Are all calories equal?

It’s popular to track your calories through all of the various apps that today’s world has provided us with. But what if I am here to tell you that in order to reach your goals you will have to look a little bit deeper and find out where our calories come from.

To a certain extend tracking the calories you get in and the ones that leave your body each day will give us a basic information, whether we’re losing, gaining or maintaining weight. If you want to gain weight start eating more calories than you’re exerting, if you want lose weight start eating less calories than your body needs to sustain your bodyweight (we all know this). Now this is all very surface level stuff, if we want to achieve goals like losing fat, gaining muscle or just living a healthy lifestyle we’ll need to dive into the calories a little bit more.

The problem with the basic overall picture

With the example of eating more to gain weight and eating less to lose weight we’re not talking about what weight you’re actually gaining or losing. Assuming that we’re talking about gaining muscle mass and losing fat, that requires a different approach than just counting your total amount of calories at the end of each day. If we’re not looking at the source of our calories ( carbohydrates-fats-protein) we run the risk of gaining fat while trying to add muscle mass, lose muscle mass while trying to lose weight or worse, gain fat while trying to lose weight (yes that’s possible). If you don’t know what fuel source your body is using during the day and you don’t know what fuel source your fueling throughout that day, you might end up chasing something without getting any closer. The problem with just looking at that basic picture is that we’re ignoring what are bodies actually need from us.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re trying to lose or gain weight and don’t care about what you lose or gain in the process, just counting the total amount of calories will help you get you there. You still have to figure out what the amount of calories you’re burning each day is so you can figure out what the number of calories you should get in each day. If you don’t know what both of those numbers are, the chance of you going to far in either direction is really high (underfeeding or overfeeding yourself). Which on its own is a different problem, but let’s focus on one problem at a time here.

Basic understanding of calories and energy sources

The first reason why I think that calories are not equal is because they simply don’t give you the same amount of calories per gram, that’s not an opinion, that’s a fact.

  • 1 gram of fat: 9 calories
  • 1 gram of carbohydrates: 4 calories
  • 1 gram of protein: 4 calories
  • 1 gram of alcohol: 7 calories (a fuel source that most people forget about)

Fats and carbohydrates are the main fuel sources for our body, protein is a building block and can only be used as an energy source when the other 2 sources are depleted (which is really really hard to do).

Why is it important to realize this? because a lot of people are feeding a fuel source that they’re barely using throughout the day: carbohydrates. When you workout the main fuel source your body taps into is your carbohydrate storage, that’s one of the reasons we like to refuel our carbohydrates storage post workout. For most of us working out only takes up about an hour of our day, the rest of the 23 hours our body does not provide us energy by tapping into the carb storage but rather our fat storage. When we know this why shouldn’t we fuel our body with more fats (and protein)?

If you want to read more in depth information on carbohydrates and fats, take a look at my other blogs:

What can we do better?

Protein should always be our priority, whether we’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle, stay healthy, lose fat etc.. When we look back a little bit you will see that protein only gives us about half the amount of calories that fats do, we have to keep this is mind the next time we serve ourselves a plate of food. You could end up having the same portion size of a carbohydrate, fat and protein but the calories per portion are off. That’s why protein sources should dominate our plate during most meals when it comes to filling up a plate. Keep in mind that certain foods are more nutrient dense than others. As an example fruits, vegetables and lean protein will give you a lot of food for the amount of calories that they provide you with. That’s why those food are often recommended to people who’re trying to lose weight, they fill you up, are micronutrient dense and belong to the healthy food group.

This is why one or two slices of pizza can give you more calories than a full portion of chicken and vegetables. This is why not even half a pint of ice cream gives you more calories than 5 apples or as a plate full of vegetables.

Next time you look at your plate make sure that your portion sizes match up and you take in the right sources at the right time. Some simple guidelines to help you with that:

  • protein and carbohydrates should dominate your post workout meal
  • protein and fats should be your main calorie sources the rest of the day
  • fats should come in the form of healthy fats (for more info on that check out the link I provided earlier)
  • Carbohydrates should come in a form that won’t spike your insulin levels (again for more info check out my ”let’s talk about carbs” blog)
Categories: bodyweight, carbs, coach, coaching, diabetes, diet, fat, Fitness, Food, healthy, lifestyle, movement, nutrition, personaltrainer, training, workoutTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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