Train more, eat more (not less) to maintain your weight

Most conventional weight-loss and fat-loss advice focuses on the concept of energy balance. The most common approach to losing weight is to burn more calories than you consume, which we refer to as the “train more, eat less” approach.

But the re-emergence of a dietary approach established over 60 years ago is turning conventional weight-loss wisdom on its head.

Could the best way to maintain your weight, or even lose fat and weight successfully be training more and eating more, not less?

Energy flux

A proof-of-concept pilot study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition ESPEN took a closer look at a weight control concept that was first studied in the 1950s.

Harvard nutrition professor Jean Mayer, Ph.D. was the first to propose an energy flux hypothesis in the early 1950s. A study he conducted at the Ludlow Jute Company in West Bengal investigated the diet, exercise, and weight of 213 male labourers.

The men were divided into five groups according to the physical demands of their jobs, with the sedentary group on one end of the scale, denoted as 1, through to “very heavy” work that was classified as a 5.

The results showed that all the non-sedentary workers – those in groups 2 through 5 – were of similar weight and were all within a “healthy’ range.

This finding suggested that these men had achieved a neutral calorie balance, also known as a state of weight homeostasis. This means they consumed as much as energy they expended on a daily basis.

The sedentary workers in group 1, on the other hand, gained weight as they consumed more energy than they expended each day.

Similarly, the research team behind the recent ESPEN study suggested that “weight loss induces compensatory biological adjustments that increase hunger and decrease resting metabolic rate (RMR), which increase propensity for weight regain. In non-obese adults high levels of physical activity coupled with high energy intake (high energy flux) are associated with higher RMR and reduced hunger.” They therefore tested “the possibility that a high flux state attenuates the increase in hunger and the decrease in RMR characteristic of diet-induced weight loss.”

The study found that average daily RMR was higher during periods of high flux compared to low flux, and that perceived hunger at the end of day was lower and feelings of satiety throughout the day were higher in high flux conditions.

The research team therefore concluded that: “Following weight loss, compared to a sedentary LF (low flux) state of energy balance, a short-term HF (high flux) energy balance state is associated with higher RMR, lower perceived hunger, and greater perceived fullness, all of which could help attenuate the biologic drive to regain weight.”

Finding balance

The findings from both studies suggest that our metabolism is better at self-regulating and maintaining weight homeostasis by stimulating a hunger response that is commensurate with the energy demands imposed on the body each day when energy flux is high.

This worked well back when people moved more every day but today we’re mostly inactive and sedentary in the absence of any concious effort to move or exercise. This is when our innate weight-control mechanism seems to malfunction and we gain weight.

When this happens, what typically follows is a period of calorie restriction and spurts of intense exercise that swings our metabolism in the opposite direction.

This approach mimics a form of starvation – increased energy demands and a lack of fuel to support those demands. This initiates the body’s inherent survival mechanism, which is a combination of hormonally-driven metabolic adaptations that actually increase fat storage and slow our metabolic rate to conserve stored energy.

Over time, this makes us less energy efficient during exercise and at tasks involved in daily life, which means we need to do more work to burn the same number of calories. This is the main reason why conventional diets are unsustainable over the long term.

Eat more, train more

The energy flux hypothesis suggests a break from conventional weight-loss wisdom where exercise has generally been undervalued and diet overly emphasised.

The truth is that by promoting a move to consuming more quality calories in conjunction with an increase in daily energy expenditure to maintain a high energy flux, both sides of the energy balance equation are adequately addressed.

In doing so, the energy flux theory suggests that your body and your metabolism will start to work in the manner they were designed to, thereby restoring weight homeostasis. When you reach this point, you can theoretically maintain your weight indefinitely.


It may be true that you can’t out-exercise a bad diet but according to the energy flux theory, the key to life-long weight control is not only about finding the right balance between a healthy approach to eating and plenty of daily activity and exercise, but also finding the right level of both.

In this instance, energy intake must be balanced with energy expenditure to prevent weight gain, and there is an increasing body of evidence that suggests this point of weight homeostasis is best achieved at a relatively high level of energy flux.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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