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Most Common Mistakes Series - Focussing too much on workouts and not enough on NEAT

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy we burn through daily movement outside of your workouts.

This accounts for both voluntary and involuntary movement.

Voluntary movement (walking etc) is largely going to be determined by your job - if you have a sedentary job (like sitting at a desk all day), your NEAT will be lower than if you have an active job where you’re moving around all day (like a builder or postman).

Involuntary movements are things like fidgeting, blinking, maintaining posture (seated or standing) and count for a small part of your NEAT calorie expenditure.

Many people think that their workouts are the calorie-burning portion of their day, but in reality, you’ll burn FAR more calories in the other 23 hours than you ever could in a 1-hour workout.

Even if you can work at an incredible rate for the full hour, you’re unlikely to burn much more than 1,000 calories in your workout, if that.

Yet in the other 23 hours, you might burn upwards of 2,000 calories on a regular day, and if you’re an active person, you could quite easily double this.

If your goal is fat loss, you need to burn calories, but what you do outside of your workouts can have a much bigger impact than what you do within your workouts.

Use your workouts to train hard and stimulate your muscles, signalling to your body to keep hold of (even build more) muscle tissue, and lean towards burning more fat for fuel; then use the time outside of your workouts to burn calories.

How much more active could you be?

Could you walk for 20 or 30 minutes in the morning?

Walk again in the evening?

Do some yoga of an evening before you put the TV on (and watch a bit less TV)?

Can you park at the end of the car park instead of as close to the door as you can get a space?

Could you walk while you make phone calls?

Take the stairs instead of the escalator or lift?

All of these things may sound like time-wasters to some people, but the more active you can be, the more calories you’ll burn, and the faster you’ll be able to lose weight.

It’s not about walking more instead of doing a workout, it’s about doing your workouts, and then trying to be more active during the rest of your waking hours.

Essentially, the less lazy you are, the more calories you can burn.

So instead of thinking your workouts are the priority, recognise that they’re just setting you up to burn more calories the rest of the time. They are important, but probably not for the reason you think they are!

Yes, try to make your workouts as efficient as possible, but don’t use a tough workout as an excuse to be lazy the rest of the time.

A lot of people train hard and then do less the rest of the time because they think they’ve done the hard work already and can relax. It’s the same dangerous thinking that leads people who’ve burned 500 calories in a workout, to eat 800 calories of cake later on “because they trained hard today”.

The graph below illustrates this perfectly. It shows the approximate amount of calories burned through workouts, NEAT, and basic bodily functions needed to stay alive.

You have control over EAT and NEAT, and through food choices, TEF, but your BMR, which is responsible for most of your calorie expenditure is hard to manipulate, you can increase this by increasing muscle mass - hence why your training should focus on stimulating muscle growth rather than burning calories (or as a bare minimum, maintaining what muscle mass you have).

So, make an effort to move more in order to really increase your daily calorie expenditure and be sure to include strength training in your routine. Don’t think that your workouts alone are responsible for weight loss, they’re not, they’re just a [required] piece of the puzzle.


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