Ok. So let’s talk calories.
This is a subject area that many people struggle with, but once you understand it it’s really very easy. I guess it’s the same with most things, but there is absolutely no reason to be baffled by the nutritional content or macronutrients of the food we eat.
There are 3 primary macronutrients:
Protein food sources consist of 20 amino acids, and are essential to life. Not only do we need protein for repair and recovery, but the muscles in our body are primarily protein and water, so both nutrients are essential daily.
Fat gets a bad rap, but it actually isn’t the villain that most people think it is. There are 3 broad categories of fat, and this is what many fail to understand…
- Saturated Fat
Examples are cream, cheese, butter and some animal fats and are best avoided in high quantities. There are exceptions to this like coconut oil.
- Monosaturated Fat
Examples are avocado, olives and nuts and should be included in our diet daily.
- Polyunsaturated Fat
Examples are cold water fish like salmon, anchovies, sardines and high quality fish oils. Our body needs this type of fat in abundance to ensure everything is running properly including your brain!
The fats to keep away from are trans fats and partially hydrogenated fats. These are killers and can be found in most processed junk foods.
These are the least understood of all the macronutrients. Do we need them? how much of them do we need? What types should I eat? These are all very valid questions that I hear day in day out in the gym. Within the carbohydrate bracket we have starch (complex) and sugars (simple). Examples of carbohydrates are rice, pasta, bread, cereal, potatoes and of course SUGAR.
Ok, so thats a very brief look at the food we consume, but I want to really focus on the breakdown of these foods in our diet and how counting calories is not very accurate if weight/fat loss is your goal. So let’s go…
Both carbohydrates and protein contain 4kcal per gram. Fat contains 9kcal per gram. To give you an example of how this works within a meal, let’s look at what I ate for dinner yesterday:
Chicken breast Sweet potato Broccoli 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
The chicken breast contained 30g protein. So 4 x 30 = 120 kcal
The sweet potato contained approximately 20g carbs. So 4 x 20 = 80 kcal
The broccoli is harder to measure, but for the sake of argument lets say I ate 100g. 100g broccoli contains about 6g of carbs. So 4 x 6 = 24 kcal
The extra virgin olive oil contains approximately 14g fat, with the majority of that being mono saturated. So 9 x 14 = 126 kcal
*** 126 kcal in 1 tbs of olive oil. Crazy right? So when you see Jamie Oliver sloshing it around left right and centre just imagine how many calories that is BEFORE you even start on the food!! ***
Who’s still with me?
So my total calorie intake for dinner last night was:
120 + 80 + 24 + 126 = 350 kcal.
Ok, so now let’s compare this to an all time favourite of mine…The good old Snickers bar.
A Snickers contains 256 kcal with 12g fat, 33g carbohydrates and 4g protein.
So if someone was on a strict calorie controlled diet, and their daily allowance was 1,300 kcal, we can see that by eating 5 Snickers in one day they would be within their daily calorie allowance. GREAT STUFF!
Now lets look at 5 meals like I had last night. If I ate that same meal 5 times in one day for example:
5 x 350 kcal = 1750 kcal
So slightly over the daily 1300 kcal allowance.
On paper, the 5 Snicker option looks better doesn’t it? Fewer calories, far easier to manage, cheaper and more convenient. Eat 5 Snickers a day and lose weight…Right?!
It just doesn’t work like that.
The 5 Snickers a day diet would provide 165g of carbohydrates with the majority of them being simple sugars. 60g of fat would provide a whopping 540 kcal and 20g of protein would yield 80 kcal which is hardly worth mentioning. Furthermore, this diet would leave you feeling AWFUL. Hungry, tired, irritable, moody, drained of energy and your body composition would be terrible. One word. FAT.
The diet consisting of chicken, sweet potato, broccoli and a serving of good fats would produce exactly the opposite results…150g of protein and 100g of carbohydrates (all coming from slow release carbs) plus 70g of mono saturated fats (which actually help with many bodily functions such as increasing the speed of your metabolism) would leave you full of energy and mentally acuity would be high. Mood swings would be non existent as a slow steady release of energy would be available to your body keeping you well fuelled until your next feed.
So here we can see the difference in results produced from two meal plans with similar calorie content. Of course, I’m not suggesting you eat 5 snickers per day or even 5 meals of chicken, rice and broccoli…I’m just using extreme examples to clarify my point.
Calorie counting is important but what’s more important is where those calories come from:
Start reading labels on the back of food
Look for high protein, low carbohydrates and be aware of the source of the fat.
Aim for the majority of your fat intake to be from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources
Watch out for low-fat food. Unless it’s an animal source of protein, low-fat usually means high carb or high sugar. Food companies want you to buy their product and use the phrase “low fat” to reel you in
I hope this has helped many of you with this confusing topic. Forget calorie counting but look for the content and quality of those calories and you will soon be on your way to achieving your goals in the gym.