Do You Want To Know The Secret To Weight-loss and Metabolic Health?

The Secret to weight loss and metabolic health lies in understanding and applying some basic principles of biochemistry.

Macronutrients 101

There are 3 macronutrients which supply the energy (calories) needed for survival and activities:

  1. Carbohydrates- 4 calories/gram
  2. Proteins- 4 calories/gram
  3. Fats- 9 calories/gram


The conventional approach to weight loss is to burn more calories than you take in, thereby creating a calorie deficit.

However, are all calories equal?

Yes and no.

In the most basic sense, the energy from a calorie is constant, however, how a calorie is metabolized, based on whether it comes from a carbohydrate, protein, or fat, is another story.


The Thermic Effect

Your body burns calories as follows:

RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate)- 60%

Activity Energy Expenditure (Exercise)- 30%

The Thermic Effect of Food- 10% (HINT- Protein has the greatest thermic effect. About 20-30% of protein calories are burned while the body is digesting and metabolizing the protein.)


More Protein Please

Aside from the thermic effect of protein, protein reduces levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, while it boosts the appetite-reducing hormones GLP-1, peptide YY and cholecystokinin. This leads to an automatic reduction in calorie intake.

(Lejeune, M. P., et al 2006)


Biochemistry 101

Your body stores fats and carbohydrates as follows:

Adipose tissue- 10 g of TAG (Triacylglycerol)

Liver- 100 mg of glycogen

Muscle- 400 mg of glycogen and 350g of Intramuscular Triglycerides


Fat regulation is under the control of both exogenous carbohydrates (carbohydrates from the diet) and endogenous carbohydrates  (carbohydrate stored as glycogen).

A diet high in carbohydrates increases insulin which prevents lipolysis (the breakdown of fat). In addition, if glycogen stores are saturated in the muscles and liver from a diet high in carbohydrates, lipid oxidation is turned off.

Should you eat a low carbohydrate diet to lose weight?

There are 3 T’s to consider with respect to carbohydrates, proteins and fats when trying to lose weight:

  1. Timing
  2. Type
  3. Total amount



Carbohydrates are best consumed after activity, i.e some form of exercise. The idea of “Train low and Compete high” with respect to metabolic efficiency is a popular strategy used by athletes that can be applied to anyone who wants to become a better fat burner.

Fat oxidation is  increased after training with low muscle glycogen due to the enhanced metabolic adaptations in skeletal muscle.

(Hulston, C. J., et al 2010)


Further adaptations can be achieved in addition to “training low”, by “sleeping and recovering low”.

Keep in mind, that for a competition, increasing carbohydrates the day before and day of the event is essential for optimum performance.


In general, aim for eating every three hours.


Type and Total Amount

Adequate consumption of complete proteins (animal source)  is an important part of the secret to weight loss and metabolic health.

Aside from being in an energy deficit (consuming less calories than you are expending) you should consume about 2-2.5g/kg body weight of protein (about 3x the Recommended Daily Allowance). This helps to preserve muscle, which is essential for metabolic efficiency and insulin sensitivity


Approximate Macronutrient Measurement Guidelines:


Men- 2 palmed size portions=40-60g of protein

Women-1 palmed size portion=20-30g of protein

* I generally recommend about 20 g/serving, higher if you are an older adult.


Carbohydrates- Low Glycemic, e.g. Broccoli, spinach, kale, mixed salads.

Men- 2 fist sized portions

Women- 1 fist sized portion


Other Carbohydrates (based on exercise, performance needs and weight loss/gain goals), e.g. Grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, fruit

Men- 2 cupped-hand size portion (40-60g)

Women- 1 cupped-hand size portion (20-30g)


Fats (e.g. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, avocado, coconut, grass fed butter, nuts and seeds)

Men- 2  thumb-sized portions (15-25g)

Women- 1 thumb-sized portion  (7-12g)


If your goal is weight loss, aim for about a 15-30% caloric deficit.  Don’t go below 1200 calories.


*There are a number of online BMR and activity counters that can help you to figure out your total calorie expenditure.


