Nutrition 101: Calories explained for the Average Joe

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What are calories? How do they effect weight loss or muscle gain? How many calories should you be eating to reach your aesthetic goals? Keep reading to find out!

My goal is to break down all you need to know about calories in an easily digestible (pun intended) way. To do so I need you to start with a clean plate (too easy) and forget everything you have previously been told about calories.  

What is A Calorie?

The first thing you need to understand about calories is that it’s a unit of measurement for energy. More specifically, one food calorie (kcal) can raise one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. This is why you may have heard the term “burning calories” before in relation to losing weight or physical activity. All that aside, the biggest takeaway here is to think of calories as units of energy. 

How do calories effect weight loss or muscle gain?

The second thing you need to understand about calories is that weight loss/gain is solely dependent on whether you are in a caloric deficit or surplus. To keep it simple, your body needs calories (energy) from food to be able to perform bodily functions and fuel activity throughout the day. Depending on how many calories you eat in a day in relation to your body’s energy needs you will have either lost (used stored energy), maintained or gained (stored energy for later use) some weight. 

How to Calculate your Caloric Intake

To find out how many calories you should be consuming to reach your aesthetic goals, check out the Average Joes Calorie and Macronutrient Calculator that I created myself. The video below is an example of me entering in my info and interpreting the results. Check it out if you want to get a better understanding of how I calculated the caloric and macronutrient ranges. 

Now that you have an estimate of how many calories (energy units) your body needs, let’s walk through the different ways our bodies burn calories. This will help you find ways to increase the number of calories your body burns so that you can achieve your aesthetic goals. 

Components of Total Daily Energy Expenditure

The way our bodies burn calories (energy) can be broken down into 4 different components. Below is a graphic that shows an estimated proportion of what components account for your total daily energy (caloric) expenditure or TDEE for short. 

How the body burns calories

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) ~ 70%

Your Basal Metabolic Rate represents how many calories (energy units) your body burns just to keep you alive without any extra movement. If you were to lay in bed all day without moving a muscle, you would still be burning calories and that amount would be your BMR. 

Pro Tip: The more muscle mass you have the higher your BMR will be. This is because muscle mass requires more calories (energy) to maintain compared to body fat. 

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) ~ 10% 

The TEF relates to the energy (calories) required to digest, absorb, and process nutrients that are consumed. Therefor eating food surprisingly burns calories! Unfortunately, it’s not enough to offset the cookie(s) I housed before bed the other night 🙁 

Pro Tip: In comparison to carbohydrates and fats, protein requires more energy for your body to break down. This means the more protein you eat the more calories your body will burn through digestion without you increasing your activity level. It may not seem significant but an extra 20 calories here and there can add up in the long run. 

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) ~ 5%

This relates to energy expended through daily activities outside of structured exercise. This could mean doing chores around the house or walking to class. Heck, even a hobby that you partake in that requires some type of physical activity. 

Pro Tip: The key to maximizing this category can be as simple as taking the stairs rather than the escalator. Personally, I recommend finding a hobby you enjoy doing that gets you moving. The hobby I like to indulge in is hitting golf balls at the driving range. It doesn’t matter what it is just do something you enjoy!

Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT) ~ 15%

As you can probably assume this category relates to calories (energy) being burned during structured exercise. For example, lifting weights, running on a treadmill or taking a walk around your neighborhood. 

Pro Tip: To keep it simple, the more intense you train the more calories you will burn. As I mentioned in the video lifting weights doesn’t burn nearly as many calories as cardio. To maximize the amount of calories you can consume without gaining weight you must do resistance and cardiovascular training. 

That’s all there is to calories! Simple right?! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or reach out to me personally at [email protected] ! I wish you the best on your aesthetic journey. 

"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."

– La Rochefoucauld.

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