With the amount of information out there about different calorie counting techniques, what sort of foods to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat, thinking about counting calories can often be overwhelming. So let’s get back to basics.
In this article we’ll give you a simple explanation of what calories are, how many of them you need, and then drop some really handy and simple tools to help you crunch through the more complicated parts; the parts that stump a lot of people and stop them from getting the results they want from their diet.
WHAT ARE CALORIES?
OK, let’s make this as simple as possible.
To run a car, you need fuel. That fuel may be petrol, it may be diesel, it may be gas, or it may electricity. Whatever type of fuel a car uses it all effectively provides the same thing; energy for the car to run. The less fuel you put in, the less distance you can drive your car. The bigger the car is the more fuel it will need. And if you put more fuel in than a particular journey requires, the excess fuel is stored in the car for later use.
Our bodies are similar. They need fuel, or energy, to run. And just like with a car, there a different fuels that are our bodies can run on – different foods and drinks – but they are all ultimately sources of energy. This energy is measured in calories.
The 24-hour measurement of how many calories your body requires to perform all the basic functions related to staying alive (such as breathing and keeping your heart beating, but excluding physical activity) is known as your basal metabolic rate, or “BMR.” Your BMR is based on several factors such as age, height, gender, and muscle mass. Just like a smaller car requires less fuel to travel a particular distance than a bigger car, a smaller person requires fewer calories to stay alive than a larger person.
But what about how far you drive your car? Or in this case, how far you push your body with physical activity each and every day? That requires more fuel and more energy, right?
Yep – that’s right! Enter your required maintenance calories.
HOW MANY CALORIES DO YOU NEED?
The amount of extra calories your body requires to perform additional physical activity is known as your caloric output. So logically, the number of calories your body requires each day is going to be the sum of your BMR and your caloric output:
Maintenance Calories = BMR + Caloric Output
If some days you exercise more than others, your maintenance calories are going to be higher. On the flipside, on days that you do not exercise, your maintenance calories are going to be lower – just like the days when you don’t drive your car very far, you don’t need much fuel at all.
So just how many calories do you need? Well, you can work it out with our Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) calculator, just click here.
So what happens to the excess calories you put into your body on days when your maintenance calories are low? Are they stored in your body for later use like excess fuel is stored in your car?
Yep – that’s exactly right! Which leads us onto our next point… caloric deficit and caloric surplus.
CALORIC DEFICIT v CALORIC SURPLUS
If you consume more calories on a particular day than your body requires you will have a surplus of spare calories; what is called a caloric surplus. These spare calories are stored in your body for later use. They can be stored as glycogen (a type of carbohydrate) or as body fat (a type of fat).
If you consume fewer calories on a particular day than your body requires you will have a shortfall of calories; what is called a caloric deficit. Your body will need to access your stored calories from glycogen or body fat to provide it with the energy it needs.
If you spend more days in a caloric surplus than a caloric deficit you will put on weight. Alternatively, if you spend more days in a deficit than a surplus, you will lose weight.
Simple, right? Well yeah, if your goal is just to lose weight, then it really is as simple as that.
However, if you want to change your body composition at the same time, for example, lose body fat and maintain, or even build, muscle mass, then you need to also consider which macronutrients your calories are coming from.
So we know all foods and drinks are ultimately sources of energy, which is measured in calories. But they are also all sources of macronutrients. In fact, macronutrients are actually where the calories come from food.
There are 3 macronutrients; proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Each gram of protein yields 4 calories, as too does each gram of carbohydrate. However, each gram of fat yields more than twice that amount – a whopping 9 calories.
But the caloric content of macronutrients is not the only interesting point. Although they all yield calories that our bodies will ultimately use as energy, our bodies will actually use different macronutrients for different purposes.
Proteins as primarily used to rebuild and repair tissue – including hair, nails, skin, and muscle tissue.
Carbohydrates are primarily used as a source of energy.
Fats are primarily used to keep our organs functioning optimally, and to help keep our joints, ligaments and tendons healthy.
So how much of each macronutrient does your body need? Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” answer – but there is a good place to start – the 40/40/20 rule.
The 40/40/20 rule prescribes that 40% of your total daily caloric intake should come from protein, 40% from carbs, and the remaining 20% from fats.
These ratios ensure that your body is receiving adequate proteins, carbs and fats to allow you to improve your body composition – or in other words, build muscle and burn body fat.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
So you know what calories are, you know how many calories you need each and every day, you understand caloric deficit and caloric surplus, and you’ve grasped the basics of macronutrients.
But with so much information, and so many numbers, floating around it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not really know how to tie it all together.
Fortunately, we’ve done all the work for you with our Free Nutrition Plan. Simply select your gender, enter your age, height, weight, activity level and goal, and our Free Nutrition Plan goes to work calculating your required daily caloric intake and your required daily macronutrient intake using the 40/40/20 rule.
But that’s not all – it then goes one step further and creates a sample meal plan for you!
Click here to give it a whirl and get started on your new diet!