Losing Weight Simply Calories In vs Out? Danny Lennon Explains!
Guest: Danny Lennon
Podcast Release Date: 3/17/2021
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Steve Washuta: Welcome to the Trulyfit Podcast. I am your host, Steve Washuta, co-founder of Trulyfit and author of Fitness Business 101. On today’s podcast, I speak with Danny Lennon. Danny is an expert in nutrition, he owns sigma nutrition. He also runs the Sigma Nutrition podcast, which has over 350 episodes. It’s a fantastic podcast, I recommend checking out. He runs an evidence-based nutrition consulting company and he is a lecture he’s spoken to at NASAM’s Optima, he works with Professional MMA athletes.
He does online coaching services and has a full staff surrounding him to do that. Danny was a wealth of knowledge. But specifically, we centered on calories in calories outlaw of thermodynamics, energy balance, and really the misunderstanding of certain areas of energy balance, this is going to be extremely helpful for the personal trainers who are always asked asking questions about how do I help my clients, but maybe not overstep my bounds, but still have a, you know, the knowledge and the foresight to give them great nutrition advice. So with no further ado, here’s Danny, Danny Lennon. Thanks for being here. With the Trulyfit podcast, I’m gonna throw it right to you. Let’s give a quick bio and background on who you are. And tell us a little bit about your podcast.
Danny Lennon: Yeah, first, thanks so much for having me on the show. It’s an absolute pleasure. And for people who are unaware of me, my name is Danny Lennon. I run a company called sigma nutrition, which is aimed at putting out educational media content on evidence-based nutrition and health science. So that’s primarily been done through the podcast, sigma nutrition radio, which has been running since 2014. I’ve also been lucky enough to give quite a lot of lectures and present at conferences over those number of years, as well as work as a nutrition practitioner for a number of years, too. So within sigma, we also have an online coaching service, which we have four coaching staff who work with a range of different clients.
It’s been that goal of trying to put out evidence-based information in the area, I guess, from an academic standpoint. Before I got a degree in Nutritional Sciences, and my undergraduate degrees in biology and physics. Ever since I completed my master’s, I started coaching people working as nutrition practitioners, started creating content. And then over the past seven or so years, have kind of built sigma nutrition to where it is now. That’s a quick overview, but I’m happy to get into any specifics if we need to.
Steve Washuta: Well, I’m going to preemptively strike here on your behalf and anybody who enjoys this conversation, Episode 359 of Danny’s podcast, which is sigmanutrition/podcast is going to be I guess a much more in-depth version of what this is. So if you enjoy this podcast make sure you check out Episode 359 so I’m going to lay the groundwork here and tell you why I chose this topic which is: calories in calories out, law thermodynamics as we know it in the training world as personal trainers, and I know that you spoke at Optima.
So you understand National Academy sports medicine that’s kind of the trainer’s world. And then energy balance. So we’re going to go into that. The landscape of just the states in general, how it works here, right, you have RD’s, which you probably already know registered dieticians.
Then you have like a CMS certified nutrition specialists, and licensed nutritionists, they all have a background in their clinical and their master’s degrees, and they work with people and that sort of setting. And then you have steps below that where it’s sort of wild west, right? There is no, there’s no real like it’s a decentralized, unregulated market, where you can go online and spend two hours and get some sort of certification, or degree or you call yourself a coach, a nutrition coach, and you give away information.
So in the personal training world, we avoid that it’s kind of a no-no, from the National Academy of sports medicine to give advice, at least to give paid advice. But it’s so interconnected and what we do, right, it’s, it’s tough to work with a client whose goal is: Hey, I have to lose weight, and you’re working out with them and then you go, Whoa, I can’t give you any nutrition advice. So there is a little bit of gray area where we do that, but the basis of our understanding is really just around What the certifications teach, which a lot of times again, it’s just calories in and calories out. And obviously, that does not tell everything, that does not give you the full spectrum of what’s going on here.
So I think at least using you to talk about some of those misconceptions, and some of those things that tie into that, to better help personal trainers or group fitness instructors with their clients is going to be, you know, a light years change difference on how they approach things. So let’s first throw it off to you, can you give a general vague definition of energy-balanced cals in and cals out law thermodynamics? Are those also three different ways to say the same thing? Or are they different?
