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Beginner's Guide to Calories

This is everything you need. If the topic of calories confuses you, then look no further. Please have a read



Calories funny phrase definition" Art Board Print by MindChirp ...


Something we can become attached to or shy away from.  When we wish to lose a little weight the first thing people turn to is calories and dropping them.  People like to count them, people like to have a go at people who count them, and people don’t count them period.  I’ll admit before I go on that calorie counting seemed foreign to me, simply because I just wanted to eat, and I would laugh at anyone who would look at nutrition labels before eating certain foods. But times have changed, and knowledge has been gained, so much so, that I now encourage people to understand and educate themselves on what a calorie is and how our bodies deal with it and ultimately the role it plays in body composition.


So, let us first look at what a calorie is and why it exists.  

To keep it simple, a calorie is a unit of energy our body understands. 

It is a tool used mainly for scientists when it comes to understanding heat in the body, but for our purposes, it is energy within the body.   All foods contain calories which will be used by the body to produce such energy. 

In simple terms, it’s what our body understands and utilises to function.  Now I will cover the calorie breakdown of certain macronutrients, protein, carbs and fats, later at some point, but for now, I’m speaking in a very general and broad sense.

Our bodies are unique.  Think of them as machines, with hundreds, if not thousands, of processes, continually happening without us thinking about it.  Therefore, it is no surprise that we need to put energy in the body for it to carry out these very basic biological functions that essentially keep us alive. We eat because we get hungry and our hunger then goes, for a few hours. 

The problem then lies in the amount of food we eat as people are, at the end of the day, taking in a heck lot more energy than the body needs.  This is where the topic of fat loss and muscle gain can chime in. A basic understanding of calorie amounts should be established first and foremost if anyone wants to be serious about looking after their own wellbeing and body composition.   The first thing we can look at is our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).  Our BMR is essentially what I described above. How many calories our body needs to maintain and carry out basic functions.  Below is the most commonly used formula which has been around for some time that can aid us.



Women – BMR = 655 + (4.35 x Weight in Pounds) + (4.7 x Height in Inches) – (4.7 x Age in Years)

Men – BMR = 66 + (6.23 x Weight in Pounds) + (12.7 x Height in Inches) – (6.8 x Age in Years)



Looking at the above, I should stress that it is by no means an exact and precise figure as we are all different and have different body types. People will suffer from a range of conditions within the body, sometimes without even knowing it, and therefore BMR can be a little redundant. 

To give an example, someone who may suffer from an underactive thyroid may not have a properly functioning metabolism with respect to food.  The thyroid is one of the endocrine glands in the body which releases hormones and has the task of regulating metabolism, though it is a lot more complicated than this.  But on a basic level, we can roll with it just to get the idea. 

So, with our BMR, we now know how many calories we need which will keep our body in a balanced state. Now there are arguments that simply disregard the need to count calories as people find it to be time-consuming and irrelevant, however, once we look at the energy balance of the body, this should shed some light on the topic and will give a better understanding.

Moving on from BMR, we can now look at the number of calories our body needs when physical activity is considered. 

This is known as our Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).  How many calories do we burn per day when physical activity is considered? 

This is important if we are to consider how the body will burn body fat or put on weight.  Ultimately, once we establish our TDEE, we can then play around with the numbers and really understand what we can do at this point to achieve our desired goal. 

To calculate your TDEE, you will multiply your BMR by an activity multiplier which can then give you a better idea.  You can find these all over the web - so just pick any one, as most will be reliable. 

Use a scale. 

This is something I’m not particularly fond of when it comes to losing fat or gaining muscle, however, it is a good tool to use to measure any changes in weight, to begin with.   

Let’s say, after calculations are done, you work out that you require 2400 calories per day to maintain your body weight. This may seem all good and well but we are not all the same.  We have different genetic structures and makeup and different body types.  We do not digest and absorb food in the exact same way thus every single piece of food or drink we take in won’t all contribute to calories. 

So how can we get closer to figuring out our own individual needs? 

One very simple step.  What we can do from here is take in the maintenance 2400 calories per day and do this for about 10-14 days.  Along the way, every second or third day, in the morning after using the bathroom you should weigh yourself and note it down.  If weight hasn’t fluctuated and remains the same for that fortnight, then this will be your maintenance and an excellent place to start. It is worth mentioning that weight will consider water, fat, muscle and other substances, so do not take this to be precise.  But it is a helpful way of monitoring weight changes generally.  This may seem like a task in itself; however, it only takes 1 minute out of your day in the morning and basically eliminates all the guesswork.

Look how useful it is.  A few days of monitoring your weight change and watching what you eat, and you already know how your body works.  This is worth its weight in gold and you can use this any time you want to change your body.


The Energy Balance

We have looked at what a calorie is and how many calories we need, but there is a lot of debate when it comes to losing fat.  I say fat instead of weight because fat loss is the goal whereas we also hold lean muscle mass, water weight and other substances in the body which contribute to weight, as I said earlier.   For now, however, the aim is to understand the term calorie and what its actual role within the body is.  The question then beckons.


Should we count calories? My answer, it depends. 

If we are looking from a body compositional point of view and we want to physically change, then yes, counting calories or having a very good understanding of what you take in is important.  I’m sure we all know that one person who can really eat their hearts out, but they never seem to gain or lose fat.

  People are very quick to look at these people and use this as an excuse to eat whatever they want, thinking they will be fine.   We are all different, we have different metabolic functions and react to foods differently, so our safest approach is to be mindful and show a little awareness when it comes to putting food or drink in your mouth. 

If you are reading this and don’t agree with me because you eat whatever you like and feel it works for you, then great, keep at it. However, there are people out there that aren’t quite sure how to go about calories and how to use them to make changes.

As I said, energy requirements are not the same for everyone, so we should show some awareness of the amount of energy we take in when it comes to eating.  How many calories we need to burn body fat or gain lean muscle mass is another huge topic in itself, but having a basic understanding of the role of calories is a good place to start for those thinking about making changes to their body.

Counting calories can be time-consuming at first.  The way I like to approach this is by measuring food and tracking the calories (myfitnesspal can be quite useful here).  I measure these portion sizes against my hand or even use guides such as a spoonful, cup or half a bowl.  Thus, after a while, I don’t need to weigh in anymore and eye-balling becomes a heck of a lot simpler. 

There you go.  Track for a few days and then use your eye. 

However, if you are looking to add some weight or lose some body fat, then getting the numbers close would be helpful.  Some of you will not agree that counting is essential to losing fat, and I get that.  This is merely to provide some guidance for anyone who wants to understand what the energy balance in the body is all about.  I know some people who don’t track any of their calories and can just roughly eye-ball foods whilst dropping fat or adding muscle.  You may well be one of them and excellent if that’s the case.  But you cannot disregard the power of counting calories at some point in the battle to lose fat.


All the above is basic thermodynamics. 

It may seem basic and pointless to write about it, but I am amazed that people, through no fault of their own due to lack of education, still fail to understand the way energy works in the body. 

Yes, I understand it differs and individuals will have many ways to maintain body weight and alter it through various dietary protocols, but the basics start with the energy equation in the body.  I will post up how to influence fat loss because it Is something I have a lot of passion in and wish to share and educate others, so do keep an eye out for that!

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