Simple Guide to Calories

The feared nutrition facts label (a.k.a. gibberish)

The feared nutrition facts label (a.k.a. gibberish)

Learning about nutrition is a tricky thing that people tend to sweep under the rug. It’s confusing, complicated, and impossible to master 100%. In an effort to educate people by starting simply, this is an intro to the absolute basics of nutrition. There is much, much more to learn and will be covered in more detail later on. Here are the questions that will be answered today.

The Questions
What exactly are calories and what do they do?
What determines how many calories I need per day?
How many calories do I actually need per day?
Where are calories actually found?

 

What exactly are calories and what do they do?

Calories are energy. They provide our body with the fuel it needs to keep running. As our body uses calories to perform actions, it gives off heat, much like a car. When a car is started, gas is used to run the engine, and in turn, heat is created. Giving off heat is what’s commonly referred to as “burning calories.” The body at rest burns a certain number of calories specific to each individual, while exercise burns off even more of them. Similarly to a car using gas to power the engine, our body uses fuel (a.k.a. calories) to do everything from powering our heart, to running a marathon, and everything else in between.

While calories are needed to sustain life, more calories doesn’t equal more life unfortunately. Knowing the relationship between calories and a healthy body is the first step in getting healthier.

Simply put, when the body gets exactly the amount of calories used in a day, it neither gains nor loses any fat. When the body gets more calories than it uses in a day, the excess is stored as fat. When the body gets less calories than it uses in a day, it uses the fat that was stored earlier to make up for that deficit.

The relationship between calories and fat is a tricky one, but the easiest explanation to understand is that a pound of fat in the human body is equivalent to 3,500 calories. Based off this number, when someone consumes 3,500 more calories than is used through any number of days, the body stores a pound of fat. Visa versa, when someone consumes 3,500 less calories than is used through any number of days, the body loses a pound of fat.

 

What determines how many calories are needed per day?

How many calories are needed in a day is completely different for each person, but at it’s simplest level, it’s made up of two different parts:

  1. The first part is the basal metabolic rate (BMR). BMR is the absolute minimum amount of calories needed. We’re talking how many calories would be used when lying in bed for 24 hours without moving a muscle. BMR is the minimum amount of calories it would take to run all organs necessary for survival in that situation. BMR is influenced by factors such as age, weight, gender, and genetics.
  2. The second part of the equation is any action done in addition to simply lying in bed for 24 hours. This action can be anything from watching TV, to vigorous exercise. This part is more easily controlled and is where we have the biggest opportunity to improve our health.

Example: Spending all day watching TV while making frequent trips to the fridge and bathroom will increase the amount of calories you burn over your BMR but it’s a tiny increase compared to other things you could do. In this example, the use of your legs while walking around in addition to using your arm and fingers to use the remote slightly increases the amount of calories your body uses. In contrast, exercising and being active greatly increases the amount of calories one burns on top of your BMR

 

How many calories do I actually need per day?

Figuring out the exact number of calories needed per day can cause a headache. There are multiple formulas, equations, and tables to help figure it out. Constant research and debating over which one is the most correct can lead to an overwhelming feeling followed by giving up altogether. In an effort to avoid that pitfall, I found a calculator I liked and simply went with it.

Here’s the one I use: http://www.freedieting.com/tools/calorie_calculator.htm
If you don’t like using this calculator, that’s fine by me. Just find a different one and go with it!

The only way to get an exact number of how many calories needed per day requires visits to medical professionals specializing in the field. In addition to the enormous cost of that, caloric need changes quite often which makes those professional consultations time consuming and expenses. Using any online calorie calculator is going to give a rough estimate of what you should be consuming, which is good enough to get started.

The best way to determine if the numbers the calorie calculator are giving you is correct is by listening to your body. Are you putting on more weight or are you losing it? Do you feel so deprived all day that you have no energy or are you so stuffed you can barely move?

Paying attention to signals your body gives you is the key to succeeding.

 

Where are calories actually found?

Calories are a sort of nebulous idea but where are they actually found?
While calories are found in other a few other sources, the most common source of calories is found in Fats, Carbohydrates, and Protein. There’s a vast amount of different options within each of the three categories, but at its most basic level, we get the majority of our calories from fats, carbohydrates, and protein.

These three categories make up what is known as macronutrients. I will be doing a follow-up post on each of these macronutrients, but to wrap up this post, here is how each one relates to calories:

  • Each gram of fat is equal to 9 calories
  • Each gram of carbohydrates is equal to 4 calories
  • Each gram of protein is equal to 4 calories

This information is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to nutrition. I will be going into more detail on every aspect of nutrition in the future so check back!

Thanks for reading!
-Adam Conway

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References:

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2 thoughts on “Simple Guide to Calories

  1. Pingback: Lose Stomach Fat Easily | Conway Training

  2. Pingback: Lose Stomach Fat Easily | Conway Training

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