Danny Lennon: Yeah, I think like you say, there’s oftentimes a misconception of what people are talking about when they use that phrase, calories in calories out, particularly when nowadays, it’s popular to see at least certain diet communities, I think, kind of bashed the idea of calories in calories out, or call it nonsense, or whatever. What they’re really referring to is some other ideas, which we’ll probably address later in this podcast.
But as you say, energy balance equation and calories in calories out, we are just looking at what is the difference between energy coming into the system and the system, in this case being the human body. And the energy in is our caloric intake from foods that’s quite simple. And then calories out is our energy expenditure, which is made up of a number of components, that includes things like our resting metabolic rate.
So just the calories we burn to essentially function and survive, we would have physical activity, then we have this component called non-exercise activity thermogenesis, which are movements that happen throughout the day, but aren’t actual physical activity. So if you’re fidgeting, or just moving around, as you’re working at your desk, things like that still contribute some degree of energy expenditure. And then there’s something called the thermic effect of feeding: the energy we expend to digest food. So all these components together would be our total energy expenditure.
And essentially, the difference between calories in calories out or energy intake and energy expenditure can describe the state of energy balance someone is in that moment. So that just means is there energy being stored within the system? Or is there being energy released from the system? Or is it being stable? How this tends to manifest for our purposes, when when we’re thinking about how to eat, let’s say, change body composition, is that as a general proxy, but not directly, and that’s some of the nuances we’ll get to.
But as a general proxy, if we have an energy surplus, so more energy coming in, that is going to lead to a gain in body mass, if there is a net calorie deficit or less energy coming in, that’s being expended, there’s going to be a loss of body mass, and when those are approximately equal than someone is maintaining their weight. So really, what we use is energy bounces away as a proxy measure for if there’s likely to be changes in body composition.
But it’s not exactly predictive. And then we’ll come on to some examples. And particularly trainers will know this, that if someone is let’s say dieting, on a high protein diet, versus on a very, very low protein diet, the calories might be the same, but the end result in terms of that person’s body composition will be different. So it’s not just calories that matter. However, what we can say is that let’s say someone’s goal is to lose body fat, then every deficit needs to be present.
So if they’re not in a calorie deficit, they cannot lose fatness if you’re consuming more calories than you expend, no matter what the type of diet you’re consuming, and what foods are consumed within that, you do not lose fatness. So we know there’s some kind of requirements there for certain changes. But they’re not exactly explanatory. So hopefully, that makes some degree of sense to get started. But we can definitely tease that apart and work through some of the new ones as we go here.
Steve Washuta: Yeah, yeah, that makes perfect sense. That’s a great definition. I think, you know, understanding that from our side, the personal trainer side, to your clients are so very different if you’re dealing with a 22-year-old bodybuilder, who’s on 600 milligrams of testosterone, or a 59-year-old woman who is a secretary and sits down all day. There are other things that go into play. Like, I assume hormones and metabolism. How exactly does that factor into calories in calories out?
Danny Lennon: Yeah, and this is a great point because so often this is kind of painted as this false dichotomy of calories in calories out. On one hand, explaining body composition changes, and then other people saying, No, no, no, it’s not calories, it’s hormones. In fact, it’s both right. It’s not this dichotomy.
They both work within each other. So hormones, of course, influence our body composition. You give an example there. Especially if you have exogenous hormones like testosterone coming in that change your body composition. But even if people start talking about things like the role of insulin, let’s say, I’m sure, various hormones like insulin or leptin, or ghrelin, these are like various appetite hormones or ones that signal our energy status.
These can have a role in dictating how much food we might have a drive to consume, or they might have a role in a drive for us to expend more or less energy. So they definitely play a role. But they still are included within this framework of calories in calories out. In other words, if they are impacting, let’s say, someone’s ability to lose body fat, it’s because they’re changing either energy intake or energy expenditure.
So as an example, if eating in a certain way, makes you hungrier and an greater drive to consume food, and when you consume more calories. Yes, that’s leading to weight gain. But still, because there’s an increase in energy intake. So there’s a calorie surplus, or the same if something causes someone to decrease their energy expenditure, that would lead to a change, but it’s still within, it can still be explained by calories in calories out. So it’s not this dichotomy between two things.
