Metabolic adaptation is an illusion, only present when participants are in negative energy balance

Am J Clin Nutr. 2020 Nov 11;112(5):1212-1218. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa220.


Background: The existence of metabolic adaptation, following weight loss, remains a controversial issue. To our knowledge, no study has evaluated the role of energy balance (EB) in modulating metabolic adaptation.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to determine if metabolic adaptation, at the level of resting metabolic rate (RMR), is modulated by participants' EB status. A secondary aim was to investigate if metabolic adaptation was associated with weight regain.

Methods: Seventy-one individuals with obesity (BMI: 34.6 ± 3.4 kg/m2; age: 45.4 ± 8.2 y; 33 men) enrolled in a 1000-kcal/d diet for 8 wk, followed by 4 wk of weight stabilization and a 9-mo weight loss maintenance program. Body weight/composition and RMR were measured at baseline, week 9 (W9), week 13 (W13), and 1 y (1Y). Metabolic adaptation was defined as a significantly different (lower or higher) measured compared with predicted RMR.

Results: Participants lost on average 14 kg by W9, followed by weight stabilization at W13, and regained 29% of their initial weight loss at 1Y. Metabolic adaptation was found at W9 (-92 ± 110 kcal/d, P < 0.001) and W13 (-38 ± 124 kcal/d, P = 0.011) but was not correlated with weight regain. A significant reduction in metabolic adaptation was seen between W9 and W13 (-53 ± 101 kcal/d, P < 0.001). In a subset of participants who gained weight between W9 and W13 (n = 33), no metabolic adaptation was seen at W13 (-26.8 ± 121.5 kcal/d, P = 0.214). In a subset of participants with data at all time points (n = 45), metabolic adaptation was present at W9 and W13 (-107 ± 102 kcal/d, P < 0.001 and -49 ± 128 kcal/d, P = 0.013) but not at 1Y (-7 ± 129, P = 0.701).

Conclusion: After weight loss, metabolic adaptation at the level of RMR is dependent on the EB status of the participants, being reduced to half after a period of weight stabilization. Moreover, metabolic adaptation does not predict weight regain at 1Y follow-up. These trials were registered at as NCT02944253 and NCT03287726.

Keywords: adaptive thermogenesis; metabolic adaptation; resting metabolic rate; weight loss; weight regain.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Adult
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / diet therapy*
  • Probiotics
  • Weight Loss / physiology*

Associated data