top of page

Steps are Better than Workouts for Fat Loss - Step 5

Steps 1 and 2 covered the base nutritional habits that you need to have in place. Steps 3 and 4 covered the calorie IN side of the equation (calories in < calories out = calorie deficit = fat loss). The next two steps are now going to be covering the calorie OUT side of the equation. These are the calories that we expend during the day.

There are four main ways that our bodies use up these calories:-

  1. Deliberate exercise 5%

  2. Digestion (TEF) 10%

  3. Non-deliberate movement (NEAT) 15%

  4. Base metabolism (BMR) 70%

These percentages are admittedly hugely variable between individuals. For example, someone training for an ultra-endurance event will have a much higher contribution from deliberate exercise, whereas someone clocking 30k steps per day from work would have much higher non-deliberate movement. More detail on each:


Base Metabolism (BMR) 70%

BMR = Basal Metabolic Rate

The bottom of the pyramid. Just by existing, your body is automatically burning approximately 70% of your daily calories for you. What an absolute win. You don’t have to do anything, just simply exist as a human.

The biggest thing to understand here is that this will always be your primary contributor to calorie expenditure. It's basically the energy cost of all your body's daily processes, and it varies hugely between individuals.

Now, that isn’t to say that we can’t influence this at all.

The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn while resting.

A person with a lot of muscle will have a higher base metabolism than someone with little muscle. So as we will explore further in Step 6, doing weight training to build your muscle mass is an essential part of losing fat.

BMR is hugely variable between individuals, and as it makes up around 70% of your energy output, this is the main explanation behind why some people gain weight easily while others don’t. Other things that influence your BMR:

- age

- gender

- genetics

- muscle mass (hint hint)

- weight loss/gain history (yo-yo dieting)

- thyroid function

- some medications


Digestion (TEF) 10%

TEF = Thermic Effect of Food

Another win. Your body expends approximately 10% of it’s total calories just through chewing, digesting and assimilating your food. Again this is all happening behind the scenes without us doing anything (apart from eating). Turns out it is actually quite a chore for our bodies to break down the food we eat.

Can we do anything to influence this 10%? Protein takes us more energy to digest compared to digesting carbohydrates or fat. Say you eat 100 calories of protein, your body will use up around 30 of those calories just to digest it. But 100 calories of carbohydrates only takes around 10 calories to digest, and 100 calories of fat a mere 5 calories.

So the more protein we eat, the more we are burning from eating our food.

We are already focusing on hitting our protein targets each day from Step 4, so our TEF will naturally increase as we increase the amount of protein we are eating.


Deliberate exercise 5%

This is the exercise that you plan to do. Going for a run, playing an active sport, going to a spin class or going to the gym. We will look at this in more depth in Step 6. A key thing to realise here is that this is only approximately 5% of your total calorie burn for a day. This is not very much.

For the majority of people who simply want to lose a bit of body fat, the deliberate exercise component is not nearly as important as most people think it is. Often someone will decide they want to lose body fat, so the next day they will immediately sign up to the gym or start running. This is the wrong place to start.

Increasing calorie expenditure by relying on deliberate exercise too heavily is unsustainable and usually pretty boring. I mean, how long are you really going to keep up those 4 extra cardio sessions per week..? The end result is often getting stuck on a hamster wheel of exercise, which is difficult to sustain yet it’s what you’re relying on to maintain your fat loss.

Obviously if you have performance goals then the deliberate exercise that you do is going to matter hugely as to whether you achieve your goal. But this deliberate exercise shouldn't be done with calorie expenditure as the main focus.

Instead, your deliberate exercise should be something you aim to get better at over time - strength, muscle gain, fitness, mobility etc. are much better markers to guide your exercise efforts, with the additional calories burned just being a nice bonus.


Non deliberate movement (NEAT) 15%

NEAT = Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis

This is all other movement that you do throughout the day that isn’t specifically planned. It is ‘non-deliberate’ a.k.a movement that you do without thinking about it. The majority of this is walking as we move about our days.

We are going to focus on this kind of movement, as this makes up a huge 15% of our daily calorie burn. It is also the one that we can increase the most ourselves, compared to the other three above.

Furthermore, it is actually the easiest to increase in small ways and it won’t feel like you are spending hours of extra time each week increasing it, compared to say adding a few extra gym sessions (deliberate exercise) in.

We overestimate how important and how many calories we burn in our gym sessions / rowing machine / HIIT class. Where a lot of fitness watches/devices may have you burning 500, 600 or even 700 calories per session, the reality is you're lucky if it’s even half of that.

Remember, deliberate exercise only burns around 5% of our daily calories, while your overall NEAT calories for the day can be THREE TIMES that much at around 15%.

This is a really big mindset shift and is something that is hugely underestimated and not focused on enough. So let’s start appreciating our NEAT.


Overall goal - do over 10,000 steps a day

So the end goal is to increase our non deliberate movement as much as we can each day. Upping your step count is the main way you are going to achieve this.

A good guide is to aim for 10,000 steps a day.

There is nothing magic about the 10,000 number. For most people, it is simply the amount of steps that requires some effort to achieve. You are unlikely to make 10,000 steps in a day without at least going for a walk or doing something active to hit those steps.

