess, a combination of those things. I’d probably do a little bit more lifting. I wouldn’t do a sixth session every week. That would be too much, but I would probably extend my current workouts by a little bit. So maybe I can get an extra hour of lifting in per week. Then that buys me some room, maybe two hours, let’s say an extra two hours of lifting per week.
And then that buys me a little bit of room to do a little bit more cardio. And then I would also, uh, do daily walks. And so my point with all of that is, It takes a lot of time. Who has the time for all of that? And then there’s also the time that goes into preparing all the additional food and cleaning up and so forth.
And that’s why many people who I have spoken with over the years who tried to get into that high flux category, ran into. Problems. They would often overestimate the amount of calories they were actually burning and underestimate the amount of calories they were eating. So they were really just in a calorie surplus.
Many of them also had trouble programming their workouts and getting in enough physical activity without falling behind in recovery. For example, if I were to try to do what I just laid out based on my experience with my body, which can recover quite well, but which is also subjected to a lot of stressors in the day-to-day, I don’t feel like I am stressed out.
But I have my training and I have a lot going on with my work and my businesses, and I have two kids and a wife, and we’re in the middle of a move right now. But there are, there are always a lot of things going on and all of those things do make it a little. Harder to progress in your training, for example, cause your body can only take so much stress of various kinds.
There is the mechanical and straightforward stress that we experience in the gym, but then of course there are many other types of stress that we experience in our day-to-day lives, and they all tap into the same capacity. To deal with stress. Now, of course, some stressors pull on it more heavily than others, but if you want to maximize your progress in the gym, for example, you’d want to minimize all other forms of stress that you subject yourself to, and that’s one of the reasons why many bodybuilders are very chill.
And they go to great lengths to simplify their lifestyle and not get stressed out over things because they want to maximize the stress imposed on their body in the gym. And so in my case, just knowing my body, if I wanted to ratchet up the amount of physical stress that I put on it and leave everything else the way it is, I would probably almost certainly have to sleep more.
And I would have to do it probably in the way of naps because I can generally, Seven to eight hours before I wake up and I’m awake. I can’t sleep nine or 10 hours in one go. So I would have to sleep my normal night and then I would have to take a nap probably after lunch, early afternoon to get in some extra recovery.
And so that would be even more time that I would have to give to this energy flux approach, and I wouldn’t want to do all of that. I like the way that my schedule is set up right now. It allows me to progress on. Fronts in my life. I’m busy, but I’m making forward progress in many ways, and I enjoy that.
And my training is going well. Progress is slow, but that’s just the reality of being an advanced weightlifter. And I like my physique. I’m happy with where I’m at. I don’t care whether I recomp or not really. I’m happy with my muscularity and my level of body. And I’m happy that I can maintain it with a training schedule that I like and that works for me, and a meal plan and a diet that I like and that works for me.
Now, your circumstances may be different. Energy flux may sound interesting to you and you may want to give it a go, and you’re willing to give it the time and the energy that it requires. And if that’s the case, I would say. Try it and see how your body responds. Make sure to track things correctly though.
Track your training in the gym. Track your body composition so you can determine with a relatively high level of accuracy if it actually worked. Now, one last energy flux related tip I want to share. That is for cutting and is good for all of us is it is generally better to gradually increase your physical activity levels as high as you can go.
When you’re cutting. Now, of course you are gonna be limited by your schedule. You’re also gonna be limited by. . The fact that if you exercise too much and if you are too physically active when you are cutting it is going to have negative side effects. And so a reasonable ceiling is about where I’m at actually, I would say five to six hours of weightlifting per week.
And about half of that in cardio I think is a good recommendation for where people should work up to and stop. Like once you get there, when you’re cutting, do not go beyond that. You don’t have to start there. Like you could start your cut, let’s say doing just three weightlifting workouts per week and 30 minutes or 60 minutes of cardio per week, or maybe no cardio.
But then once that is no longer moving the needle, and that’s what will happen as your body adapts to the energy restriction, as your body weight goes down, as you lose. Eventually those three strength training workouts won’t be enough to continue to drive fat loss because your energy expenditure will slowly go down.
And at that point you have two options. You can just eat less food. You can bring your calories down more, or you can move more, you can be more active. And I would recommend the ladder be more active. Move up to five strength training workouts per week and see if that’s enough to get the scale moving downward again.
And if it’s not, maybe add a little. Of cardio as well. Go from three strength training workouts and no cardio to five and maybe 30 to 60 minutes of cardio per week. Great. You’re losing fat again. Let’s say three to four weeks go by, you’re stuck again. Okay, now you’re at five strength training workouts per week and you’re doing 30 to 60 minutes of cardio.
Let’s double that. Let’s, let’s get the cardio up to 60 to 120 minutes per. Then let’s squeeze all the fat loss juice out of that. Let’s say we get another three weeks of fat loss out of that, and now we bump cardio up to a full, let’s say two to three hours per week. And keep in mind, we have not cut calories once since we started.
So yeah, you started by cutting your calories, you were doing your three strength training workouts, and you calculated your approximate total daily energy expenditure, and you went three to 500 calories below. , but we have not changed that since we started. We just got more and more active, and that approach is generally better for retaining muscle and for just enjoying your cut than starting with, let’s say three strength training workouts and then just cutting your calories more and more every time you get stuck.
And research shows actually that the amount of calories that you eat per kilogram of lean body mass that you have on your body. Matters. For example, it is not recommended that women go below 30 calories per kilogram of lean mass, and in men it is 25 is the general recommendation that you always want to be eating 25 calories per kilogram of lean mass or more.
And research shows that when men and women go below those numbers, they tend to lose more muscle when they’re cutting for. and that’s not what we want. We want to lose fat and not muscle. And then you also are going to experience more severe side effects associated the, the negative stuff associated with dieting.
If your calorie intake gets too low, so ideally then you maintain, you always maintain throughout the entirety of your cut enough activity level to not have to go below that 30 calories per kilogram of lean mass in women and 25 in men. You don’t want to dip below that. And if you are. Following my advice, you’re cutting are gradually raising your activity levels and you haven’t reached your goal yet.
You are maximally active now. You still haven’t reached your goal. You have more fat to lose. Okay? Now you start bringing your calories down from where they started. That’s totally fine. Let’s say you go all the way to this floor that I’m recommending. Kilogram per kilogram of lean mass in women in 25 in men, and you still have not reached your goal.
I would say stay there until you are no longer losing fat there. Then take a diet break where you bring your calories back up to maintenance and at this point you’ve probably been cutting for a while, so you’re gonna want to do, I would recommend probably two to three or even. Four weeks of maintenance calories and then restart the process.
So the key takeaway there is to use physical activity to maintain that calorie deficit for as long as you can before you turn to further reducing your calorie intake. 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.
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And that’s it. Thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.