No matter your fitness goals, your caloric intake is something you need to keep an eye on. Let’s start with the basics:
What are calories?
Calories are energy. What we know as calories are actually scientifically called kilocalories. The full definition of kcal is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Celsius. But, you really don’t need to know that. You just need to know that calories are energy – nothing more, nothing less.
Do we need calories?
YES. Calories provide the energy your body needs to function. You need energy to move, stand up, sit down, digest, and even sleep. You may think it is the 5 cups of coffee you drank this morning keeping you going, but it is actually the food you have eaten today and in the past.
How do we get calories?
Calories are found in most foods. Broken down further: each gram of carbohydrate has 4 calories, each gram of protein has 4 calories, each gram of fat has 9 calories, and each gram of alcohol has 7 calories. You can find out how many calories are in your food by using those numbers and reading nutrition labels.
Why do calories get a bad rap?
As I said earlier, calories are energy. If you eat more energy than you use, your body stores it in case you need it later. This energy is stored as body fat. Consistently eating more calories than your body is utilizing results in a consistent increase in body fat. Consistently eating fewer calories than you burn in a day leads to a consistent decrease in body fat. Neither one of those processes occurs quickly. Fat gain and fat loss are both gradual.
How do I track my calories?
You can either keep a food diary where you write down the calories from your nutrition labels OR you can download an App/use a website that does it for you. There are a lot of options out there, but I personally am a fan of Lose It!
Do I have to track my calories?
Whether you are trying to lose fat or gain muscle, it is a good idea to at least have a general idea of what your caloric intake is. Some people cannot track calories without becoming obsessive, and if you are that person, just focus reading your nutrition labels and eating whole foods that will assist in your goals.