Calories! It’s a word so many of us use – maybe even dread – but do we really know what they are and what impact they can have on our fitness goals?
There is an overload of information and advice when it comes to fitness, nutrition and calories.
Some people are obsessed with calorie counting and working out how many of these things they are burning off during a workout (check out our heart rate and calorie tracking belt).
So, what are calories and should we really be all that worried about them?
What are Calories?
A calorie is a unit of energy.
When we think of our bodies and calories, one calorie is roughly how much energy it takes for our system to heat one gram of water by one-degree Celsius.
Calories in Food?
Calories are a way to measure the energy in food. The things that make up food – proteins, fats and carbs – all have energy stored in their chemical bonds. Calories measure that.
That energy is then broken down by the body when we consume food and released into our systems so we can function.
How to Measure Calories?
Scientists work out the number of calories in foods – like the numbers found on nutritional labels – but combusting it! They use what is called a bomb calorimeter.
That becomes problematic when we start to look at calories and our bodies, which work very differently to these machines.
Why are Calories Important?
Our bodies use calories (energy) to breath, pump blood, build tissue, repair muscles and much more.
Every cell in our body requires energy to perform at its optimal level.
Calories and Lean Muscle?
Building new muscle mass requires the body to use extra energy, using more calories.
When we engage in Lean Muscle Building Exercises, our bodies are not only using extra energy but afterwards they are working hard to create new tissue in the muscles.
Therefore, to build lean muscle it is important to consume more calories from the right types of food.
Read our Top 4 Muscle Building Foods.
What is Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)?
Our BMR is how many calories it takes to keep our body alive and simply functioning when at rest.
This varies for each person based on factors including genetics, height, age, gender and weight.
The higher a person’s metabolism, the higher their BMR and the more calories they need.
What Impacts our Calorie Use?
Our BMR and amount of additional physical activity, for example how many training sessions we do in a week, affect the number of calories our bodies use.
Other factors that change the amount of energy burned by our bodies include how we digest food (roughly 10-15% of calories consumed goes on digestion) and our individual bodies’ ability to absorb nutrients.
Now we understand a little better what calories are, lets look at some of the 3 Common Calorie Myths that could be affecting our health and fitness.
Myth 1: Calories are Fat.
Calories are a unit of energy – they are not fat! However, there is definitely an important link between calories and body fat.
What happens to the calories we don’t use through our bodies’ automatic functions and other physical activity? They get stored as fat!
That in itself is not a bad thing. We all need a certain level of body fat to remain healthy. But if we eat too many calories and do too little movement, we will end up with an excess of body fat and in turn increase our risks of a host of diseases.
Myth 2: Everyone Should Consume 2,000 Calories a Day
As discussed above, there are so many factors influencing how many calories each body needs to perform at its best.
If our fitness goal is to build lean muscle, then we will need more calories than someone who is simply trying to strip excess body fat.
There are also circumstances outside of our control that affect calorie usage such as our hormones and underlying health issues.
Myth 3: Low Calorie Foods are Better
This is one of the biggest nutritional myths around. The hype around low-fat and low-calorie food really began in the 80s and since then we’ve let the quantity of calories take over the quality.
Luckily, new health and fitness movements are starting to refocus on how important the overall nutritional value of food is as opposed to how many calories it is made up of.
The more healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals food has in it the better it is for our bodies. In that way, a high-calorie snack of nuts will be far healthier than a low-calorie cookie full of sugar and void of any extra nutrients.
So, let’s all focus more on eating healthy foods, and engaging in fun and challenging workouts as opposed to calorie counting!