Weight loss is a constant trend for athletes, weightlifters, and the general population, and with good reason. Over two-thirds of the American population is considered obese or overweight. Being overweight or obese puts you at risk of a wide range of health problems, including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disorders
- High blood pressure
- Certain forms of cancer
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
While working out and cardio are important parts of shedding pounds, what you put into your body has an immense effect on your weight loss. It all comes down to calories.
What is a Calorie?
In science, a calorie is a unit of energy that measures how much energy it takes to increase a gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. However, in foods, one calorie refers to a kilocalorie or large calorie, which measures the energy necessary to 1,000 grams of water 1 degree Celsius.
Your body uses calories to power essentially everything you do, from walking and talking to breathing to all the microscopic processes that you aren’t even aware of. All foods, including carbohydrates, fats and proteins, are important sources of calories, powering every organ, every cell in your body.
Understanding Energy Balance
Energy balance is the key to weight fluctuations. It describes the balance between the calories that you consume via food and drinks and the calories that you expend through exercise and everyday activities.
Remember that you are constantly burning energy just by existing. If you are consuming the same amount of calories that you eventually burn, you will maintain the same weight. If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. Regardless of what type of food you eat, any excess calories are stored as body fat, which your system can access for energy later.
Weight loss specifically depends on creating a calorie deficit, which means either taking in fewer calories than you use or burning more calories than you consume. This allows your body to dip into its fat stores for energy once it has depleted the calories it gets from the recent meals you’ve eaten.
A Look at Empty Calories
Not all calories are created equal. Empty calories, also known as discretionary calories, refer to calories that do not come with much nutritional value. Where most foods at least offer vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, proteins, antioxidants and amino acids, empty calories do not offer much of anything aside from satisfying your cravings for junk food.
Added sugars and solid fats are the two main sources of empty calories. Added sugars generally comprise sweeteners added to foods and beverages during processing. The two most common are high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose. Solid fats comprise any fats that remain solid at room temperature, including beef fat and butter. While there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with these food elements on their own, they can pose a big problem when they’re added to foods during processing as they only increase calories and add to your waist line.
How Many Calories Do You Actually Need?
Calorie requirements differ from person to person and depend on your:
- Weight and height
- Body shape and composition
- Physical activity demands
- General health
For instance, a professional basketball player will likely need much more calories than a sedentary office worker.
Health authorities all over the world have varying opinions about how many calories you actually need. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the average adult should have about 1,800 calories per day. The National Health Service in the UK recommends 2,000 daily calories for the average adult woman and 2,500 calories per day for the average adult man. The United States government suggests that the average woman requires 2,200 calories per day, while the average man requires about 2,700 daily calories.
What makes things even more confusing is that these requirements can change with age or if you experience changes in physical activity levels. The best way to figure out your own caloric requirements is using a calorie calculator.
Note that these calorie requirements are only for maintaining your current weight.
Calories and Losing Weight
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you need to burn about 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound. To lose up to 2 pounds per week, you need to reduce your total daily caloric intake by up to 1,000 calories. Losing 1 to 2 pounds per week is considered a healthy rate.
Counting your calories can be difficult. The best way to start is to figure out how many calories you take in on an average day. Keep a food diary that includes all the foods you eat and beverages you drink. This can also help you become more aware of what you are putting into your body. From there, keep track of the physical activities you perform every day.
Even knowing how many calories you take in can be a bit misleading as it doesn’t always take into account what you are eating. Simply cutting calories can leave you feeling completely unsatisfied all the time, which can have a huge impact on your mood and eventually whittle down your self-control. Eating the right foods while on a calorie deficit can ensure that you are properly sated. This mainly comes down to focusing on macronutrients.
Macronutrients, or macros, are the basic components of any diet. The three main macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Carbohydrates: There are 4 calories for every gram of carbohydrates. The public opinion on carbohydrates has fluctuated wildly over the years, but there is a general understanding that carbohydrates are the most easily accessible source of calories for your body. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is used by the brain, and glycogen, which is used by your liver and muscles. Carbohydrates can be simple or complex, which just describes how long the molecules are. Simple carbs are shorter, which makes it easier for your body to break down. These are generally considered sugars. Complex carbs, which are generally classified as starches, are longer and thus take longer to break down. When it comes to macros, neither is particularly “good” or “bad.” Carbs are carbs, though you will probably gravitate toward complex carbs naturally as they can help you get and stay full for longer.
Protein: There are 4 calories for every gram of protein. Protein tends to be considered the most important component for any weightlifter or person trying to build muscle, but it is also the thing that makes up your hair, nails, enzymes and tissues throughout your body. Proteins are made up of smaller components called amino acids. While your body can make a wide variety of amino acids, there are nine (called essential amino acids) that you require for various natural processes that your body can’t synthesize, which means you must get them from dietary sources. All of these can be found in meat sources. This can be hard for vegans and vegetarians, but as long as you eat a wide variety of grains and legumes, you should be able to get all your amino acids.
Fat: There are 9 calories for every gram of fat. Thanks to the word itself and its caloric density, fat tends to have a bad reputation, but they are vital to supporting your body’s natural chemicals, insulating your nerves and joints and taking care of your skin and hair. Eating fat does not necessarily equate to adding fat to your waistline. Fat takes a variety of different forms, including saturated to polyunsaturated. The three fats that you should keep an eye out for are omega 3 fatty acids, omega 6 fatty acids and trans fats. The two types of omega fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning that your body needs them but it cannot create them on its own. Omega 3 fatty acids are most often found in fatty fish, along with certain nuts. Vegetable oils are a good source of omega 6 fatty acids. Trans fats, on the other hand, are absolutely unhealthy for you. They are commonly found in packaged foods and certain brands of margarine, but studies consistently show that trans fats increase your risk of cardiovascular disorders.
Combining Calories and Macros
Once you’ve started tracking the calories, create a calorie deficit of about 500 calories per day for moderate weight loss and set that as your daily caloric intake target. From there, allocate your calories among the three macronutrients. There are a variety of ways to do this. Most people do a simple percentage split. For example, the most popular suggests 40% of your daily calories come from protein, 40% come from carbs, and the last 20% come from fats. Others split the percentages evenly at 33% for all macros.
From there, you can simply calculate the grams of each macro you need to fulfill your total caloric intake and the split among each macro. For instance, if your target daily calories are 2000, 800 of those calories should come from proteins. If each gram of protein is 4 calories, you would need to consume 200 grams of protein a day.
If that doesn’t work for you or if you just want to try something different, you can instead look at your protein requirements and decide how you want to split the rest of the calories up between fats and carbohydrates. The amount of protein you take in depends on a variety of factors, but generally, the amount of protein you eat daily should be equivalent to your weight goal. For example, if you want to weigh 150 pounds, you should be eating 150 grams of protein a day.
You may not see results immediately, and you may need to adjust percentages and your total daily calories. It’s surprisingly easy to overestimate your own calorie needs, but you also cannot and should not starve yourself. To achieve the long-term results you strive for, it’s important to keep your diet consistent, be patient, and stay focused on your goals.
To give you an extra boost in your weight loss endeavors, you should consider incorporating supplements into your diet. Thyrovate™ from MYOKEM™ is a unique weight loss solution that can accelerate fat loss, reduce your appetite and increase your resistance to stress without using any stimulant ingredients. Pyroxamine™ is another weight loss solution that can boost fat loss and reduce your appetite while providing clean, smooth energy.