Facts About Calories You Need to Know
Calories – the biggest buzzword for weight loss. An enormous amount of emphasis is placed on this facet of nutrition. However, because it’s such a popular topic, quite a bit of misinformation surrounds the subject of calories and weight loss. It’s time to cut to the chase and understand the facts about calories.
First of all, what is a calorie? Technically speaking, a calorie is a measurement of energy that applies to more than just food. In fact, anything that has energy has calories – even coal1. Think of it this way: your body needs fuel to stay alive. Calories are that fuel. When we don’t get enough calories through food, the human body turns on itself and begins using muscle as energy. When we get too many calories, our bodies stockpile the energy for later use in the form of fat.
The way each person’s body interact with calories is unique to their age, lifestyle, body type, overall health, gender, and more. Understanding the facts about calories can help you decode how many calories you need to keep your body’s energy levels optimum.
There are only calorie guidelines, not rules. Yes, there are averages, but realize that there is no one-size-fits-all answer for how many calories you should consume any given day. To maintain weight, the recommendation is 2,700 calories for men and 2,200 calories for women1. However, this is a very general guideline. If you’re active, you’ll need more calories than that. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll have to create a different strategy. In other words, you’ll need to do your research to create accurate goals for yourself based on your lifestyle, health, and weight loss goals.
Your BMR will more accurately tell you how many calories you need. Your BMR (basal metabolic rate) is the amount of calories your body would burn even if all you did was lay in bed all day. This number is factored on your gender, age, height, and weight. Then, based on your lifestyle, your BMR is multiplied by another number which is your goal calorie count each day.
Different macronutrients have different caloric values. We get calories from carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol. Per gram, each of these nutrients has different amounts of calories2: carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, protein has 4 calories per gram, fat has 9 calories per gram, and alcohol has 7 calories per gram. Nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber don’t contain calories.
Losing weight is about creating a deficit. If losing weight requires burning stored energy, you need to reduce your calories. You can do this one of two ways: by restricting the calories you eat, or expending more energy to burn more calories. The best weight loss strategy combines the two. If you want to lose a pound a week, that means reducing your caloric intake by roughly 3,500 over that time.
Calories are calories no matter where they come from. The 70 calories you get eating a bite of a doughnut are the exact same as the 70 calories you get eating an apple. The difference is in the additional nutrition you get from whatever food you eat. “Empty” calories refer to calories accompanied by little to no other nutrition.
A pound “weighs” 3,500 calories. This is an oversimplification, but in general, creating a 3,500 calorie deficit in any given period of time (say, a week) is likely to result in a pound of weight loss. The same is true the other direction, that eating an extra 3,500 calories will make you gain a pound. However, this isn’t always true all the time for everyone. Other actors (age, metabolism, activity level) can mean a pound equals more or fewer calories for your body.
The quality of your calories matters more than the quantity of your calories. While it’s true a calorie is a calorie is a calorie, it’s also true you can chose higher quality foods to get your calories from. Eating foods that require more energy to digest boosts your metabolism3. Foods rich in fiber and protein are excellent options.
Timing your meals is important. The research hasn’t fully explained why yet, but it’s been proven1 that eating a bigger breakfast actually helps weight loss and supports overall health.
As you continue your journey to improved health and weight loss, it’s important to understand the facts about calories so you can construct a diet and exercise routine that will most efficiently and effectively get you closer to accomplishing your goals.