Weight Loss and Metabolic Efficiency

By Bob Seebohar | Jan. 25, 2019, 12 p.m. (ET)

Chicken N Veggies

Many triathletes start off a new year with ambitious weight loss and body composition goals. Unfortunately, many do not have all of the tools necessary to be as successful as they could be. If you can relate, keep reading to gain some “golden nuggets” that you can use right now in your weight loss journey.

Step one: Stop counting calories. Step two: Forget about the scale. Good. Now, let’s begin your re-education process.

Calorie Counting

Calories in versus calories out. The good ole energy balance equation that compares the calories consumed through carbohydrate, protein, fat and alcohol with the calories expended via resting metabolic rate, exercise, the thermic effect of food and lifestyle/occupational activity. This equation may be beneficial for learning the various components of calorie input and output, but it does nothing to help devise a daily eating program that is sustainable, non-restrictive and enjoyable.

If you are privy to logging your food and exercise and know all of the quantitative data associated with calorie input and output, what does that really give you? You end up with some estimated numbers that do next to nothing to teach you how to eat for health and weight loss. Focusing on numbers also disengages you in exploring the “why” behind your food choices and patterns.

Types of Hunger

It is important to know what the three types of hunger are so you can identify not only when you are actually hungry but also why you are eating certain foods.

The three types of hunger include:

  1. Habitual: eating at a specific time of the day, even if you are not biologically hungry
  2. Emotional: eating due to some type of emotional cue such as boredom, fatigue, stress or happiness.
  3. Biological: eating because your body needs food and your stomach is growling and you can’t focus on tasks.

Let’s focus on #3. Physiologically, in a non-disease state, our blood sugar ebbs and flows about every three to four hours throughout the day. Depending on what food you eat and when you eat it, your biological hunger cues can be triggered sooner or later. It really depends on how good you are at 1) identifying and acknowledging your biological hunger, and 2) putting certain foods together at meal and snack times. The latter is extremely important when it comes to properly nourishing your body, and supporting optimal health and weight loss goals.

Metabolic Efficiency Training

Enter the concept that I created in the early 2000s: metabolic efficiency training. By using a little food know-how and basic science principles, it is possible to teach your body to tap into its almost-unlimited fat stores to use as energy while preserving its very limited carbohydrate stores. This is a key factor when seeking weight loss.

There are two ways to do this: exercise and nutrition. That’s not too groundbreaking, but here’s a lesser-known fact – your daily nutrition plan accounts for roughly 75 percent of improving your metabolic efficiency and helping you to lose weight. Let’s focus on this for now.

Eating too much or too little of any macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein or fat) may promote metabolic inefficiencies and nutrient imbalances. This short-lived, non-lifestyle habit promoting “diet mentality” is not ideal. Rather, a better solution is to eat a combination of foods with the goal of blood sugar control. When blood sugar is optimized, the hormone insulin is secreted in high amounts. Together, these allow your body to utilize more of your fat stores as energy. The end result is improved metabolic efficiency and weight loss.

The nutrition component of metabolic efficiency training is actually quite easy and does not involve any calorie counting. In fact, I have devised a very simple, qualitative approach that works wonders when first using my metabolic efficiency training concept. Remember, the goal is to pair foods together that will optimize blood sugar, control insulin and keep you full for a longer period of time. The food “equation” I like to teach is protein + fat + fiber, in the model I refer to as “The Hand Model.”

The Hand Model

Here’s what you need to know about The Hand Model. The size of the hand is measured from the wrist to fingertips (in terms of volume). One of your hands represents the amount of protein you should have at each meal while the other hand represents the amount of fiber (carbohydrates) you should have. Fat is found in protein-rich foods, so no need to worry about adding it. If you have roughly the same volume of protein and fiber (carbohydrate) in each hand, you will have a 1:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein. This ratio is ideal for optimizing blood sugar. Remember, I devised this model to be very qualitative, so don’t worry about counting calories. Just use your hands as rough measurement guides and choose high-quality, nutrient-dense foods.

This article is about weight loss during base training, so let’s maintain that context here. Try to stick with a 1:1 ratio for your daily meals until you reach your weight/body composition goals and your training load increases. At that point, reassess your nutrient needs to support your health and training goals. If you are a snacker throughout the day, maintain the 1:1 ratio but reduce the volume by half. This way, you don’t end up overeating.

There it is. A somewhat simple approach to a somewhat complex process. Start with the goal of optimizing blood sugar through proper pairing of protein, fat and fiber, add some exercise on top, and you should be on your way to achieving weight loss as you get ready for your 2019 triathlon season.


Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, METS II, 2008 Olympic Team USA and Triathlon Team Sport Dietitian and Exercise Physiologist, is the owner of eNRG Performance and co-owner of Birota Foods. He’s a nutrition coach, USAT Level III Coach and accomplished endurance athlete who walks the walk and talks the talk. Find out more about Bob at www.enrgperformance.com and more about his metabolically efficient Smart Cocoa and Smart Coconut Creamer products at www.birotafoods.com.