People Keep Talking About Calories

People keep talking about calories, but what are they and why are they important? A Calorie is a unit of energy we use regarding food, and it’s often written as kcal. So once our food is broken down, and the micronutrients are removed, it’s what is used to help fuel our body for its normal functions and any physical activity. You may also hear the word macronutrients used, and that’s basically the foodstuff we get the bulk our calories from, and here we get to the terms you may be a bit more familiar with. The three main macronutrients are protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Now straight off, it is important to mention that fat in your diet, is not the same as body fat. This can often be a point of confusion for people. Dietary fat is essential, without it you can’t even get certain precious vitamins into your body. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble vitamins, meaning they NEED dietary fat present, to be absorbed into your system. Alcohol is also technically a macronutrient, and it doesn’t provide any actual nutritional benefit, but seeing as it weighs in at a whopping 7 calories per gram (more on that in a bit), it’s still something you definitely need to be aware of!!

We’ll focus on the three main macronutrients for a bit, and you’ll find food will generally be made up of these three in differing amounts. Each macronutrient is made up of calories, both protein and carbohydrate roughly 4 calories per gram, and fat roughly 9 calories per gram. So this is how you work out your daily calorific total. Say I eat 1 gram of each, my calories would be 4+4+9, so 17 calories in total. They’re all important in their own way, carbohydrates (carbs) are the body’s main source of energy, sugars which can be broken down, and absorbed quickly and efficiently. Ignore the low-carb zealots, you can absolutely lose weight on a high-carb diet as well, it’s about calories. Protein primarily forms the building blocks of tissues and cells, and is important for hormone and enzyme production. It also helps sate hunger, which can come in handy when you’re trying to lose weight. Fat, as I’ve said, is essential, essential for absorbing certain vitamins, but also for cells and your brain in particular. It also protects the body’s organs and keeps you warm, so don’t knock it!! The only thing to consider is that big old 9 calories per gram, meaning you don’t need anywhere as much fat as carbs or protein. A sensible split of your daily calorific intake would be 40% carbs, 40% protein, and 20% fat. So match carbs and proteins, and then a quarter of either amount for fat.

That’s basically what calories are, now why are they important? And they are very important. Well your body will need a certain number of calories to operate at an “optimum” level. Put in too many, and your body will start to store them in body fat cells. Continue to put in too many, and your body can create new fat cells. Put in too few, and your body will start to take those stored calories from the fat cells, but it can or will also start breaking down your muscles. And when you extreme diet, you’ll hit your muscles more, and your metabolism will also slow down, as the body tries to make sure those fewer calories can fuel your necessary bodily functions. So it’s a relatively delicate balance, you don’t really want to go too far either way. Now 1 pound of body fat roughly equals 3500 calories, and whilst that’s a good yardstick, there’s a temptation for people to try and starve themselves as much as they can to reach that number. But you put a lot of pressure on your body, and you can damage it, particularly your metabolism. Think more like 10% of your total calories, it’s safer and more manageable, and adjust it as your weight changes start to slow down.

All that being said, I’m not personally a fan of calorie counting. I find it’s too strict for most people, and unachievable with an average lifestyle, requiring a lot of meticulous preparation. But it is imperative that you know how many calories your body needs, or thereabouts, because you have to know your starting point. So use an online calculator to work out your estimated daily requirements, then monitor your progress from there, and you can change things as you go along. Remember, calories are your most important consideration with regards to your weight, no specific type of food, only the number of calories they provide.

Thanks for listening, and I’ll be back with another entry next week.

Dan Miller

Body Fuel Personal Fitness Trainer