But you’re right in saying that when we think about energy balance, it’s not an exact prediction of what change there is in, say, fat tissue. What is this describing is the amount of energy stored within our body. And that can be stored in the form of fat, but it can also be stored as carbohydrates going into our muscle as glycogen, it can be stored as new muscle tissue, if we build that with protein, like that’s a use of energy.
So these can all play a part. So hormones, of course, play a role. No one is saying they are not important, but they don’t discount the fact that these changes are still predicated mainly on energy balance. So in other words, if someone wants to lose fat mass, you cannot do that in a calorie surplus, no matter what changes in hormones you may do. And just as one example that might be useful for people there is if you consider a ketogenic diet, which is very popular now.
It’s kind of built on this idea of if you’re on a ketogenic diet that keeps insulin levels really low. Then they’ll talk about this idea of, insulin locking fat in fat cells. So if you keep insulin low, you can release fat and burn fat, let’s say, Well, if you eat enough calories, even on a ketogenic diet, you will not lose weight.
And you can actually gain weight on a ketogenic diet. And this makes sense. I mean, there are people who want to be on a ketogenic diet, and that’s they want to gain some muscle mass, they want their body weight to go up. And we know that’s possible. So just because we’re manipulating a hormone that doesn’t override the fact that energy balance is going to be the primary driver of changes in let’s say, fat tissue over an extended period of time, if that makes sense.
Steve Washuta: Sure, it makes perfect sense, I think to lead into the next question, which is sort of a branch off of what you just said, is now meal timing, you know that there’s that timing of when you eat influence, any of that, in particular. So for example, if I had, whatever it was 2500 calorie diet, and it was broken up by the same ratios, some, let’s say, a 40 4020 40%, carbohydrates, 40%, protein, 20% fats. But the time in which I ate those meals one week, as opposed to the next was much different. Maybe I eat my carbohydrates pre and post-workout, maybe I decided to eat most of my calories in the beginning at the end of the day, and not in the middle. How does that affect this?
Danny Lennon: So from all the studies that we’ve seen so far, where you completely match calorie and macronutrient intake, there doesn’t seem to be specifically for body composition, that doesn’t seem to be a real difference between were in the day those may be consumed when you match intake and macronutrients.
Now, that said, from a practical standpoint, if changing our meal timing, that does have an influence on either your overall energy intake or your energy expenditure, then you would see a difference. So we could then kind of think through some thought experiments of where might that be the case? So that might be the case that if someone isn’t tracking their food intake, let’s say, and they decide to have a meal earlier in the day that has a significant protein, does that impair food during the day, but I think that one’s pretty easy to explain because we’re not matching for calories and macronutrients.
They’re in cases where let’s say you some track their food intake, and it’s the exact same but what we’re doing is changing the meal timing, Is there gonna be any real difference? It would have to change energy expenditure in some way in that case. So I mean, we could think of some hypotheses for example, if by move A, a larger meal earlier in the day that say a few hours before you go train. By doing that, does that allow someone to expend a bit more energy during that training session? Maybe Maybe not. It’s hard to know, at least for the average person that’s in the population.
Now, we do have some interesting stuff in this area of Crono nutrition where we see negative impacts, particularly on glycemic markers. So things like blood sugar and insulin, when a lot of calories, particularly from meals high in both carbohydrate and fat are consumed at nighttime. And so we know there’s a profound difference in the response and how we digest those meals that say, at night versus during the day. So your blood sugar will have a greater spike and stay higher for longer for the exact same meal, if that’s eaten that is what we call biological night.
So there might be a basis there for some people, particularly looking at blood glucose control, of not wanting to have very large meals, high-end carbohydrate, and fat, close to the onset of sleep or towards the end of the day. And they might find a benefit to putting some of that earlier in the day. And then there’s some associational stuff with people who do tend to distribute more, a higher percentage of the calories to the earlier part of the day tends to kind of correlate with lower levels of body fat overall.
But there may be some things that might explain that. So overall, what we can say at the moment is, if your food intake in terms of calories and macronutrients you consume are the exact same, then probably meal timing isn’t going to make a major difference to body composition. But as I said, it could make some differences for things like glycemic control, or for people who are not tracking their food, by changing the when you consume meals may impact the amount you eat overall.
