Calorie Counting – Is It Really That Important?

The short answer would be ‘it depends’.

If you have had even the tiniest of experiences in weight loss or ‘toning’ your body (i.e. building muscle) you would have been told to stick to your daily calorie target. You would also have been told about the concept of ‘calories in’ vs. ‘calories out’. In order to lose weight the calories consumed should be less than the calories used up.

Although this concept is very true and correct, simply looking at calories is not automatically going to give you good health (even if you’re achieving your fitness/weight loss targets!).

Calories post

Why is that? Because each calorie has its own nutritional value. That means that, depending on its source, a calorie will have a different composition of nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water). And so calories from fat will function differently in the body compared to calories from sugar.

Sugar, the simplest form of carbohydrates, requires very little digestion and goes straight into the bloodstream. Now, the body can only process the sugar at a certain rate and it also has a limit as to how much sugar should be circulating in the blood. Too much sugar in the blood can cause a range of serious metabolic derangements in the body and so our bodies try really hard to remove excess sugar from the bloodstream (in fact, our bodies work best when we have less than 1 teaspoon of sugar circulating in the bloodstream). And so the body will first use as much sugar as it can for energy and then the rest will be stored as fat.

Blood sugar

On the other hand, calories from fats are released more slowly because fats take longer to digest and absorb (some say up to 8 hours!). This allows the body to use up the energy released from the fats in small batches, avoiding the flood of energy which then has to be stored as fat.

To make things more complicated, it is not just about the macronutrients (those required in large quantities) – proteins, fats and carbohydrates. We can think of these macronutrients as the fuel and building blocks of the body. However, it is the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) which act as the gears that enable the body to use the fuel and function properly. Thus, a calorie which contains mostly macronutrients but little or no micronutrients is also of little use to the body.

And so we go back to the beginning – not all calories are made equal. If you’re just interested in weight loss, eating anything within your calorie target could still help you lose weight. However, in addition to losing weight you may also deplete the body of the vital minerals and vitamins, the gears of the body, which affect how your body functions and ultimately your health!

Oh, by the way, did you also know that calories from different food sources are burnt differently? We’ll talk about this and the various factors which affect how we burn calories in part 2 of this post. Stay tuned!


Calories and Optimal Food Intake – Part 1

This week we will hearĀ from coach Paul, who has over 7 years experience in the industry, Ā about howĀ calories fuel our bodiesĀ and the importance of using a full range of motion during workouts.

Paul“I grew up as an athletic kid, but it took some time for exercise and nutrition to peak my curiosity. Although I was in decent shape I wasn’t content with the way that I looked. I started training several years ago and I quickly realized I had a passion for training and a desire to work hard and improve every day.

I feel extremely blessed to be part of the Pinnacle team, working on all aspects of health, and strengthening my teaching skills and abilities. I believe in practicing what you preach, and I’m excited to be on this journey with my clients helping them reach their health and fitness goals.”

So without further ado, let’s cover the basicsĀ aboutĀ calories and metabolism.

What is a calorie? By definition a calorie is a unit of energy, it is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius.

Calories are the energy that fuels the tissues of your body like your brain, heart, liver, and kidneys. The minimum number of calories needed to perform the basic body processes is called your resting metabolic rate, and the number of calories needed varies from person to person depending on age, gender, genetics, activity level, and body composition. The more lean mass (muscle) that you have, the more calories you burn at a resting state.

The number of calories in food is a measure of how much potential energy that food has. A gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories, a gram of protein has 4 calories, and a gram of fats has 9 calories. Foods are a compilation of these building blocks.

Our bodies burn calories through metabolic processes where enzymes break down carbohydrates into sugars, fats into fatty acids, and proteins into amino acids. These molecules are then transported to the cells and are either used as energy or stored as fat.

Healthy Digestion Man

However, not all calories are created equal. Even though carbohydrates and protein contain equal calories per gram, protein requires nearly double the number of calories for the body to break down. A high-quality protein source, such as animal products, requires more calories to metabolize than lower quality plant protein. And omega 3 fats stimulate fat burning, whereas other fats donā€™t.

Vegetables are extremely low in calories and the body uses most of the energyĀ provided to chew and digest them, and because vegetables are high in fiber andĀ indigestible carbohydrates it results in a lower proportion of calories being absorbedĀ by the body.

This is the thermic effect –Ā the number of calories it takes your body to break down food. Protein has the highest thermic effect, followed by carbohydrates, and lastly by fats.

The metabolism is the rate at which the body processes the food you put into it, and the more muscle tissue that you have the faster your metabolism. Muscle requires the right amounts of nutrients to grow, so if you donā€™t eat enough your body canā€™t use the calories for repair and growth. For every pound of lean mass lost, the body loses the capacity to burn 35 to 50 calories per day.

Now that we have looked at the basic terms, let’s look at the role of calories in weight loss in the next post.