What Is Thermogenesis?

Fact Checked By Dr Mark Watson M.D.

At its core, thermogenesis is the process by which the body generates heat through the conversion of energy from food. [1] It is a vital component of metabolism, the intricate network of chemical reactions that occur within our cells to sustain life. When we consume food, our bodies break it down into various nutrients, and during this breakdown process, energy is released. [2] Thermogenesis occurs when this energy is converted into heat, resulting in an increase in body temperature.

The concept of thermogenesis stems from the Greek word "thermos," meaning heat. It is a fundamental physiological response that helps regulate body temperature, support cellular functions, and influence energy expenditure. Thermogenesis is closely intertwined with metabolic rate, [3] which refers to the total amount of energy expended by the body in a given period. By understanding the mechanisms and factors affecting thermogenesis, we can optimize our metabolic processes and potentially influence weight management.

Types of Thermogenesis

Thermogenesis can be classified into several types, each with its distinct characteristics and underlying mechanisms. By exploring these different forms, we can gain a deeper understanding of how heat is generated in the body and how it contributes to overall energy expenditure.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Basal metabolic rate (BMR) represents the energy expenditure required for the body to carry out essential functions at rest. It encompasses the energy needed for vital processes such as breathing, circulating blood, regulating body temperature, and maintaining organ function. BMR accounts for the largest portion of daily energy expenditure, typically ranging from 60% to 75%. [4]

To calculate BMR, various factors such as age, gender, body composition, and weight are taken into account. The Harris-Benedict equation [5] is commonly used to estimate BMR, providing a baseline for determining daily caloric needs. While BMR is not directly associated with heat production, it sets the stage for understanding the other forms of thermogenesis.

Diet-Induced Thermogenesis

Diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT), also known as the thermic effect of food (TEF), [2] refers to the increase in energy expenditure that occurs after consuming a meal. When we eat, our bodies must expend energy to digest, absorb, and process the nutrients from the food. This process results in the production of heat, contributing to overall energy expenditure.

The thermic effect of food varies depending on the macronutrient composition of the meal. Protein has the highest thermogenic effect, requiring the most energy to digest and metabolize. Approximately 20-30% of the calories from protein are burned during the digestion process. Carbohydrates have a moderate thermogenic effect, accounting for around 5-10% of the calories consumed. Fats have the lowest thermic effect, with only about 0-3% of the calories burned during digestion. [6]

By understanding the thermic effect of food, we can make informed dietary choices that optimize thermogenesis. Including a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats in our meals can help enhance energy expenditure and potentially support weight management goals.

Exercise-Associated Thermogenesis

Exercise-associated thermogenesis (EAT) refers to the increase in energy expenditure that occurs during physical activity. When we engage in exercise, our bodies require additional energy to power muscular contractions, maintain body temperature, and support various physiological processes. This increased energy demand leads to an elevation in body temperature and the production of heat. [7]

The intensity and duration of exercise play a significant role in determining the extent of exercise-associated thermogenesis. Higher-intensity activities, such as running or weightlifting, elicit a more substantial thermogenic response compared to lower-intensity exercises. [8] Additionally, the duration of exercise influences the overall energy expenditure and subsequent thermogenic effect.

Exercise-associated thermogenesis not only contributes to overall energy expenditure during the activity itself but also has a lasting impact on metabolism. After intense exercise, the body continues to burn calories during the recovery period, a phenomenon known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). [9] EPOC can result in additional calorie expenditure and increased thermogenesis in the hours following exercise. However, in many cases your NEAT will drop a little to compensate for this effect so it is not as powerful as many would have you believe.

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) refers to the energy expended during everyday activities that are not considered planned exercise or structured physical activity. [11] NEAT encompasses the energy expenditure associated with activities such as walking, fidgeting, gardening, and household chores. While these activities may seem minor, they can significantly contribute to overall energy expenditure and thermogenesis.

