The other night my wife and I were watching a movie, when she pulled out a tin of biscuits. I pondered for a while thinking about whether I should have one, or two, or even three (in the end I had 6). Did I feel guilty? Yes and No! Did it affect my waistline? Yes and No! Did it make me rethink my diet strategy? Yes and No! Did I have to work harder the next day? Not really! You see, that morning I had run for 30 minutes, burning approximately 250-300 calories, and spent 30 minutes lifting weights.
In addition, there are certain foods that help us in losing weight and aid in our metabolism, and then, there are other foods that just cause hindrance and backsliding… these are the foods that you should be avoiding. But how do I know which foods are good for me? How many calories can I consume before I start putting on weight? What is a calorie and how does my body metabolize those calories?
Let’s find out, shall we!
What is a Calorie and where do they go?
The scientific definition of a calorie is the following:
‘Calories are units of energy, contained within food, and used by the body to maintain health and life. Calories are associated with energy that is contained in protein, carbohydrates and fat, hence calories will have a given amount of energy available.’ In other words, it’s the energy of food. But how do you define what parts of food equate to a certain amount of calories. Essentially, calories are measured in grams, as far as our food intake is concerned, so…
1 gram of Protein = 4 calories
1 gram of Carbohydrates = 4 calories
1 gram of Fat = 9 calories
That’s it. Now calories are no longer a mystery. But in a normal meal that you sit down to, where do all those calories go? How do they get apportioned, and how do they actually energize our bodies? Again, let’s look at the physiology of our bodies and how calories are absorbed.
So that’s where it went!
If you think that your last meal is just sitting in your stomach waiting to get pooped out, well you’re half right and half wrong. As soon as your body consumes food it begins to move those essential calories to body organs, muscles, and… your belly. Research shows that your body processes and breaks down foods into the following percentages and areas.
Kidneys = 10%. Kidneys make sure your blood has the right amount of water and nutrients. If you’re not drinking enough water or nutrient rich foods, guess what? Bad blood.
Heart = 5-10%. The Heart gets the majority of its energy from fat. This helps the heart work longer. But don’t think you can pack on those fries or Oreo cookies… wrong sort of fat.
Liver, Pancreas, Spleen, and Adrenal glands = 23%. Post a meal the liver works really hard to absorb nutrients. Excess calories are stored as glycogen and this is what gives your body energy to move, whether it’s walking, running, lifting weights, rock-climbing… get the picture?
Muscles = 25%. Our muscles absorb the most amount of energy from calories. Because muscles are what makes us move (alongside our skeletal framework), and because muscles are such a large mass on our bodies, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Ka ching! Now that’s starting to make sense. Hence, the more muscle you’re carrying, the better capacity you have for burning calories.
Brain = 10%. Glucose is food for your brain, that’s why when you miss a meal, you may feel faint.
Thermogenesis = 10%. Just the act of your body breaking down the food you’ve eaten will consume 1/10 of your calories.
Fat cells = 2-3%. Fat cells grow and divide as more calories are deposited. So when you eat that pizza, that’s where all the fat in that cheese is going… it’s being divided and distributed throughout your body.
???? = 10%. Where it goes, nobody knows! No, literally, some calories are unaccounted for, but they’re distributed somewhere around your body.
Calories vs Metabolism
We’ve learned about what a calorie is and how our bodies consume those calories, but where does metabolism fit into this equation, and how can you speed it up, if at all?
Metabolism is the rate that your body begins to burn calories, hence keeping your body alive and functioning. Metabolism is the end result, the energy produced, to keep all those organs in your body, alive and well, healthy and working, 24/7. It keeps your Heart beating, your lungs breathing, our blood pumping, and your brain ticking over, figuring out whether your going to get any money back on your tax return. These functions, in turn, are involuntary functions; it doesn’t take thought on our part. All it takes is the food we consume, and hopefully that food you’re consuming has energy rich nutrients to keep those body parts functioning effectively and for a very long time.
Your body burns calories 24/7, even while you’re asleep. When we split between sexes, women burn about 10 calories/pound of body weight/day (about 1,400 calories); men burn about 11 calories/pound of body weight/day (about 1,800 calories). During a 24-hour period your body is busy burning calories, and there are three processes the body uses to burn those calories.
Calorie Burn No.1: Thermic effect from eating
By simply going through the process of eating and digesting your food, you burn between 10-30% of calories. Think about it! By eating and satisfying your hunger, your body is actually burning calories. That’s awesome! Whoa Nellie! You need to remember that not all foods are created equal, and here’s why.
To digest 100g of protein, which equals 100 calories, your body will burn about 25 calories, but for every 100g of fats or carbohydrates, your body will only burn 10-15 calories. What does this mean? That by consuming more protein, your body will burn more calories, hence, lose more weight. Does that make sense? But let’s not go crazy and start eating Big Macs like they’re going out of fashion! It’s about the quality of the protein. Do you consume a Big Mac, or do you make a protein shake with other ingredients which are high in nutrients, eg. fruit and greens. Remember, it’s about thinking and eating sensibly for long term results which will aid in your health and well-being.
Calorie Burn No.2: Exercise
Movement is an essential part of burning calories. Remember when you were a little kid running around like crazy, riding your bike everywhere… you couldn’t keep still. What did your body look like? Lean and thin. That’s what movement does for you. 10-15% of calories burned by your body comes from moving your muscles, whether it’s running, swimming, lifting weights, cardio, whatever. As long as your body is moving, you are burning calories. You now have to determine, how many calories you want to burn, how much movement/energy you need to expend, and for how long. Now that’s a pretty simple equation.
Calorie Burn No.3: Basal Metabolic Rate
Basal metabolic rate (BMR) affects the rate in which your body burns calories. Your BMR determines whether you maintain, gain or lose weight. BMR accounts for 60-80% of your daily calorie expenditure. It refers to the calories your body is burning when you’re doing nothing, ie. sleeping, watching TV, sitting through a meeting, standing at the bus stop… you’re constantly burning calories. How does your body burn calories when it’s doing nothing? Our bodies are in constant motion; our heart is pounding, lungs are rising up and down by breathing, cells are dividing, muscles are twitching, and all of this, even when you’re sleeping. What a bonus!
So how do you use your BMR to lose weight? Set your daily calorie limit. To lose weight, you need to reduce your caloric intake below your total daily calorie requirement indicated by your BMR + activity level. Roughly speaking, putting yourself in a 500 calorie deficit every day should result in the loss of one pound/week.
Burn Baby Burn!
We now know that the majority of daily caloric burn comes from physiological functions, thermic (heat) effect of eating and your body’s metabolism. So there we have it. The science of calories. But what do we do with this information now. Well it doesn’t mean we now go off and hit the gym for an hour or go run a 40km marathon.
Food choices which aid in basal metabolism will help to maximize your body’s fat burning potential; it doesn’t even depend on exercise, although this is the additional activity which really helps in defining your body’s health. Simply by eating and digesting, your body will burn calories, but it is now up to you to determine what foods you put into your body; are they going to be the foods that allow you to burn more calories or the foods that will retain those calories in your body.
Your food intake, and your diet can change your body into a fat-fighting dynamo. It’s just a matter of knowing which foods are doing this for you.