The Complete Guide to Thermogenesis

When it comes to weight loss supplements and fat burners, the words “thermogenesis” and “thermogenic” are used extremely frequently. Based on the way these two words are splashed across advertisements, you’re led to believe it’s a good thing to boost, increase, or enhance.

But have you ever wondered what thermogenesis means, or why you would want to increase it?

That’s what this guide is for.

We’re here to explain all the ins and outs of thermogenesis and why you want your fat burner to increase it, especially if you want to drop the fat fast.

What is Thermogenesis?

Thermogenesis is the metabolic process by which organisms burn calories in order to generate heat.

A simpler way to say that is thermogenesis is the body’s way of producing heat. It does this by “burning” calories.

Thermogenics are ingredients or supplements that help increase the production of heat in the body, and as a result, increase the number of calories you expend. This translates to greater calorie burn throughout the day, which in theory, should help you lose weight faster.

There are a number of ingredients commonly touted as thermogenics, which we’ll get to a little later in this article, but first, let’s take a moment to review the different types of thermogenesis that occur in the body.

Types of Thermogenesis

On the surface, thermogenesis seems fairly straightforward — it’s how your body produces heat. But, as it turns out, there’s not just one type of thermogenesis. Science has broken it down into three (or four, depending on the classification scheme) types.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a second to review each of the different forms and discuss what separates them from one another.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Basal metabolic rate (BMR) consists of the calories your body burns to carry out essential functions for survival. This includes such things as circulating blood throughout the body, breathing, etc.

Essentially, BMR accounts for the energy to perform vital body processes while you’re at rest. It’s the number of calories your body burns if you did nothing but lay in bed all day long.

Basal metabolic rate is the largest contributor to energy expenditure during the day, [1] accounting for 60-75% of total calories burned.

Diet-Induced Thermogenesis

The second type of thermogenesis is diet-induced thermogenesis. Scientists have defined diet-induced thermogenesis as:

“the increase in energy expenditure above basal fasting level divided by the energy content of the food ingested and is commonly expressed as a percentage” [2]

A simpler explanation of diet-induced thermogenesis would be — the number of calories you burn eating, digesting, absorbing, and transporting nutrients from the food you ate.

Now, here’s where things get interesting with diet-induced thermogenesis. Each macronutrient has a different thermic effect of food, meaning that your body burns different amounts of calories depending on what type of food you’re eating.

So, let’s take a look at that now:

  • Protein – The most metabolically demanding macronutrient for your body to digest and absorb. [3] Its thermic effect of food is about 20-35%, which means that if you eat a piece of protein that contains 100 calories, depending on what type of protein it is, your body will burn 20-35 calories simply trying to break down that food.
  • Carbohydrate – After protein, carbohydrate is the next most metabolically demanding macronutrient to digest and absorb. Its thermic effect of food is 5-10% of calories consumed. [4]
  • Fat – The least calorie-intensive macronutrient to digest and absorb is fat. It has a thermic effect of food of about 5%.

In total, the thermic effect of food, or diet-induced thermogenesis, accounts for about 10% of your total daily energy expenditure.

Now, most of you reading this don’t eat one single type of macronutrient at a time. Even a whey protein shake, which is mostly protein, still has trace amounts of carbohydrates and fat. So, how do you figure out the diet-induced thermogenesis of a mixed meal?

Let’s use whey protein as an example:

Let’s say your scoop of whey protein contains 25 grams of protein, 3 grams of carbs, and 2 grams of fat.

How do you figure out the thermic effect of food with this?

Simple!

Just use the percentages we listed above for each of the macronutrients, and you’ll have an estimate of how many calories your body expends digesting your whey protein shake.

So, it would look something like this:

  • Protein = 25 grams * 4 calories/gram = 100 calories
  • Carbohydrate = 3 grams * 4 calories/gram = 12 calories
  • Fat = 2 grams * 9 calories/gram = 18 calories

This gives us a total of 130 calories from our scoop of protein.

To figure out how many calories you’re actually getting from this whey protein shake, we’ll apply the percentages we listed above:

  • Protein = 25% * 100 calories = 25 calories burned
  • Carbohydrate = 10% * 12 calories = 1.2 calories burned
  • Fat = 5% * 18 calories = 0.9 calories burned

Thermic effect of food = 25 + 1.2 + 0.9 = 27.1 calories burned

Net calorie yield from whey protein shake = 130 – 27.1 = 102.9 calories

As you can see, due to the thermic effect of food, that 130 calorie protein shake may only deliver 102.9 calories of actual energy.

Based on this simple example, you can see how your food selections can have a significant impact on energy balance (calories in vs calories out). Diets with a higher proportion of protein will inherently require more energy to digest than diets with lower proportions of protein. This is why many coaches and trainers advocate high protein diets, especially during times of weight loss.

