So when people refer to calories, generally speaking, this is a way for us to gauge the energy value of food, beverage, or the like. Today, when we say Calorie, we are referring to what is technically known as a kilocalorie, which is 1000 calories (notice the capitalization of the C).
In many countries, energy is also measured in kilojoules, and there are 4.2 kilojoules in every Calorie. For most of us, what is important about Calories is that we are getting the amount we need, but not an excess- think of it like your bank balance – calories are dollars, and if you take out more dollars (calories) than you put in, then your bank account (energy balance) will be in the negative.
If you put in more dollars (or calories) than you take out then your balance will be in the positive (surplus energy). Unfortunately, unlike the benefits of having an excess of money in your bank account, your energy surplus needs to be stored, and in humans, it is stored as fat.
ARE ALL CALORIES EQUAL?
In the past, it has been claimed that a calorie is a calorie, whether it comes from ice cream, pizza, carrots or kale, and weight control is simply about consuming the key amount of Calories. More recently this idea is being challenged, and nutritional studies are looking into whether or not all Calories are created equal.
HOW MANY CALORIES DO YOU NEED?
The total amount of calories we are required to consume each day is influenced by things such as age, gender, physical activity levels, and health status. There is no exact way to determine how many calories each of us should consume, however, there are guidelines available based on statistical data and complex formulas. You can find many calorie calculators on websites and apps these days if you wish to get a rough guide, but remember it is just an estimate!
All of the foods we consume provide us with Calories, and foods are divided into groups based on their composition. This is where we find carbohydrates, fats and proteins, the “macronutrients”, referred to this way as we need them in bulk amounts (micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals are needed by the body in much smaller amounts).
MACROS & CALORIES
Carbohydrates are generally a great source of energy, and provide 4 Cal of energy per gram, protein (4 Cal energy per gram) is primarily used to build muscle, and fat (9 Cal energy per gram) is used as an energy source and in cellular transport. Foods are normally categorized based on their macronutrient content, for example, potatoes are carbohydrates, meat is a protein, and olive oil is a fat.
The body requires different amounts of each macronutrient, the exact amounts vary widely from person to person based on the same determinants as Calories themselves. The ratios between these macronutrients are widely discussed in the health and fitness industry, as tweaking ratios is thought to heavily influence the potential to reach health and fitness goals. Theoretically, if you are aiming to build muscle, you would increase dietary protein and subsequently decrease your carbs and fats.
Or if you were an endurance athlete, training several hours a day, you would have a very high energy demand, therefore you would increase the carbohydrate component of your macros. This is the reason why you hear so many people refer to ‘counting their macros’ as this approach has the potential to help us keep our calories in check and gain the nutritional support to reach our goals as efficiently as possible.