I just stumbled onto you site. I must say it is refreshing to see someone who not only is involved in the fitness industry, but also seeks to debunk some of the “mystery” surrounding tight-lipped fitness circles.
I think something that has been raising a good deal of questions lately has been, “is a calorie just a calorie?” Now, some people are saying that, simply put there is no difference. Others disagree; Dr. John Berardi comes to mind here, noting that calories are in fact not all created equal. What is your take on this?
I’m asking mainly to see if, beyond 1.5g of protein per pound of lean body weight, there is a benefit to fueling with mainly a carbohydrate or fat based diet. Thank you
I’m happy that you’re enjoying the site and what it stands for.
The question you ask is the million-dollar question. And as you’ve already noticed in your own searches, you’ll find varying opinions on the subject of calories. It seems as though nutritionists, dieticians, doctors, even trainers and coaches all have a different idea about food, nutrition and the almighty calorie. Even Weight Watchers recently changed their way of thinking and remodeled their famous points system to one that assigns value to foods nutritional value and calorie content.
First of all, calories are a unit of heat. 1 calorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water to 1 degree Celsius or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. So basically calories are energy and supply much needed fuel to your body through some pretty cool body processes. Simple right? You’re a machine, and you need fuel to run.
The calorie vs. calorie debate is really silly in my opinion. Why do I say that? Because if you eat a healthy nutritious diet, I don’t think that your daily calorie totals are all that matters. In other words, who cares if an apple or a cookie contains the same calories? Just stay away from the cookies and you’re good. We all know the latter has fewer nutrients and is full of sugar and fat. So no, of course all calories aren’t created equally, because although they may contain the same amount of energy, where and what that energy is derived from can be very different. When each food is digested and processed, it provides a unique hormonal and metabolic benefit.
Simple sugars process very quickly and provide little work for your body to digest and especially in junk food they’re “empty” calories, meaning they provide next to no nutritional value. Plus they raise your blood sugar levels very quickly only to crash just as fast which can provide unstable energy levels. Plus as insulin levels rise our ability to burn fat is blunted and our fat storing mechanism is turned on. That’s never a good thing. That’s why I always say “eat fruit, don’t drink it”. The whole fruit generally has fiber that will slow digestion. Drinking juice is just liquid sugar, and you’ll drink far more than you’d eat. Whereas complex, fibrous sources of carbohydrates require a lot of work to be broken down and used for fuel and can contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and all sorts of other great stuff. They actually cost your body calories to burn them and can also supply a slow, stable release of energy.
In fact some foods are negative calories meaning it costs your body more calories to digest and burn the food than it actually contains! So you tell me, is a calorie a calorie? Yes, the energy is technically the same, the calorie count is equal, but how you use it, what you get and what the benefits are can be totally different.
Proteins have long been considered a thermic food, meaning it raises body temperature when consumed. Protein, especially from meat sources takes longer to break down and digest. And healthy fats are needed for heart health, vitamin uptake, healthy eyes, hair etc, and can provide an alternative source of fuel. Dave Grotto, renowned registered dietician turned me on to the catch phrase “Active Calories”. What it means is for you to make food choices that make your body work, or earn its food; choices that run the metabolic machinery and get things moving. At the end of the day Dan, I keep repeating myself over and over. Just eat a healthy, nutritious, whole food diet with the occasional cheat and you’ll be golden.
As for how much protein, as I’ve said before you’ll hear varying suggestions ranging from 1 – 2.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. In my earlier days I definitely ate too much protein, but now plan to eat about 1 – 1.5 grams of LBM.
So just in case I’m not clear – I DON’T believe all calories are created equal. I’ve had numerous discussions and arguments with people who insist that where calories are sourced from is unimportant and that only the the calorie count is what’s matters most for health, fitness and weight maintenance. Frankly the notion that anyone would suggest that is just ignorant and educational remnants left over from decade old textbooks. My suggestions on how to eat are all over the site; unprocessed whole foods, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. You can’t go wrong eating that way in more opinion.
Let me know how it goes and if any of you out there would like to book a more in-depth consultation with me – just drop me a line via the How To Book button in the sidebar.
And if you have a question – please just click here. I’d love to help you!
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