NEAT plays a crucial role in weight management as it represents the energy burned in addition to BMR, DIT, and EAT. Small lifestyle changes that increase NEAT, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or opting for active transportation, can have a cumulative effect on energy expenditure throughout the day. By incorporating more movement into our daily lives, we can enhance thermogenesis and potentially support weight management goals.

Now that we have explored the different types of thermogenesis, let's delve deeper into the factors that influence its magnitude and effectiveness.

Factors Influencing Thermogenesis

Several factors can influence the magnitude of thermogenesis and its impact on energy expenditure. By understanding these factors, we can optimize thermogenesis and potentially enhance weight management efforts.

Diet and Nutrition

The composition of our diet can significantly influence thermogenesis and overall energy expenditure. As mentioned earlier, different macronutrients have varying thermic effects, with protein having the highest and fat the lowest. [2]

Furthermore, certain foods and nutrients have been shown to have thermogenic properties. Spices and herbs such as ginger, cayenne pepper, [12] and cinnamon [13] have been found to increase body temperature and enhance calorie burning. Green tea [14], with its catechins and caffeine content, has also been associated with increased thermogenesis and fat oxidation. Including these thermogenic foods in our diet can provide an additional boost to thermogenesis and potentially support weight management efforts.

Physical Activity and Exercise

Physical activity and exercise play a crucial role in enhancing thermogenesis and overall energy expenditure. As discussed earlier, exercise-associated thermogenesis contributes to the calories burned during structured physical activity. Engaging in both cardiovascular exercise and resistance training can elevate thermogenesis and support weight management goals. [15]

In many cases steady state cardio (long walks/hikes) has shown to be the most effective overall as people can sustain their raised caloric burn for much longer that HIIT, [16] although this does vary on personal preference and of course the time that you have available.

Resistance training, in particular, has been shown to increase muscle mass, which has a long-lasting impact on thermogenesis. Muscle tissue is metabolically active and requires more energy at rest compared to fat tissue. [17]

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors, such as temperature and altitude, can influence thermogenesis and energy expenditure. Exposure to cold temperatures can trigger a thermogenic response, as the body works to generate heat and maintain its core temperature. This process, known as non-shivering thermogenesis, involves the activation of brown adipose tissue (BAT), a specialized type of fat that generates heat. [18]

Similarly, exposure to high altitudes can increase energy expenditure and thermogenesis. The body adapts to the lower oxygen levels at higher altitudes by increasing metabolic rate and heat production. This effect isn’t exceptionally pronounced and takes substantial time to make any noticeable difference, meaning unfortunately cold showers and baths aren’t going to cut it for notable weight loss. [19]

The Thermogenic Effect of Food

The thermogenic effect of food, also known as diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT) or the thermic effect of food (TEF), refers to the increase in energy expenditure that occurs after consuming a meal. Different macronutrients have varying thermic effects, meaning that the body expends different amounts of energy to digest and process each nutrient. Understanding the thermogenic effect of food can help us make informed dietary choices and optimize our overall energy expenditure.

Protein's Impact on Thermogenesis

Protein has the highest thermic effect among the macronutrients, meaning that it requires the most energy to digest and metabolize. Approximately 20-30% of the calories from protein are burned during the digestion process. This high thermic effect is primarily due to the complex structure of proteins and the energy-intensive processes required to break them down into amino acids. [6]

Furthermore, protein has been shown to enhance satiety, or the feeling of fullness, more than carbohydrates or fats. This can indirectly impact thermogenesis by reducing overall calorie intake and potentially supporting weight management efforts. [20]

Carbohydrates and Thermogenic Response

Carbohydrates have a moderate thermogenic effect compared to protein. Approximately 5-10% of the calories from carbohydrates are burned during digestion. This is due to the metabolic processes involved in breaking down complex carbohydrates into simpler sugars, which can then be absorbed and utilized by the body.

It is important to note that the thermogenic response to carbohydrates can vary depending on the type and quality of carbohydrates consumed. Highly processed and refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and sugary snacks, may have a lower thermic effect compared to whole, unprocessed carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. [21]

Fats and Their Role in Thermogenesis

Fats have the lowest thermic effect among the macronutrients, with only about 0-3% of the calories burned during digestion. This is because fats have a simple chemical structure and require minimal energy for breakdown and absorption.

