Positive, Negative & Neutral Energy Balance – Let’s Talk Calories!

By the end of this blog, I hope you will have a better understanding of energy balance through the body. As always I strongly encourage you to start exercising alongside any nutritional changes, for body health and muscle development. We all need muscle for a great body foundation, and getting your ideal body is a slow process which involves eating the right stuff and consistency with exercise – but bear with me and we will get you on the right track to start seeing those results.

Let’s get stuck into it!

In my previous blogs I have spoken about what protein, carbs and fats are, and how they benefit the body. To tie everything up nicely for you – they are all made up of calories, which is energy, and that is what keeps our bodies functioning. Whatever your body goals, energy will determine whether you will gain weight, lose weight or stay the same – and this is what is known as the laws of thermodynamics.

A brief overview of the law of thermodynamics. Energy can neither be destroyed nor be created in any process, instead simply transferred between matter.

For the body in particular this means calories coming into the body (consumed via food or drink) vs. calories leaving the body (bodily functions and physical activity).   

If you’re overweight you’re more than likely consuming too many calories vs. not using enough. Your body then takes on ‘plan B’ which is to store the energy as fat, to be used as fuel to keep the body functioning efficiently. If you’re underweight you’re using up more calories than you’re consuming. Whereas, if your body is not losing nor gaining weight (staying the same), you’re just about having enough calories for your lifestyle.

How do we know how much energy our body needs?   

The first thing you need to know is how many calories does your body actually need for basic vital operation, i’m talking about; organ functions and blood circulation – without any movement and before any exercise. This is what is known as your RMRResting  Metabolic Rate. We all have one, and differs on your sex, weight & height. 

Once you have your RMR you now know how many calories your body needs for maintenance at resting point, and you can see if you’re over-eating or under-eating. However, also remember that is the bare minimum your body needs, you will always need a bit more as no one sits completely still all day everyday.

Also, remember your RMR isn’t going to be the same as a friend who is a similar height to you, as you also need to factor their specific weight and age. They may also use up more energy, for example; walk their dog, walk to a bus vs. driving to work etc… all sorts of small factors can differ their energy usage to yours – so avoid comparing yourself to those around you.

Rant Alert!!

‘I’ve lost 5kg in one week, you can too!’ If someone that tells you they lost 5kg of fat in one week they are lying! It’s highly likely they have in fact lost a high percentage of muscle.

This is one of the biggest problems with tracking calorie apps, when not setup correctly, or supervised by a professional (nutritionist, fitness professional etc…) you can simply type in how much weight you want to lose in a month and all it will do is dramatically drop your calories to unhealthy levels. Sure if you stick to their ‘recommendations’ you’re going to drop the weight, but it will be unhealthy weight loss. Meaning as soon as you consume a few too many calories again you put that weight straight back on.

So congratulations! You’ve managed to lose a s***load of muscle and water, over a short month of tracking, but start eating ‘normally’ again and you’ll replace it with fat almost instantly!

Don’t get me wrong I use tracking calorie apps with a number of my clients and they work great, but this consists of me manually putting in their calorie goals, correct percentage number of macros, and making regular alterations week on week.

Sorry, rant over! 🙂

Calorie balance, the difference between positive and negative

I’ve outlined the differences between positive and negative energy balance:  

Positive energy balance (the healthy way)

When your body is in a positive energy balance or neutral energy balance it has been proven to work much more efficiently in losing or gaining weight, whatever your goal maybe.

Positive energy balance has got a lot to do with what goes into your cells – the right nutrients and calories. Your body will function correctly using up the energy it needs and the additional exercise you do with burn the remainder. You then consume more calories again and the cycle continues. When you see this functionality working correctly you will see your hormone levels balance out too (burn more fat + build more muscle = better mood) So in all your body will be running a lot smoother, which will ensure you become a stronger more sustainable version of yourself! WIN!

Negative energy balance (the unhealthy way)

When your body is in a negative energy balance, admittedly you will see quick weight loss, but there is an unhealthy way and a healthy way to this. The unhealthy way is to lose weight by dropping 500 calories from your guided RMR and not exercising – but be warned you are basically robbing your body of what it really needs. This is why you will see a lot of people on crazy diets, getting ill more often and feeling fatigued all the time – there immune system doesn’t have the energy it needs to function!

