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What is a Calorie? (Part 1)

Welcome to Part 1 of our new healthy eating and training series where we will look at the basics of nutrition and helping you understand and create a weight loss program that will work for you.

The first part I’m going to touch on is Calories.  Now I’m not going to go over the whole counting Calories thing. This isn’t just about counting calories. This is about understanding what they are in the first place, and how ultimately the energy in a calorie will decide whether your are gaining fat or losing fat.

A Calorie Is A What?

How many calories do you burn?

A calorie is a unit of energy. More specifically it is the amount of energy/heat it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. It is most often used to access the energy content of food, though it can measure other amounts of energy in chemistry. On a nutrition label, it will appear in the Energy column as “cals” or “Kcal.”

The basic way the total energy is calculated is based on the list below.

  • 1 gram of Carbohydrates = 4 Calories
  • 1 gram of Protein =4 Calories
  • 1 gram of Fat =9 calories
  • 1 gram of Alcohol =7 Calories
  • Using this formula, if all you have is the gram amounts for your food item, you can figure up the caloric amount on your own.

    For example 2 tbsp (30 grams) of Peanut Butter has:
    16 grams of Fat
    6 grams of Carbohydrates
    8 grams of Protein

    This translates to this using our formula

    16 Grams of Fat =16 x 9 =144
    6 Grams of Carb =6 x 4 =24
    8 Grams of Protein =8 x 4 =32

    Add those totals together and you get 144 + 24 + 32 =200 Calories for every 2 tbsp or (30 grams) of Peanut Butter.

    How Many Calories Do I Need?

    Here are three phrases you need to become familiar with:

    Caloric Deficit – Meaning that you are in a negative amount of energy needs for your body.
    Caloric Surplus – Meaning that you are in an excess amount of energy needs for your body.
    Maintenance – Meaning you are taking in just the needed energy for your body.

    Here is a basic example:

    Amy’s body in one day burns 2000 calories. If Amy is consuming 1600 calories a day, then Amy is in a caloric deficit because she is consuming LESS than what her body is expending in a day. (- 400 cal)

    The next day Amy’s body burns 2000 calories. If Amy is consuming 2400 calories then Amy is in a caloric surplus because she is consuming MORE than what her body is expending in a day. (+ 400 cal)

    The third day Amy’s body burns 2000 calories. If Amy is taking in 2000 calories then Amy is at maintenance because she is consuming the SAME amount that her body is expending in a day. (0 cal)

    This is the absolute very basics of weight loss.

    If you are in a caloric deficit you are going to lose weight, because you are expending more energy than you are taking in. Your body is going to turn to stores of fat (or muscle) to make up for that energy deficit. The reverse is true for a surplus. Take in more energy, and you are going to store more energy as fat for future uses. This is where fat comes from, EXCESS ENERGY.

    I hope you have enjoyed part 1 of ‘What is a Calorie’ and in part 2 we will discuss:

    How to calculate what your daily energy needs are, and how to use these numbers to achieve your fat loss goals.

    By Russell Laurie

    Hi I'm Russell Laurie one of the founders of MaxNRG Personal Training and one of the authors of our blog. I am an experienced mobile personal trainer that services Essendon, Keilor, Maribyrnong, Oak Park, Strathmore, Tullamarine and the surrounding suburbs in Melbourne, VIC. I hope you find what I share to be interesting. You can follow me on Twitter @Russell_Laurie. View Russell Laurie's Full Profile

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