However, it is essential to note that not all fats are created equal. Certain types of fats, such as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), have been shown to have a slightly higher thermogenic effect compared to long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). MCTs are rapidly absorbed and can be utilized as an immediate source of energy, potentially contributing to increased thermogenesis. [22]

Boosting Thermogenesis Naturally

While diet and exercise are the primary drivers of thermogenesis, certain natural compounds and ingredients can enhance its effects. Incorporating thermogenic foods and supplements into your routine can provide an extra boost to your metabolism and potentially support weight management efforts. Let's explore some of these natural ways to boost thermogenesis.

Thermogenic Supplements

Thermogenic supplements often referred to as fat burners gained popularity in the realm of weight management due to their potential to enhance thermogenesis and support calorie burning. These supplements typically contain a combination of natural ingredients that have been shown to increase energy expenditure and promote fat metabolism. In general, the higher quality ones do work, although we are talking an additional 100-200 calories a day burned, not a remarkable amount. So yes, they will help, but generally we recommend get one that is combined with an appetite suppressant and stimulant if you’re looking for substantial help from a fat burner.

Understanding Thermogenic Ingredients

Thermogenic supplements often contain a blend of ingredients that work synergistically to enhance thermogenesis and support weight management. These ingredients can vary from product to product but may include:

Caffeine: Caffeine is a well-known stimulant that can increase energy expenditure and enhance thermogenesis. [24] It has been shown to promote fat oxidation and improve exercise performance. On top of that caffiene has also been shown to suppress appetite for 4 hours after consumption. [25]

Green Tea Extract: As mentioned earlier, green tea extract contains catechins that have been shown to increase thermogenesis and promote fat burning. [26]

Capsaicin: Capsaicin, derived from chili peppers, has thermogenic properties and has been shown to increase energy expenditure and promote fat oxidation. [12, 27]

Yohimbine: Yohimbine is a compound derived from the bark of the yohimbe tree. It has been shown to increase thermogenesis and support fat loss. Although this is the least well researched from these examples. And mostly backed by animal studies despite being a very common weight loss aid. [28]

These are just a few examples of thermogenic ingredients commonly found in fat burning supplements. It is important to note that the effectiveness of thermogenic supplements can vary depending on individual factors such as metabolism, diet, and exercise habits (some increase caloric burn during exercise more than at rest).

The Role of Caffeine in Thermogenesis

Caffeine, a popular stimulant found in coffee, tea, and many thermogenic supplements, has been extensively studied for its potential thermogenic effects. It acts as a central nervous system stimulant, increasing alertness, energy, and thermogenesis.[24]

Research has shown that caffeine can increase energy expenditure and fat oxidation. It does this by stimulating the release of catecholamines [29] such as adrenaline, which can enhance thermogenesis and promote fat breakdown.

Caffeine's thermogenic effects can vary depending on individual sensitivity and tolerance. It is important to note that excessive caffeine intake can lead to adverse effects such as increased heart rate, insomnia, and jitteriness. [30] It is advisable to consume caffeine in moderation and be mindful of individual tolerance levels.

The Power of Green Tea

Green tea has gained popularity not only for its soothing properties but also for its potential thermogenic effects. It contains catechins, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which have been shown to increase thermogenesis and promote fat oxidation. [31]

Studies have indicated that supplementing with green tea extract or consuming green tea can increase the number of calories burned at rest by 3-8%. Additionally, green tea extract taken before workouts has been shown to enhance fat burning ability by up to 17%. [32]

Curcumin and its Thermogenic Benefits

Even curcumin, the active compound found in turmeric, more commonly known for it’s anti inflammatory effects, has been studied for potential thermogenic effects. Curcumin has been shown to increase energy expenditure, enhance fat metabolism, and improve insulin sensitivity. [33]

Research suggests that curcumin may inhibit the growth of adipose tissue, increase weight loss, and improve body composition. One study found that curcumin supplementation led to increased weight loss, body fat reduction, and improved waistline and hip circumference measurements. [34] Although it should be noted that curcumin has also been shown to reduce bloating, which could impact waist line measurements without effecting fat stores.

Exploring Other Thermogenic Compounds

In addition to caffeine, thermogenic supplements may contain other compounds that have been shown to enhance thermogenesis and support weight management. These are commonly found in metabolism supplements but, are less well studied. These compounds can include:

Synephrine: Synephrine is a naturally occurring compound found in bitter orange. It has been shown to increase energy expenditure and fat oxidation. [35]

Forskolin: Forskolin is derived from the Indian coleus plant and has been shown to increase thermogenesis and promote fat loss. [36]

L-Carnitine: L-Carnitine is an amino acid that plays a crucial role in fat metabolism. It has been shown to enhance thermogenesis and promote fat oxidation. [37] L carantine supplementation has been shown to deliver a "modest" increase to weight loss.

Garcinia Cambogia: Garcinia Cambogia is a tropical fruit extract that contains hydroxycitric acid (HCA). HCA has been shown to suppress appetite and inhibit fat storage, although meta analysis has suggested that the overall difference it makes is relatively small. [38] 

It is important to note that while thermogenic supplements can provide a boost to thermogenesis, they should not be relied upon as a sole method for weight loss. 

Exercise for Enhanced Thermogenesis

Exercise is a powerful tool for enhancing thermogenesis and promoting overall energy expenditure. By engaging in regular physical activity, we can elevate our metabolic rate, increase calorie burning, and potentially support weight management efforts. Let's explore the role of Exercise-Associated Thermogenesis (EAT) and how different types of exercise can optimize our metabolic processes. [7]

Resistance Training and Muscle Mass

Resistance training, also known as strength training or weightlifting, is a form of exercise that involves the use of resistance to build muscle strength and endurance. It has been shown to increase muscle mass, which plays a crucial role in thermogenesis.

Muscle tissue is metabolically active and requires more energy at rest compared to fat tissue. This means that individuals with a higher proportion of muscle mass tend to have a higher metabolic rate and increased calorie burning potential. [17]

To optimize the thermogenic benefits of resistance training, it is advisable to focus on compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups. Exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and rows engage large muscle groups and can lead to increased muscle mass and enhanced thermogenesis. [39]

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a form of cardiovascular exercise that involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of rest or lower-intensity activity. HIIT has gained popularity due to its potential to increase calorie burning and enhance fat oxidation. [40]

HIIT workouts typically involve exercises such as sprints, burpees, or jump squats performed at maximum effort for a short duration, followed by a brief rest period. This pattern is repeated for a set number of intervals. The intense bursts of exercise during HIIT elevate heart rate and increase oxygen consumption, leading to an elevated metabolic rate and enhanced thermogenesis. This isn’t an effective pattern for everyone though, as most people simply do not use nearly enough intensity whereas steady state cardio would be better for them. [41]

Combining Cardiovascular Exercise and Resistance Training

While both cardiovascular exercise and resistance training have individual benefits for thermogenesis, combining the two can optimize overall energy expenditure and support weight management goals. By incorporating a balanced exercise routine that includes both cardiovascular exercise and resistance training, we can maximize thermogenesis and achieve a synergistic effect on our metabolism.

Maximising NEAT

NEAT is often seen as the easiest part of thermogenesis to optimize. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) refers to the calories burned through daily activities other than planned exercise, such as walking, gardening, or household chores. Small lifestyle changes can significantly impact NEAT and increase overall calorie expenditure. [42]

Find opportunities to incorporate more movement into your daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk or bike to work, or stand up and stretch regularly if you have a sedentary job. These simple actions can help boost your NEAT and contribute to increased calorie burn throughout the day.

Consider using a fitness tracker or pedometer to monitor your daily steps and set goals for increasing your activity level. Keeping you accountable helps maintain a good NEAT when you’re tired from other things. [43] Aim for at least 10,000 steps per day, and gradually increase this number over time. Engaging in activities that you enjoy and finding ways to stay active throughout the day will not only maximize thermogenesis but also improve overall well-being.

