Exercise for Weight Loss: Further Evaluating Energy Compensation with Exercise

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2020 Nov;52(11):2466-2475. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002376.


Purpose: This study assessed how individuals compensate for energy expended during a 12-wk aerobic exercise intervention, elucidating potential mechanisms and the role exercise dose plays in the compensatory response.

Participants and design: Three-arm, randomized controlled trial among sedentary adults age 18 to 40 yr, body mass index of 25 to 35. Groups included six exercise sessions per week, two sessions per week, and sedentary control.

Methods: Rate of exercise energy expenditure was calculated from a graded exercise test averaged across five heart rate zones. Energy compensation was calculated as the difference between expected weight loss (based on exercise energy expenditure) and changes in fat and fat-free mass (DXA). Resting energy expenditure was assessed via indirect calorimetry and concentrations of acylated ghrelin, leptin, insulin, and Glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) were assessed fasting and postprandial (six timepoints over 2 h).

Results: The 6-d·wk group expended more energy (2753.5 kcal) and exercised longer (320.5 min) per week than the 2-d·wk group (1490.7 kcal, 1888.8 min, P < 0.05), resulting in greater fat loss compared with the 2-d or control groups (P < 0.05). Exercise groups did not differ in the % or total kcal compensated. Greater decreases in area under the curve (AUC) for acylated ghrelin predicted greater fat loss, regardless of group, energy expended per week, exercise duration, or exercise intensity. Changes in leptin AUC was the only independent predictor for energy compensation, with a greater decrease in leptin AUC predicting less energy compensation. Exercise frequency, energy expended, duration, or intensity did not influence energy compensation.

Conclusions: Leptin is an important factor in successful weight loss through exercise, with greater postprandial decreases promoting less compensation. Greater amounts of exercise do not influence the compensatory response to an exercise-induced energy deficit.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Composition / physiology*
  • Calorimetry, Indirect
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise Test
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Weight Loss / physiology*
  • Young Adult