Your step count isn’t a concrete number that you should obsess about, but rather an easy way to quantify (and therefore improve) how much you ‘move’ in a day.

Simply put - if person A does 4000 steps per day while person B does 10,000 steps, then person B has a higher NEAT energy output and is more likely to achieve a caloric deficit.

If you’re currently much lower than 10,000 steps, start slow and slowly build your steps up over time.

So what can we do to increase our movement in small ways throughout our week and make sure we get those 10,000 steps? Here are some ideas.


Get a step tracker

This one is essential (same as getting a 1L drink bottle). There are some really affordable ones out there for under $50, it doesn’t need to be fancy, as long as it can count your steps (although do bear in mind that the cheaper ones can be less accurate).

Even the simple act of tracking your steps is going to make a big difference in how many steps you take.

Being able to have some figures on something makes it easier to stay accountable and consistent with whatever target you have set out to achieve.

We like to work with weekly averages when it comes to monitoring steps. It takes the pressure of feeling like you have to hit that count EVERY day, so long as your daily average across a week matches what you set out to achieve. More active days (like weekends) can compensate for the odd low movement day, like when it’s raining sideways.


Start a hobby or sport

Not everyone has the time or inclination to do this, but if you play a sport or do an active hobby a few times a week or on the weekends, this is going to increase your NEAT.

Most sports are going to do this, think of the step count on a golf course! An active hobby like gardening or building projects are great as well.


Standing desk

A lot of us, especially those of us that work in an office, spend a huge amount of time sitting during the day. Most of the time we don’t compensate for that sitting outside of work.

A really easy swap which you would have heard a lot about in the past few years is getting a standing desk.

And standing desk means a few more steps in your day, as well as many other benefits including less strain on your body like your lower back and hips. It’s good to have the option to sit down if you need to, but make sure you don’t sit down too much as it can be tempting just to sit if the option is there.

Both of us work standing up and we love it. This is our desk and it’s amazing -


Walking meetings

If it’s possible, suggest a walking meeting, or instead of catching up with a friend for coffee, suggest a walk.

Walking side by side can actually be a really good way to open up with each other, as no direct eye contact means people will sometimes say things they usually wouldn’t if you were sitting face to face. What a bonus.



Surprisingly this can increase the amount of calories you burn, with some studies have estimated a huge 300 calories extra per day. Some of us are natural fidgeters, but if you aren’t, try to make a conscious effort to generally up your body movement each day.

Things like pacing, moving your arms, tapping your feet and hands, wiggling, shifting your body weight, standing whenever you can and just having a generally busier body. Channel your inner toddler.


Pacing while on phone

This may seem stressful but depending on how long you spend on the phone a day, this can be an easy time to get some extra steps in. Ideally you would have a hands free headset to make this easier. Make it your rule that whenever you are on the phone you are up pacing.


Add a walk

Unless you have an active job, most of us simply aren’t going to reach 10,000 steps without a walk, so adding one in is almost essential.

If you can get in the habit of going for a walk every day, even if it is a morning walk before breakfast (such a nice time of the day to walk), a quick walk around the block at lunch time or an evening walk to the park after dinner (also a very nice time to walk), it will eventually stick.

Sometimes, it is easier to do a habit every single day, rather than just a few times a week. That way you don’t have to decide each day whether today is the day that you go for a walk or tomorrow. It is just non negotiable, no thinking required or bargaining with yourself, you just know that you have to get it done. Make this the case with your walks.


Walk or bike commute to work

Sometimes this might not be possible, but it is the way we are going in the future and it is an amazing way to get your movement in during an activity that you have to be doing anyway.

Even if it increases your commute time by 15 minutes, the trade off could be getting in most of your steps before the day has even begun. Then you are done for the day and won’t find yourself doing laps around your house at 11pm trying to hit 10,000 steps before midnight.


Make walking a family activity

Plan a big walk with the family every weekend. You can see so much of your local area by going on walks, and you will be surprised at how many walks you will be able to find near you. Bring a picnic and make a day of it, such a nice activity for a family. This will also teach the kids that walking is a fun activity and not a chore.


Get a dog

Okay we are kidding but seriously … this WILL increase your NEAT movement.

As well as having to take your dog for a walk, there is also a lot of extra movement that comes with a dog...having to run around after them during the day, picking them up, training them, playing with them, throwing balls, the list is endless.

We noticed a huge increase in steps once we got our two pups (Izzy and Alfie, littermates, retradoodles, you’re welcome). If we don’t walk them, they get extremely pesty and are sure to let us know that they have not been walked.

It’s like having someone checking that you are doing a walk every day. They keep you accountable and demand their walk. What better way to motivate yourself to get moving than having a furry animal following you around until you put their lead on.

Seriously consider it.



🗹 Have you got a step tracker?

🗹 Are you consistently doing over 10,000 steps each day?

🗹 Are you fitting in as much general movement as you can?

🗹 Do you have a dog?


Next we are going to be looking at that 5% which is the deliberate exercise you are doing.



Want to get notified when we publish a new post?

bottom of page