It may not sound like much, but as a rule of thumb a 200lb man would burn about 330kcals for walking for an hour at 3mph. In short, a normal walking speed burns about 1.6 x your body weight. If you walk faster it goes up. (This isn’t an exact science, but a brisk 30 minute walk to a shop rather than driving, could make a big difference adding up to 200 calories a day, being enough to put you intro a deficit). [44]

The catch is that your body will naturally make you move a little bit less in terms of other daily tasks when you’re in a calorie deficit. Especially after exhaustive exercise. But, small wilful changes add up. And these alterations will in most cases add up to far more than you lose by your subconscious NEAT lowering. [45]

Caffeine and other energy boosters can also mitigate the effect of NEAT dropping after exercise. There is a catch though, and that is that sleep is one of the best ways to recover from this, so caffeine in the morning is fine, but you will also need quality rest.

Lifestyle Factors That Effect Thermogenesis

A lot of these factors will relate to making sure you keep your NEAT up.

Prioritize Quality Sleep

Sleep plays an essential role in regulating metabolism and thermogenesis. Lack of sleep can disrupt hormone balance, increase appetite, and decrease overall energy expenditure.

Prioritize quality sleep by establishing a consistent sleep schedule and creating a relaxing bedtime routine. Aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Create a sleep-friendly environment by keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. [47]

Manage Stress Levels

Chronic stress can negatively impact metabolism and hinder weight loss efforts. When you're under stress, your body releases cortisol, a stress hormone that can increase appetite and promote fat storage.

Incorporate stress management techniques into your daily routine to support thermogenesis and weight loss. Engage in activities that help you relax, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or spending time in nature. [48]

Stay Hydrated

Hydration is essential for optimizing thermogenesis and overall metabolic function. Drinking an adequate amount of water supports digestion, nutrient absorption, and cellular processes involved in calorie burn.

Make sure to drink enough water throughout the day to stay properly hydrated. The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily fluid intake of about 3.7 liters for men and 2.7 liters for women, including fluids from both beverages and food. [49]

Temperature And Adaptive Thermogenesis

We all like to stay warm, but if you’re really looking to optimize your thermogenesis, keeping the house a little bit chillier than normal, but not so much that you’re unpleasantly cold will force your body to use a bit more energy to keep you warm. [50] 

Adaptive thermogenesis also counts things like, changing up your diet which can result in metabolism inefficiencies, but it's generally an impractical and uncomfortable to optimize when other lifestyle and environmental factors are available. As by necessity it involves making your body uncomfortable and having to adapt.

About Fact Checker

Dr Mark Watson is the founder of Center TRT, having graduated from stamford more than 20 years ago, he is an expert in the field of supplemental health, focusing on long term benefits of complimenary treatment. View Profile


1 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2667732/

2 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31021710/

3 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8061728/

4 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6893862/

5 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9967803/

6 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3873760/

7 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36361929/

8 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5582888/

9 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8439678/

10 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21412111/

11 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30149423/

12 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4477151/

13 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30799194/

14 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23235664/

15 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7594631/

16 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8619923/

17 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2243122/

18 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605160/

19 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3895006/

20 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18282589/.

21 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC524030/

22 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2739575/

23 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9987759/

24 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6467726/

25 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28446037/

26 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26091183/

27 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6321193/

28 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4660661/

29 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12633594/

30 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5445139/

31 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7084675/

32 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8750450/

33 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6582779/

34 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8775659/

35 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7830131/

36 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8000574/

37 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32359762/

38 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010674/

39 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3588900/

40 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7523891/

41 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4657417/

42 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221839/

43 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5071725/

44 - https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/portion/documents/PRACTICAL4.pdf

45 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279077/

46 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7555676/

47 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929498/

48 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2364916/

49 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3809630/

50 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6449850/

Popular Posts

What Are The Best Fat Burners of 2023

Read More

What Are The Best Testosterone Boosters of 2023

Read More