Resistance and Interval Training- The icing on the low carb cake

The combined effects of diet and exercise appear to be independent and additive for enhancing body composition and lowering body fat. Furthermore, when comparing isocaloric, high protein/low carbohydrate vs Low protein/high carbohydrates diets, the higher protein spares lean body mass, which is essential for insulin sensitivity and metabolic efficiency.

(Layman, D. K., et al 2005)  (Stiegler, P., & Cunliffe, A. 2006)


*The more intense the activity, the more that carbohydrates are used as the primary energy source. Over time, if you adopt a “Train Low” lifestyle, you can create adaptations that make you a better fat burner. You may still need to adjust your carbohydrate intake based on the HEC principle: Hunger   Energy/Emotions   Cravings


The proof is in the low carb pudding

Volek et al. performed a 12-week study comparing two hypocaloric diets (~1,500 kcal): a carbohydrate-restricted diet  (%carbohydrate:fat:protein = 12:59:28) and a low-fat diet (56:24:20) in 40 subjects with atherogenic dyslipidemia.

Both interventions led to improvements in several metabolic markers, but subjects following the carbohydrate-restricted diet had consistently reduced glucose and insulin concentrations, insulin sensitivity , weight loss , decreased adiposity , and more favorable triacylglycerol, HDL-C and total cholesterol/HDL-C ratio responses.

In addition to these markers, the carbohydrate-restricted diet subjects showed more favorable responses to alternative indicators of cardiovascular risk, including: postprandial lipemia , the Apo B/Apo A-1 ratio , and LDL particle distribution.

Despite a threefold higher intake of dietary saturated fat during the carbohydrate-restricted diet, saturated fatty acids in triglycerides and cholesteryl ester were significantly decreased, as well as  markers of lipogenesis (fat production), compared to subjects consuming the low fat diet.

(Volek, J. S., et al 2009)


Key Points

  • Understanding  and applying basic biochemistry principles can be the secret to weight loss and metabolic health
  • Protein has the greatest thermic and satiety effect of the three macronutrients
  • Consider the 3 T’s when meal planning (Timing, Type and Total amount)
  • Train, Sleep and Recover in a glycogen depleted  state. Compete High if you are an athlete
  • Resistance Training maintains lean body mass in conjunction with a higher protein/lower carbohydrate diet. Lean body mass increases you metabolism and insulin sensitivity
  • Consider a Higher Protein/Lower carbohydrates diet if you have Insulin resistance or elevated lipids



Hulston, C. J., Venables, M. C., Mann, C. H., Martin, C., Philp, A., Baar, K., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2010). Training with low muscle glycogen enhances fat metabolism in well-trained cyclists. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 42(11), 2046-2055.

Layman, D. K., Evans, E., Baum, J. I., Seyler, J., Erickson, D. J., & Boileau, R. A. (2005). Dietary protein and exercise have additive effects on body composition during weight loss in adult women. The Journal of nutrition,135(8), 1903-1910.

Lecture notes from James Morton, PhD- Guru Nutrition ISSN Diploma

Lejeune, M. P., Westerterp, K. R., Adam, T. C., Luscombe-Marsh, N. D., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. (2006). Ghrelin and glucagon-like peptide 1 concentrations, 24-h satiety, and energy and substrate metabolism during a high-protein diet and measured in a respiration chamber. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 83(1), 89-94.

MacLaren, D., & Morton, J. (2011). Biochemistry for sport and exercise metabolism. John Wiley & Sons.

Stiegler, P., & Cunliffe, A. (2006). The role of diet and exercise for the maintenance of fat-free mass and resting metabolic rate during weight loss.Sports medicine, 36(3), 239-262.

Volek, J. S., Phinney, S. D., Forsythe, C. E., Quann, E. E., Wood, R. J., Puglisi, M. J., … & Feinman, R. D. (2009). Carbohydrate restriction has a more favorable impact on the metabolic syndrome than a low fat diet. Lipids,44(4), 297-309.


About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin