Calories, macronutrients, and metabolism, Oh my!

Let’s talk about calories.
By now you’ve probably seen pretty clear evidence that eating too many calories will add pounds. I’m often dismayed by hearing people complain about weight gain after they’ve over-consumed “good” calories, as if the inherent goodness of the food would provide a caloric dispensation. Sorry, but too much of anything good or bad is still too much.  Now, this doesn’t mean that your ratio of macronutrients (basically fats, carbohydrates, and proteins) isn’t important – it most certainly is – but if you decide to pound down 6,000 protein calories you’re pretty likely to pack on pounds and it won’t all be muscle!
For those of us who follow the Primal Blueprint or Paleo, we have become far more aware of how certain carbohydrates can be detrimental to our health – specifically we’re looking to maintain a healthy amount of insulin, so grains and legumes and most notably sugar, can be truly problematic. [please note all the times the word “can” appears, as in “this is a possibility but necessarily an outcome]
“Eat fat and get fat” was a dietary mantra for years and one which many of us have disproved through our own experience (in my case, my increased fat intake was coupled with a decrease in “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides, an increase in “good” cholesterol, and a significant decrease in body fat) and of course fat helps a great deal with satiety therefore making it easier to consume fewer calories when that’s appropriate.
Protein is equally elevated to a position of preposterous goodness or demonized as cancer’s wing man. There are two very important things to remember about protein –  first is that protein’s primary function is to repair muscle. If you’ve increased your workout regimen and you’ve not increased your protein intake (assuming you were in balance before) you’re just not going to see the increase in strength you had hoped and if you’re looking for hypertrophy (muscle growth) it surely won’t happen no matter how much you pump. The second thing to remember about protein is that not all protein is  created equal – the bio-availability of protein is key to its effectiveness. Here’s a great link: http://www.nutribodyprotein.com/protein-types.php
OK, having gotten that out of the way, let’s get to the question of how many calories you really need. I’m not going to try to give you a number because there are too many factors to consider but I will say this – I see just as many people who are concerned about their health (but not yet well-versed in what their body needs) under-eating as over-eating! Wait a minute…if I’m trying to lose weight what’s wrong with under-eating? Oh my…have a seat…let’s talk…actually let’s listen to Dr. Frederick Hatfield, co-founder and president of the International Sports Sciences Association: “Scientists have long known that stringent dieting causes a corresponding drop in our resting metabolic rate (BMR), making it very difficult, often impossible, to continue the fat loss process.” In essence by withholding too many calories (or eating too few, if you prefer), your body is sent into a state that will defeat your best-laid plans. But what about those people who eat virtually nothing and manage to lose 10 or 20 or more pounds, just like that? Well, let’s see…what exactly did they lose? More often than not, some fat loss occurs of course but the body will more likely be losing water weight and going into what is known as a catabolic phase, in essence  you  lose muscle mass.  Bear in mind that catabolism is also referred to as destructive metabolism. Now that’s a healthy approach to achieving your wellness goals!

So give some thought to how many calories you truly need to support your body’s needs and the level of activity that your daily life provides. If you don’t know how to figure out your base needs, let me know and I’ll point you to some websites that can help.
Oh, one last point – please retire that tired myth of the fat-burning zone. You know, the idea that’s plastered all over elliptical machines and treadmills whereby you work out at a truly low intensity and magically your body will burn fat! Sorry, Folks, but it just ain’t so. There is certainly a scientific rationale for how the body chooses which fuel to burn but intensity and the resultant caloric outlay trumps that every time. Simply put, the more energy you ask your body to expend, the more calories are burned (calories being a measure of energy) and I can assure you that you will indeed lose fat.

About zolfw

I am an avid trail runner and fitness enthusiast, an accomplished cook, a lover of cinema and literature (although I read everything from graphic novels to professional psychology tomes, neither extreme being literature in the strict sense) . I am a retired Health and Wellness Coach. I am a husband, father, grandfather, and uncle.
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