Therefore, let’s say when people do intermittent fasting, and shrink their feeding window, that’s changing their timing. But if that leads them to eat less calories, then that, of course, will impact their body composition. So it can play a role indirectly. But directly when we match it, there’s probably not much difference. So the good news there is that we can kind of use that to our advantage, and kind of base it around the preferences of that individual
Steve Washuta: Is one of the indirect characteristics of that would be the sort of the thermic effect, meaning, if you were somebody who’s eating those calories throughout the day, let’s say you divided up into nine meals, as opposed to one meal, right is that thermic effect of your body trying to burn those calories use those calories in a particular way, aiding in this cows and cows outlaw of thermodynamics situation.
Danny Lennon: So that was one idea that had been proposed quite a number of years ago, but subsequent studies seem to show that that actually the meal frequency doesn’t play any role in increasing metabolic rate. So whilst Yes, and let’s say, and I think some of the studies, for example, would have compared three large meals to six smaller meals, so the intake over the day was the same, but it was either in a three or six meal distribution.
So small frequent meals with this idea of keeping the metabolism revved up are kind of colloquial terms people may have heard. But it seems that it doesn’t make any real difference. So yes, you’re having more of these meals. But because there are a smaller number of calories in each meal, you’re getting the same total thermic effect of feeding across the day, because it’s just relative to the amount of food that you’re digesting.
So, again, there’s good news there, from a practical standpoint, that if you are working with a client, you don’t need to have them consume little. And often throughout the day, you can go with what their preferences, some clients will actually prefer small, frequent meals, some might prefer bigger meals, but less frequently so that that three bigger meals and another club will have three small meals and say three snacks. And again, if the total intake is the same across the day, it won’t have any impact. So you can kind of go with whatever meal frequency works best from that perspective.
Steve Washuta: Wow, that’s good information. I would have always assumed that they’re not eating those small frequent meals was advantageous. But that’s good to know the studies have, have sort of proved otherwise is you’re speaking to that. preference, right? Whether you decide to eat your calories in nine meals or two meals or three meals, that sometimes speaks to how hungry you are. And I know that that’s a way in which people control their diets or try to help their clients control their diets by feeling satiated. Right. So tasty. So I know there are a few different ways to do that. Do you recommend that? And if so, how exactly are the I guess you would say that the most beneficial healthy ways to go about doing that?
Danny Lennon: Yeah, yeah, this is a great question. Because I think from a practical coaching perspective, we have to realize that Yeah, we were not going to have most of you People track their food intake or log their calories. And we wouldn’t want to either. For most people, it’s probably impractical, definitely in the long term. And ideally, even if someone starts doing that, the goal is to move away into a more sustainable way of eating.
And so with some general food changes, we can lead to greater levels of satiety or this feeling of fullness over the course of the day, which then may lead to a reduction in caloric intake within those individuals. So this will be good for either someone who’s just trying to control their level of calories to kind of maintain where they’re at. It’s also can be used in the case of someone who actually wants to lose body wants to diet by making some of these changes that can have a knock-on effect of making them consume less.
So a few basic ones to start is we know protein has a high satiety impact. So having an overall relatively high protein diet. In other words, each of their main meals Do we have a good source of protein. So this could be for someone who consumes an omnivorous diet, it could be a piece of chicken or meat, some eggs or some dairy, or even supplemental whey protein. For someone who’s on a plant-based diet, you could use plant sources like tofu, beans, peas, etc. And that you’re having high protein serving at each meal.
The next component would be a high fiber intake, we know that fiber has immediately had this impact on satiation. So it makes some fields full. But also, that can continue over the longer term, across many hours, let’s say. And what fiber also does is because it slows what we call the transit time of food through the gut. So it says takes longer to digest can keep that feeling of fullness for a bit longer.
The other good thing about foods that tend to be high in fiber is that they have a low-calorie density. So calorie density would be how many calories is in a certain mass of food, or a certain serving of food, there’s different ways to view it. But essentially, if we think of things with a very low-calorie density, let’s say if you take lots of fibrous vegetables, they’re a good example here, that on your plate, they would fill up a huge volume of food. But for a very small calorie value.