Not only do high protein diets lead to a greater calorie burn, protein also is more satiating than either carbohydrates or fats. Eating more protein can help you feel fuller for longer, which is a very good thing if you’re dieting and reducing overall calorie intake each day.

Now, let’s discuss the final factor impacting thermogenesis.

Energy Cost of Physical Activity

The final form of thermogenesis comes from your daily activity. Exercise scientists have further divided this category into two “subcategories”, which is why we said there were four types of thermogenesis at the top.

Those two subcategories are:

  • Exercise Activity Thermogenesis
  • Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, as you probably guessed, is the calories your body expends during any type of exercise you perform. This includes weight lifting, steady-state cardio (walking or jogging), high-intensity interval training, CrossFit, etc. Basically, any type of structured physical activity that’s more intense than just walking from point A to point B falls under this subcategory.

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis describes the number of calories you expend in all other physical activity that isn’t specifically “exercise”. This includes standing, walking from room to room, tapping your finger or foot, fidgeting, etc. This number is highly variable depending on how much you move around during the day. For example, someone who works a physically demanding, manual labor job will burn far more calories during the day than a sedentary office worker who spends 8 hours each day sitting at a desk.

Combining both exercise activity thermogenesis and non-exercise activity thermogenesis gives us our total energy cost of physical activity each day. This number can vary between 15-30% of your total daily energy expenditure [5], depending on how active you are on a given day.

This constitutes all the major contributors to daily thermogenesis. Add each of these three major categories up, and you have your total daily energy expenditure.

Now, let’s look at a few outside factors that could potentially increase thermogenesis.

Thermal Stress

Thermal stress refers to the impact the temperature of the environment has on your body temperature. You see, while we can survive in any number of climates, your core temperature has a very limited range that is considered safe. Go any higher or lower than this range, and things start going very bad, very quickly for you.

The body can only tolerate a drop-in body temperature of approximately 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and a rise in temperature of 5 degrees Fahrenheit. If the average temperature of a person is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, this gives you a “safe range” of about 88.6-103.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Note that this is the range your body can survive. It’s certainly not optimal to be at the extremes of this range though.

So, what happens if you do start to drift too far away from the typical 98.6-degree core temperature?

Fortunately for you, the hypothalamus has that handled.

When it gets too hot and your core temperature starts to rise, your body will use one of four processes to cool you off:

  • Conduction
  • Convection
  • Radiation
  • Evaporation

Heat leaves the body via evaporation when you sweat and respirate (breathe). Additionally, your body will also move warm blood to superficial blood vessels (ones closer to the skin). Note that this can lead to a reddish or flushed appearance.

When it’s too cold outside (blizzard in the middle of winter), your body tries to keep warm. It does this by pulling blood away from your hands, feet, face, and directing it towards your core, which keeps your better insulated.

Your body can also increase thermogenesis by shivering, which keeps you warm and significantly boosts metabolism!

In both of these scenarios, your daily thermogenesis (and total daily energy expenditure) is ramped up considerably.

Now, a lot of people will take this thermal stress effect and attempt to train in very hot or very cold environments. While it may seem like a good idea to train in adverse climates, in the effort to create an even greater calorie burn, the truth is, it wouldn’t be all that effective.

You see, when you train in extreme climate conditions, your performance suffers substantially, so while your body might be burning more calories trying to maintain its temperature, your actually not having as effective of a workout as you would be if you were training in a more “normal” training environment.

We’ve just about covered everything that can impact thermogenesis on a day in, day out basis, except supplements.

As we stated at the beginning thermogenic supplements make up a huge portion of the weight loss supplement market, but…

Can Supplements Actually Increase Thermogenesis?

YOU BET they do!

Sports nutrition scientists have discovered several supplements that do increase thermogenesis, and research confirms as much. These thermogenic supplements increase energy expenditure, helping you burn more calories each day (even while you rest!) and lose fat faster.

Let’s take a look at some of the best thermogenic supplements on the market.

Best Thermogenic Supplements

Paradoxine®

Paradoxine® is a patented extract of Grains of Paradise, a pungent West African spice that belongs to the ginger family. Paradoxine® stimulates the brown fat on your body, increasing thermogenesis and energy expenditure that help support weight loss. [6,7]

Ginger Root

Commonly seen in Asian cooking, ginger is another pungent spice loaded with metabolism-boosting compounds. These compounds are called gingerols, with 6-gingerol being the one most well known as a “thermogenic”.

6-gingerol activates the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor δ (PPARδ), which increases thermogenesis by “browning” white fat, similar to how Paradoxine works. [8,9,10] This leads to greater calorie burn during the day, and ultimately faster fat loss.

