Calories Explained

If you’re interested in weight loss and fitness, you’ve no doubt heard of calories. But what exactly is a calorie and what does it have to do with you? Quite a bit, actually, and after reading this article, you’ll know all about the good and bad of calories.

A calorie is simply the energy value we give to food. So a food or serving that has 1000 calories will have a higher energy value than that which has 100 calories. (We’re referring to energy as it pertains to metabolism, not physical energy.) A pound of fat contains approximately 3500 calories and, therefore, when you want to burn off a pound of fat with exercise, you need to perform the exercise equivalent (and/or reduce your consumption) of those 3500 calories. This sounds daunting at first, but it is a very accomplishable goal if spaced out over a few days, or a weeks’ time.

Different food types have different caloric values. Fat contains nine calories per gram. Proteins and carbohydrates contain around four calories per gram. What this means to you and your diet is that you can consume more foods containing proteins or carbohydrates and take in the same amount of calories as you would consuming less than half the same amount of fat.

Here is an example: a pound of trimmed steak contains approximately 700-900 calories. A pound of bacon contains approximately 2200 calories. So in order to consume the same amount of calories of both foods, you’d need to eat more than two pounds of steak to equal just one pound of bacon!

When people talk about “burning calories”, what they are referring to is the amount of exercise needed to reduce the energy equivalent of a calorie. Many aerobic workout machines (treadmills, elliptical trainers, stair-steppers) will have a calorie readout based on your weight for any particular workout that you do. The more challenging the exercise is to you, generally the more calories you will burn during that workout. The longer you work out, the more calories you will burn.

You also burn calories during other types of workouts like weight training, and you burn calories doing everyday activities like cleaning the house. And in fact, the more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you will burn day-to-day, just to maintain that muscle mass. You even burn calories while sleeping; as our body needs to support respiration, brain function, circulation, etc.

Remember when you’re attempting to lose weight, that each pound of fat you want to lose is equivalent to approximately 3500 calories. If you want to lose one pound each week, you must reduce your calories by 3500 that week, through either consuming less calories, working out to burn more calories, or a combination of both of these.

If you ate 2000 calories less during that week, and worked out and burned off the additional 1500 calories – there is your pound of fat loss.

The math may seem overwhelming, but the really important thing is just to get out, get active, and enjoy getting a little exercise every single day. If you do this, the calories will matter less, because you’ll just feel great!