What are Calories?
What are Calories
What are calories? A calorie is a unit of energy. When you think of calories, you typically think of calories that are from food and drinks. This is energy that we use in physical activity or processes such as breathing, thinking, heart beating, etc.
Calories come from Macronutrients
Macronutrients are nutritional compounds made up of calories, that provide energy and have specific roles within our bodies. There are three fundamental macronutrients: Fats, Carbohydrates, and Proteins (Alcohol is a macronutrient also, but will not be discussed in this lesson).
The first macronutrient we will talk about are fats. Fats are highly dense macros that provide 9 calories per gram. This is the most of any macronutrient. Fats provide energy and help our bodies use certain types of vitamins, help create hormones, protects the heart and brain, and various other processes within the body. Certain types of fats are labeled as good or bad.
Good fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats, mainly from nuts, olive oils, fatty fish, and seeds, protect your vital organs, lower your cholesterol, decrease inflammation, etc.
Trans fat is a bad fat that raises bad cholesterol levels, and lowers good cholesterol levels. There is no beneficial reason to consume trans fat.
Saturated fats can be both good or bad. Saturated fats do raise bad cholesterol, but not to the degree of trans fat. Recent studies show that saturated fat may not promote heart disease, but more studies need to be done. Saturated fats do help produce more testosterone for men.
The second macronutrient we will analyze is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram. These are the body’s preferred energy source. Carbohydrates provide energy for physical activity, but also brain power. There are two types of carbohydrates: Simple and Complex.
Simple carbohydrates contain one or two sugars. Some examples are fructose (from fruits) and sucrose (table sugar). Simple carbohydrates are found in processed foods along with candy, sodas, and sweets. Simple carbohydrates produce a short burst of energy, but cause blood sugar to spike. Once blood sugar spikes, insulin is secreted to store the sugar. If this isn’t during or immediately after a workout or physical activity, the insulin will store these sugars as fat. Simple carbohydrates is the number one reason why Americans keep gaining weight. American’s are building up an insulin resistance from long term use of simple carbohydrates. Many Americans are type 2 diabetic or prediabetic due to overuse of simple carbohydrates. PCOS is also linked to this usage. Simple carbohydrates are also void of most vitamins and minerals and should be eaten in moderation. To block some blood sugar spikes when eating simple carbohydrates, I suggest GDA from 1st Phorm.
Complex carbohydrates contain 3 or more sugars (polysaccharides ). Some examples are beans, whole grains, starches (potatoes). These carbohydrates take longer to break down, which allows for sustainable energy that doesn’t have as much impact on blood sugar and insulin. These carbohydrates are typically high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Fiber is a carbohydrate that the body doesn’t use for energy, instead it is used to help with digestion. Fiber passes through the large intestine intact, and helps with healthy bowel movements and helps decrease the risk of chronic illnesses.
The last macronutrient we will go over is Protein. Each gram of protein provides 4 calories. Protein makes and repairs muscle, forms blood cells, is needed for hormones, and more. Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of life. Protein is the last macronutrient that turns to fat.
Proteins are not created equal. The makeup of the protein, the amino acid profile, shows the quality of the protein. As humans, meat and dairy based proteins (whey, milk, etc.) have high utilization, while plant based proteins aren’t as effective. Whey protein isolates have the highest utilization, however plant based proteins are on the bottom.
What Does This All Mean?
Our bodies need calories to survive, and we need those calories to be made up of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins to live healthy lives. There are good fats, bad fats, good carbohydrates, bad carbohydrates, good proteins, and bad proteins, but it doesn’t mean we have to eliminate 100% of any of them.
Next we week we will talk about making a meal plan that is right for you based on your goals, using this information.
Thank you for reading,
NASM Weight Loss Specialist and Personal Trainer
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