We eat calories every time we put food in our mouth, right? So, where the heck do they go? How does food help us gain muscle or cause us to gain body fat? What happens when we eat too many calories? Also, is it bad if we eat too few calories? This article will answer all these questions and more!
Calories are kind of annoying if you don’t know how to use them properly. We have been taught our
entire lives that calories are bad and if you eat too many you will get fat. Eat less and work out more, right? This is only partly correct. This is what we have been taught, but it’s not exactly spot on. Weight
loss has much more to do with what calories we are eating and when we are eating them than solely calories in/calories out. We have also learned that carbohydrates are the enemy and that is not completely true either.
We need to eat food to get nutrients and energy to sustain life. Now this is where it gets complicated. We will talk about and break down what we eat into Macronutrients, otherwise known as Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrates. All three are very important. Protein and Fat are required in our bodies to sustain life. Although, technically carbohydrates are not required, they are the bodies preferred energy source for workouts and also for our brain to function. We live in a world full of carbs and we can use them to optimize our nutrition, body composition, and energy levels.
Here is how it all works, starting with protein, then fats and lastly carbohydrates.
First, when we eat a protein it is broken down into smaller pieces called amino acids that are then used to build new proteins with specific functions. It is kind of hard for the body to break down and digest the protein. This is actually a good thing because it helps our metabolism rise. Some studies have shown a 25% to 30% increase in resting metabolic rate after protein consumption. Most of us are not eating enough protein. By simply increasing the amount of protein you eat you can increase your metabolism and aid in fat loss. Also, eating more protein will most definitely help you gain muscle as long as you are working out regularly. I recommend eating 1 gram of protein for every pound you weigh. This isn’t exactly true if you are obese, though. I don’t recommend eating more than about 200 g of protein per day. Meaning that you can eat 1 gram of protein per pound you weigh unless you are above 200 pounds and have significant body fat. I’m not saying you are obese if you are over 200 pounds. There are some jacked individuals out there who are over 200 pounds and have very little body fat. But if you are over 200 and you have a lot of body fat you do not need to worry about eating more than 200 grams of protein per day. Remember, inadequate protein intake will cause the body to break down its own tissue to meet its needs. Your body can break down its own muscle.
Second, before explaining this next part it is important to realize that fat DOESN’T equal fat.
This means that just because you eat fat does not mean that you will get fat. Our bodies need fat from
food. It’s a major source of energy. Ingesting fat helps us absorb vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients. Fat is needed to build cell membranes, the exterior walls of cells and the sheaths surrounding nerves. It is essential for many of our body’s functions. That being said, crappy commercial fats are not good for us. Fats from natural sources are much better for us than anything processed. Your body will react to and digest avocados, lard, other animal fats and fats from nuts much better than processed vegetable oil.
Third, carbohydrates are the quickest digesting macronutrient that we eat. It turns into glucose very quickly, which your body either burns or converts to glycogen to be stored in the muscles and liver. If you eat more carbs than your body can use to fuel itself then, and only then will it convert to body fat.
When you eat too many carbohydrates, especially in the form of sugars and quickly digested starches, your body may reach its storage capacity for glycogen. The liver then converts the stored sugars into triglycerides, or fats, so that the excess energy can be transported to the fat cells for longer-term storage. Your fat cells release this energy when needed. If you eat more calories than you burn, your body will continue to store the fat. Some body fat is required and wanted, but excess is not good, not wanted, and not healthy.
Carbohydrates have gotten a bad wrap for a long time. But the truth is that carbs are not bad if eaten at the right time and in the right amounts. If you exercise on a regular basis then eating carbohydrates will help you fuel your workouts and you will have a more effective workout. Base your carbohydrate intake around your workouts and they will be used to fuel yourself instead of being converted to body fat.
Protein, Fats, and Carbs are very useful in the building of muscle. We can utilize different ratios of Macronutrients to help lose body fat. This isn’t super complicated but can take some playing around with to get enough food to function and maintain health but also not too much food that you cannot lose weight and fat. There are different websites out there to help you find your “Total Daily Energy Expenditure”. Find that number and then think about 30% Protein, 30% Fat and 30% Carbs. These numbers are not solid, but they can be a great starting point. Try to hit your specific macronutrient numbers each day.
As for not eating enough calories… When we eat at a caloric deficit for too long our body tries to compensate by lowering our metabolic rate. I do not suggest that you eat at a caloric deficit for more than a couple months. Then it is important to re-feed your body and at least maintain if not eat at a caloric excess for a short amount of time before eating at a caloric deficit again. And when I say caloric deficit I’m not talking about a very restrictive diet. If you are trying to lose body fat don’t eat less than 90% of your total daily energy expenditure.
Also, I always talk to clients about having fun with this. Changing your body composition really can be fun. It can be challenging as well. If you feel that you need help, Prevail Coaching is always there to give you direction. Visit us at www.prevailcoaching.com and be sure to mention this article from Modern Athletic Health!