From actioning this harsh lack of calorie (the high school diet I call it) your body metabolism will decline, and your body will get used to burning less calories naturally. A number of functions will start slowing down, such as; the release of fat burning hormones, estrogen and testosterone levels as well as non-survival functions.

Example: have you ever asked a person fasting for weeks how horny they are. Well, let’s face it you probably aren’t going to do that…  🙂 … But the answer is they aren’t, their libido has disintegrated and they’re having less sex because of it.  On the other hand if you put your body into a more positive energy state, with exercise, your body will be able to let go of a lot of the bad stuff and hold onto the good stuff – functioning correctly. Which will start to bring your mojo back! Lot’s more sex!! WIN!

Also… if you’re in a negative energy balance you are looking to put on a lot more muscle, it will just never happen due to the lack of calories in your system.

Extra Stuff | Here’s a few examples of previous people I’ve worked with!

Example 1: Looking for weight loss

If you’re looking to lose a bit of weight the healthiest way is slow and easy. I would say between 0.5 to 1kg in the beginning, so you can be sure that the primary weight being lost is from your fat store and not from muscles. With most clients depending on the lifestyle in the beginning I will start them out on a few 100 calories higher than there RMR, because they are exercising and moving around more often. Since they have started personal training with me, and making small adjustments week by week we hit that sweet spot where they are dropping weight slow and steady, always with a high protein intake to keep hold of as much muscle a possible.

Example 2 : Looking for weight gain

In trying to gain some good muscle weight, it will always come with a little unwanted fat weight. But how you adjust your calories will determine how much muscle weight you will gain and how quickly you can rid yourself of the fat weight. The first step is finding out your RMR (calculations above) and then increasing that by at least 500 calories to start off with, since your exercising 3-5 times a week. Then see how you’re getting on and if your gaining weight steadily and slowly, great stick to it, but if your putting on weight too fast drop the calories by about 100/200 (dependent on how much weight your putting on).

If you don’t see any change over the weeks – add an extra 100/200 calories on top of your initial 500 calories.  

One thing I’ve tried to thread throughout this blog is making sure you still get the right nutrition within those calories – the correct percentage ratio of protein, carbs and fats – as well as getting the right minerals and vitamins (from fruit and veg) to maintain that great physique you’re working so hard to get. Unfortunately you can’t just eat pasta and hope for the best (life is not that kind to us!) – sadly we are complex functioning animals!

Something to remember when looking at your calories and trying to increase or reduce them.

Besides eating more healthily or cleaner whatever your goal maybe. Whether it is to lose weight, gain weight or just be healthy, at first dropping calories or adding calories too quick can be quite overwhelming at first for most people (unless you’re one of those exceptions that can change everything in one go). The best advice I can give you is to take it slow and build up gently to your calorie requirements throughout a few weeks and build good habits in throughout the journey. This will really help you to stick to the habit changes – lots of small steps make a big step forward!

Also don’t think that you can’t enjoy a bit of fast food or a small treat every now and again, guess what you’re only human – not a robot! Just restart the next day on track and you will be fine.  


Let’s summaries and you can be on your way!

  • Calories are important, no matter your goal!
  • Workout your RMR and use this as a guide.
  • Keep your body in a positive energy balance state, as much as possible.
  • With good nutrition and the correct calorie intake your body will run efficiently towards your goals
  • Now that you have understood the basics of energy balance i’d recommend you have a good read of my other three nutrition blogs; protein, carbs and fats
  • Get moving and exercise regularly for optimum results  
  • Get a personal trainer if you find it hard to exercise on your own. Looking for online or home training, i know someone pretty awesome who can help! 😉

Bodies are complicated, this is solely a foundation. Bare in mind that no two people are the same and we all process calories differently. This blog is designed to kick start your journey and give you all the right information you need. If you have specific requirements feel free to get in touch, or ask a fitness professional local to you.