The opposite of something that has a high-calorie density would be that say something like oil, you can have a spoon of oil, that might be close to 100 calories, but taking a very small volume when someone consumes that. So by having some low-calorie density foods and meals, can be also a way to increase that satiety and fullness without contributing too many calories.
If you think of things like very large salads, or something like soups, or water-based dishes because they’re essentially filling up a bigger volume with a large contribution from water, which has no calories. So that would be another useful way to go. So protein fiber, and then foods of a low-calorie density are probably the three primary ways to go. And then there are some other areas that kind of look at if you consume, say protein first in a meal, or if you consume fiber first, but then the main ones I discussed is getting a high protein intake, getting an adequate amount of fiber and some high fiber meals, and then focusing on some of those low-calorie density meals. So things like water-based meals, fruits, vegetables, and so on.
Steve Washuta: That’s great information. So I want to shift gears here and talk a little bit about calorie deficit. The bro-science behind calorie deficit is that if you’re in it, you can’t build muscle. So you have a sort of a two-sided approach, you’re either you know, you’re in your bulk stages, right, as they say, where I’m eating to grow. And then I’m cutting down when I’m trying to, you know, shape some of the fat off. But that it’s very rarely not saying that that’s a healthy thing. Not saying that I recommend that. But that’s a groupthink idea that goes around in the sort of like the online communities. Can you speak to being in a calorie deficit, but still being able to maintain it? I guess you would say an athletic, muscular build?
Danny Lennon: Yeah, sure. So I think that idea that you discuss, comes around, because we know if someone wants to maximize the amount of muscle, they’re going to grow in a set period of time, then the best conditions for that would be a calorie surplus. More energy coming in. So classic gaining phase. If I were to say to you over the next three months, let’s gain as much muscle as possible, you would go into a surplus.
However, the question of if you’re in a calorie deficit, so in other words, the opposite so you’re dieting, you’re losing bodyweight and losing body fat. Does that mean you’re definitely going to lose muscle mass? And the second question is it maybe even better To gain some muscle mass whilst in this calorie deficit. So the first question is whether it’s how likely it is you can just maintain that muscle even as you’re in a deficit and losing weight and losing fat, then that is entirely possible, virtually for everyone.
Now, there are some circumstances which we could discuss, for example, if you have someone who’s already incredibly lean, and is dieting into a bodybuilding show, where they’re doing a six-month contest prep diet, and they’re already very lean, then yeah, in towards the tail end of that, no matter their best efforts is going to be some loss of lean body tissue. However, that’s not what most people are doing. So most people who are trying to diet down and who have a, relatively decent amount of body fat can die it off. And then it’s entirely possible to maintain their muscle mass, simply by giving number one a stimulus to that muscle tissue in the form of resistance training. So that’s gonna be your most potent thing to hold on to. muscles, and then second, supporting that with an appropriate high amount of protein.
So you, if you have, let’s say, three to four high protein meals across the day, in combination with resistance training, then you’re going to basically be able to maintain your muscle mass as you diet for the vast majority of people. Like I said if we leave aside something like a bodybuilder in contest prep, and even beyond that, if there was a tiny percentage of loss of muscle tissue, it’d be so small as to be unusable.
Because tissue is so easy to gain back that once you’ve lost it, it’s much easier than building in the first place, it would come back very quickly after going back into maintenance calories. So it’s certainly possible to maintain that. The second question of being well in a calorie deficit is, can you build muscle, then the answer to that is also Yes. And you can see this in a ton of studies, just literally across the board where people are in a relatively slight calorie deficit, so nothing major. In some cases, there are some big deficits.
But across the board, if it’s just a relatively modest calorie deficit, you tend to see this re-competition effect. In a lot of studies, where there’s in combination with a lot of loss of fat mass, there’s also a gain in muscle tissue. Now, where this is most likely to happen depends on the individual. And there’s a number of different components here. So if we take someone who is relatively new to resistance training, then it’s actually incredibly likely they’re going to gain muscle mass, even as they’re in a calorie deficit. And most trainers will have probably seen this, right, you take on a new client, you start training them, their goal is to lose body fat.
