Thermic Eating


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Of the three elements of “synergy,” (supportive eating, strength training, and moderate aerobic exercise {your burst training},) the one that likely has the most people confused is the nutrition element.


If you are looking to increase energy, make the body more efficient at burning, and if you’re looking to optimize performance in any arena, the idea is to eat in a manner that is supportive of metabolism. I’ve come to call this manner of eating, “Supportive Nutrition.” Before I explain the essence of supportive eating, allow me to define a word you are likely to be familiar with but you may not fully understand, the calorie.

Everyone knows calories have something to do with food, and dieters know calories have something to do with weight, but the reality is, a calorie is more a unit of heat than it is a measure of diet prescription. One calorie (more accurately called a kilocalorie) is the amount of heat required to raise 1 kg of water one degree Celsius). That doesn’t appear to have very much to do with food, until you recognize that the human body is a heat machine. Right at this moment you are maintaining a body temperature somewhere in the vicinity of 98.6 degrees. When you move you contract muscle, and with every muscle contraction heat is generated. When the heart beats heat is generated. When the thyroid gland cranks out hormones, those hormones act to regulate body heat. If you have ever referred to someone as “hot”, you may have failed to realize how very accurate you were. If you recognize that “work” at any level generates heat, you’ll understand that not only does exercise burn calories, but so does scratching your head. I’m not suggesting you scratch your head until the pounds start dropping off, but I am suggesting that any time the systems of the body perform any work requiring motion, calories are burned. By that token, when you eat and digest food, you burn calories in the act of digestion.

Supportive eating asks you to consume “thermic” meals. Thermic refers to heat, so you want to consume meals that are not only nutrient complete, but meals that actually burn a significant number of calories in the act of digestion. Dietary Fat is NOT thermic. It is easy for your body to digest fat. All it does is take a glob of fat and break it down into smaller and smaller molecules until the resultant fatty acid chains are small enough to be dissipated as heat or stored as fat. For every 100 calories of fat that you eat, your body will only need to burn approximately 5 calories to handle the work of digestion. Protein is the most thermic of the nutrients. Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids all linked together and in order to absorb those amino acids the digestive system must break those chains down into smaller chains, absorb the little chains through the wall of the intestinal tract, and then rebuild those amino acids as cells. That requires a great deal of work. For every 100 calories of protein that you ingest, your body will need to burn 20 – 25 calories. That means you get about five times the metabolic (thermic) boost from ingesting protein than you do from fat.

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About Tasso Kiriakes

Master of Science in Bio-Organic Chemistry - Personal Training since 1979

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