CapsiAtra®

One of the newest thermogenics to burst onto the scene is CapsiAtra®, a patented extract of sweet peppers standardized for dihydrocapsiate, a close relative of capsaicin. As you might know, capsaicin is the pungent alkaloid naturally present in chile peppers that gives them the tongue-numbing bite.

The difference between CapsiAtra® and capsaicin is that CapsiAtra® doesn’t come with the unpleasant GI upset and off-putting “burning” sensation that capsaicin does.

As far as effectiveness, human studies using the novel thermogenic supplement note it can help you burn an extra 50 calories per day via increasing fat oxidation and energy expenditure. [11]

Evodiamine

Extracted from Evodiae Fructus, a member of the Tetradium genus of plants, Evodiamine is another potent that is similar to capsaicin. As such, evodiamine is itself a strong thermogenic, and on top of that, it’s also been shown to inhibit fat uptake. [12,13]

This means that not only can evodiamine help you burn more calories during the day, but it may also help prevent you from absorbing some of the fat calories from your meals too!

Now, you could try to source all of these ingredients yourself and formulate your own potent thermogenic fat burning supplement, but that tends to involve a lot of time, effort, and expense.

We’ve already done the research and development for you and created the perfect thermogenic for your fat loss needs in Steel Sweat!

Steel Sweat — The Ultimate Thermogenic Supplement

If you’re looking to enhance thermogenesis, increase calorie burn, and accelerate fat loss, there’s no better place to look than Steel Sweat.

Steel Sweat™ contains a powerful matrix of proven thermogenic agents including Paradoxine®, Ginger root, Evodiamine, and CapsiAtra®, along with several other performance-enhancing, fat-melting ingredients such as caffeine and L-Carnitine L-Tartrate.

Each serving of Steel Sweat™ will help boost performance during your cardio sessions, spiking your metabolism and burning calories like never before. Steel Sweat also works well as a lower stim fat-burning pre-workout on your resistance training days as well. The lipolytic agents present in Steel Sweat help burn fat for fuel, thereby sparing your glycogen stores for the really intense lifts during your workout.

Steel Sweat™ is ideal for any training scenario and can help you lose fat faste, while achieving your performance goals. Just be ready for the heat wave that ensues. No other supplement creates the burn

References

  1. Sabounchi NS, Rahmandad H, Ammerman A. Best Fitting Prediction Equations for Basal Metabolic Rate: Informing Obesity Interventions in Diverse Populations. International journal of obesity (2005). 2013;37(10):1364-1370. doi:10.1038/ijo.2012.218.
  2. Westerterp KR. Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2004;1:5. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-1-5.
  3. Halton, T., Hu, F. 2004. The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 23(5): 373-85
  4. Nair, K., Halliday, D., Garrow, J. 1982. Thermic response to isoenergetic protein, carbohydrate or fat meals in lean and obese subjects. Clinical Science 65: 307-312
  5. Berardi, J., Andrews, R. 2013. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition 2nd ed. Precision Nutrition, Inc. pp 101-102
  6. Sugita, J., Yoneshiro, T., et al; “Grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta) extract activates brown adipose tissue and increases whole-body energy expenditure in men”; British Journal of Nutrition; (2013) 110(4), pp. 733–738;
  7. Sugita J, Yoneshiro T, et al; “Daily ingestion of grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta) extract increases whole-body energy expenditure and decreases visceral fat in humans”; Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology; 2014, 60(1): 22-27;
  8. Wang, S., Zhang, C., Yang, G., & Yang, Y. (2014). Biological properties of 6-gingerol: a brief review. Natural Product Communications, 9(7), 1027–1030.
  9. Misawa, K., Hashizume, K., Yamamoto, M., Minegishi, Y., Hase, T., & Shimotoyodome, A. (2015). Ginger extract prevents high-fat diet-induced obesity in mice via activation of the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor delta pathway. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 26(10), 1058–1067. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2015.04.014
  10. Saravanan, G., Ponmurugan, P., Deepa, M. A., & Senthilkumar, B. (2014). Anti-obesity action of gingerol: effect on lipid profile, insulin, leptin, amylase and lipase in male obese rats induced by a high-fat diet. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 94(14), 2972–2977. https://doi.org/10.1002/jsfa.6642
  11. Galgani JE, Ravussin E. Effect of dihydrocapsiate on resting metabolic rate in humans. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010;92(5):1089-1093. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.30036.
  12. Wang T, et al. Evodiamine improves diet-induced obesity in a uncoupling protein-1-independent manner: involvement of antiadipogenic mechanism and extracellularly regulated kinase/mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling. Endocrinology. (2008)
  13. Zhang LL, et al. Activation of transient receptor potential vanilloid type-1 channel prevents adipogenesis and obesity. Circ Res. (2007)

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