So they start changing their diet, their training and being more active, the weight is coming off, they’re losing weight. But because they’ve picked up a barbell for the first time in life, they’re actually gaining muscle tissue as well. So this complete change in body composition. And this is really, this is just the norm basically in people who are new to resistance training. So the earlier someone is in their training career, let’s say, or the less experience they have with resistance training, then it’s much more likely they’re going to have this effect or that much more profound effect of gaining muscle.
The second would be someone who has previously had that muscle tissue and lost it. But now to regain it back. So there was one particular study, Tom Longlands, was the lead author where they took college athletes, I think there were football players in the States. And they had come back after kind of summer off where guys hadn’t been training, probably just had been partying or whatever. They had come back off a layoff of not training, basically. And they put them in a 40% calorie deficit in this study, which is pretty significant, probably a bigger deficit than most people would diet. And they saw in these guys like, say, 22-year-old guys, athletes, even they were able to gain muscle.
Now, the caveat there is that they were gaining back the muscles they previously had, and they kind of lost in that kind of, period off. So if it’s something like returning from injury, someone new to resistance training, and or the calorie deficit is very small, then for a lot of people, and a lot of the people that coaches will be typically training, then it’s possible to see some gain in muscle tissue. And then the caveat here is you’re not going to see the same degree as if you were eating more calories and in a surplus, so it’s not maximizing muscle gain.
But it is possible for those people where it’s not going to happen is likely in people who are closer to their genetic ceiling, let’s say for muscle tissue. Guys, I’ve been training a long period of time, we’re even going in a surplus and doing everything right, gains are going to be very, very slow. It’s not really plausible to think Yeah, you’re going to see any appreciable gain in muscle mass while dieting. And that’s where you do see those cycles back and forth between purposeful gaining and dieting phases. But for the average person in the population and particularly beginners, then it’s entirely possible for for that to happen.
Steve Washuta: Yeah, that makes sense. And I think a lot of this conversation seems to, you know, basically, you know, in summation, this is very esoteric, there’s a lot of layers to this. And you have to understand that each person is going to be treated a little bit differently based on everything from the hormones to the calories to what’s going on to how they previously built up muscle, as opposed to are they, beginners? Are they closer to 65? Or 25? Right, all of these things factor in, of course, the baseline floor of this has to be calories in calories out approach, right, that that’s always involved in it. But all of those things that sort of interweave with it right, that that make it that that one strong belt loop is need to be addressed also, right, you’re not going to do Yeah,
Danny Lennon: yeah. And that’s a great point. Because I think, I think what’s important to make clear here is when we say that, say energy balance, or calories in calories out, it’s like this fundamental thing that goes across the board, which it is. All that is saying is that calories in calories out, the difference between those is kind of will explain something about what’s happening.
But it’s not talking about any prescription of dietary intervention. What I haven’t said is that calories in calories out means someone needs to track their calories or count calories. That’s not what he said, it’s not to say that simply telling someone to eat fewer calories is the intervention you go with. It’s none of these things, we haven’t said anything about the type of diet or what strategy to use, we’ve just said, if someone is going to lose body fat, then no matter what they do, they’re gonna have to be in a calorie deficit.
That doesn’t mean they have to count calories, though, they could do some of the basic changes we mentioned, maybe they just change the food quality, they end up eating fewer calories, someone else likes to do fasting. So they do that they’re eating fewer calories, someone else decides to track their intake.
There are all these different strategies that still fit within being explained by energy balance, but none of them are an intervention, calories in calories out is not a diet, it is not an intervention. So we’re not saying this is the way to prescribe to everyone. And so to your point, yeah, depending on what the individual’s requirement is, you would have approached that very differently in terms of how you would set out the actual strategy you want, given that you want to give to that individual.
Steve Washuta: Now, sleep, how does sleep, sort of play into this? And then I guess I’ll break this down into two parts, sleep from a general macro perspective, and then sleep from an individual’s perspective. So let me give you two kinds of examples to put this into play here.
So it could be you know, John is 45, he sleeps five and a half hours of the night, because he’s got a kid, and he’s just got a busy job, right? And then, you know, Jill gets eight hours a night of sleep, right? How is her energy expenditure different based upon sleep? And then also, those are two different people. What about the same person? Right? So if Danny is having a really good week of sleep, because everything is going right, as opposed to a really bad week of sleep, should that be manipulated in some way?
Danny Lennon: Yeah, great question. So I think, comparing between individuals, it’s probably worth acknowledging that there’s always going to be an inter-individual variation. So in other words, how susceptible someone is to get a bit less sleep. And the impact that has will vary from one person to the next, just genetic differences, someone actually made you better at, like seven hours per night, someone else would do best, like, theoretically that say, at eight, or when someone gets only four hours a night, the impact that has on their mood or their activity next day can be different from person to person.
So there’s always this variation that’s going to occur. But there are, of course, General generalities. So probably the bigger question for people is then Okay, for me as an individual, if I don’t get an appropriate amount of sleep or good quality sleep, what impact does this have on overall energy balance? Well, in terms of energy expenditure, interestingly, if someone is getting less sleep, because they’re awake longer, theoretically, that would increase their energy expenditure, because they’re just simply awake.
However, there are these knock-on consequences that have impacts on our behavior that are likely going to have a negative impact. So from a diet perspective, for example, we know that with even a couple of days of sleep restriction, so moving someone down to, let’s say, four hours of sleep a night for even two to three days Some of these studies have pronounced impacts on various different hormones like ghrelin, which is our appetite hormone. So the higher that is, the greater your appetite, another hormone called leptin.
And when you see these decreases in leptin, it basically signals to the body to do things, go consume more food, and move around a bit less. And there’s also we’ve seen kind of big changes in subjective reports from those individuals have their hunger levels, and also their hunger for specifically, palatable foods tends to go up.
So if we know then that because someone is sleep restricted over the course of a couple of days, then despite their best efforts, and what they may have planned with their diet, they’re now waking up in a position where over the course of this day, they’re likely to have higher hunger levels, they’re likely to have a decreased drive to go and be physically active, even without revising it. And then their preference for foods may change based on that sleep restriction. And I’m sure people can think of many examples in themselves of where, when you’re really tired, that influences your motivation to either move or are able to food choices you may make. But it’s also happening on a subconscious level without realizing it.
So sleep restriction plays a role there. Obviously, we know if people are sleep-restricted, not only does it change that kind of drive to go and be physically active throughout the day, but it’s also going to impact your physical activity quality as well if you’re actually doing exercise or a training session or so on, the amount of workload you can tolerate is going to be different. And it’s also going to impact your recovery from that.
So you’re going to have less or poor recovery from the exercise, which then obviously bleeds into your follow-up training sessions over the course of the week. And if you have a really kind of prolonged chronic sleep restriction, you’re probably increasing like the risk of things like illness or injury. Now, the thing here that’s important is probably not for people to freak out and worry about having one bad night’s sleep, humans are pretty resilient.
And one bad night is not going to cause absolute mayhem to the point of like, your health is going to deteriorate and everything’s gonna fall apart. I think everyone who has even competed in a sport or just enjoyed going to the gym has noticed anecdotally, there have been times where they got a really bad night’s sleep. But they went training and actually had a good session. So, that’s going to show like one-night sleep is not the thing to worry about. What you’re worried about is, on average, what is your typical habitual sleep quality and sleep quantity like, and what your habits around sleep like. So if it’s kind of all over the place. Sleeping at random times, being on your, your phone, or your tablet until all hours of the morning until you fall asleep, getting like four hours a night consistently.
Especially if it’s in cases where you have control to change that, then there are things definitely to work on. And if it’s things where it can’t be changed. So let’s say you give a good example of someone who has a young kid at home. And for those moments like that’s, that’s okay, that just has to be something that has to be taken on board and can explain how can I plan around this, but it’s still gonna happen. But in cases where people can modify some behaviors, I think there’s a clear example where sleep is going to impact behaviors related to exercise, activity levels, generally, food intake, which impact energy and energy out. And then beyond that, obviously, things like mood, and so on. So that’s kind of an overview of how it might play a role here.
Steve Washuta: Yeah, that’s fantastic information. And I think for the trainers out there, it’s important that you just sort of keeping this upfront and conscious, I think it’s very normal and everyday conversation, I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened five days a week, not even just with clients, with friends and family who come up to you and say, I didn’t sleep well last night.
But because it said so often, you take it for granted for lack of a better term, right? You don’t factor that into anything. You’re like, Oh, you didn’t sleep? Well, no big deal. Who does sleep well, right? But it’s, it’s an issue because like you said, there are all of these other physiological things that play into it. It’s not just my one anecdotal experience, it’s that the leptin and ghrelin and all these other things going on in your body may be sort of subconsciously telling you, you’re low on energy, let’s go eat dense calories.
And all of those factors that play into it, and I think from the perspective of both the individual, but more so when you’re working with someone, I think that I pay attention to myself when I’m on lack of sleep. But when someone tells me they haven’t slept, well, do I then, you know, pivot and provide them with appropriate exercises. Do I then say, you know what, this is going to be a light day today we’re going to do dynamic stretching, we’re going to hit the treadmill, we’re going to do abs, we’re not going to do this very heavy workout I had planned for you doing five and six reps at 70% of your max weights because you just you don’t have that in you today?
Danny Lennon: Right? Yeah. And that’s a fantastic point. And I think that’s where this stuff really comes into like the art of coaching that you’re not dealing Robots where we can say on your first console that someone, this is why I want you to sleep all the time, and you’re gonna have eight hours perfectly every night. No, it’s about understanding what happens with poor sleep, building some habits where we can with them.
But then being able to be flexible, like you say, when someone does report that their sleep has been diminished for the last couple of days, and they’re coming into the gym, then, yeah, maybe we don’t hammer them with that really intense session we have now and we move to something that is going to actually go to be productive, good quality work that they’re going to be able to tolerate, well still recover with.
And then when they’re back again, with you in two days’ time for their next training session, they’ll be ready to train properly, as opposed to hammering them now. They either can’t get through the workout, or it’s just so taxing that it’s going to take four days for them to recover fully again. And so yeah, that’s a fantastic point that uses the information to guide your judgment and kind of trust your own judgment to make these decisions. As opposed to thinking of these things as just like abstract cool pieces of information.
Steve Washuta: Yeah. And I always, shamelessly plug my book at least once a podcast, Fitness Business 101, I have a section in there, when you’re working with your client, the most important thing to do is the update phase when they come in casual conversation, ask them about their day, ask them what’s been going on.
So you get this feedback, which is not just conversation, it’s you then being able to pivot and adjust and modify your workout, right? If your client says feeling great, and eating great all day, and your plan was just to have a light session, well, maybe you need to pivot maybe today is the day, you need to do legs because they hate legs.
But they’re in a good mood today, right? So you’ve now switched your session, and vice versa, they come in, they’re on four hours of sleep, their toddler was up all night, you have to be able to switch that. But you can’t do that, unless you get that update, right. So even if you have a general blanket plan of what you want to do for the day, you should be able to handle those curveballs and get ready to ask those questions, get the information back. And then you know, then pick your path with your client. Yeah, fantastic point. Yeah, completely echo all of that. So let’s plug your stuff, Danny, let’s let the audience and the listeners know where they can find you.
Danny Lennon: Sure. So if people like listening to podcasts, and they like nerding out on details of nutrition science, then it’s just sigma nutrition radio, on any podcast app of their choosing. If they want to look at any of our written content that’s over at sigmanutrition.com. So they’ll see a tab for our sigma statements, which are basically long-form written pieces on controversial or hot topics within nutrition. And we kind of give an overview of the evidence base position on that and hopefully kind of clear up a lot of confusing topics. Then if they’re looking for me on social media, probably the best place is Instagram on DannyLennon_sigma, or if people prefer Twitter, I’m NutritionDanny, so any of those places, I’m happy to take questions or feedback.
Steve Washuta: Well, I’m a fan of the podcast and I will tell the personal trainers, group fitness instructors, fitness teachers, you’re doing yourself a disservice to your clients if you’re not listening to Danny’s podcast cuz you’re gonna get a lot of really good information again in areas that are not exactly in our wheelhouse that you can combine with what we do best to help your clients so so give them a listen. And Danny, thank you very much. Hope we talk soon.
Danny Lennon: Yeah, thank you so much for the great conversation really enjoyed it.
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