Our bodies use calories for the normal functioning of the body, metabolism of food and for physical activities of different intensities. The difference between the number of calories used up during these above processes (cumulative) and the number of calories consumed daily determines whether we have a caloric deficit or surplus.
If you want to gain weight, you must have a caloric surplus (have a lot more calories than your body requires), while to lose weight, you must have a caloric deficit (take in less calories than your body requires for all its daily activities). It is that simple. If you consume more calories than your body needs to sustain itself daily, then the excess calories get stored as fat. Now, let’s learn a few about these calories, shall we?
Calories are units of measuring energy. One dietary calorie contains 4,184 joules of energy (the calorie referred to here is the “large calorie” i.e. kilo-calorie) according to Nicolas Clement who first defined it as a unit of heat in the year 1824. I don’t want to bore you with some science history you probably don’t care about and will get down to what is important to you reading this article – where you gain calories from and how exactly they make you fat.
Of the six classes of food; Carbohydrate, Protein, Fat, Vitamin, Mineral and Water, only the first three (Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat) give energy and they are called macro-nutrients or in short, “macros”. These macros provide energy in terms of what is known as ‘calories’ or in this case, ‘dietary calories’. The other three (Vitamin, Mineral and Water) are also essential. They however don’t give energy.
These macros (Carbs, Protein and Fat) have specific amounts of calories they provide per gram. Carbohydrate and protein provide 4 kilo-calories per gram of serving while fat provides 9 kilo-calories per gram. This implies that for the same weight of these nutritional contents, fat would contain more than two times the calorie content of protein and carbohydrate.
Since protein and carbohydrates have the same calorie content per gram, does this mean that 4kcal of protein is exactly equal to 4kcal of carbohydrate? Since calories is equal to calories, right? Well, YES BUT NO. In nutrition, 4kcal is not equal to 4kcal a lot of the time, and you will learn why now.
The way different macros are metabolized and the amount of energy required to do this differs. For someone looking to lose some weight, this is an important point to note.
Proteins require the largest amount of energy to be broken down by the body which implies that a lot (about 25-30%) of the protein calories are used up in the process of protein metabolism thereby leaving less of the protein calories to be used by the body for physical activities or if in excess, to be stored as fat, while fats require the least energy and therefore has a lot of its calories available for physical activities and for storage as fat (if it constitutes the excess calories available). The thermic effect (i.e. metabolism) of carbohydrates is somewhere in between that of protein and fat when it comes to the energy required to break them down.
The above illustration is what makes protein ideal for weight loss because less of the excess protein calories is stored as fat. If you want to put your weight loss on autopilot, it is important to have more of your calories as protein calories. This doesn’t make carbs or fat the enemy. You will just be needing less of them. Balanced diet is still key even in achieving weight loss. You’ll still need a lot of carbs to provide quick energy to support your daily activities especially if training, while fat mostly provides the reserve energy. Having carbs calories between 45-60% of your total daily calories and protein calories of about 20-35% of your total daily calorie intake is okay for weight loss (calculating your personal ideal daily calories intake is a topic for another day). Fat can make up the remaining percentage of your total calorie intake.
One straightforward and common way people put on fat is by consuming empty calories. These are calories that merely add to your total daily calories intake but add little to no nutritional values to you. Basically, what they do is get you fat. Examples of empty calories are added sugar found in soda and solid fat e.g. butter found in cakes, ice cream and junks.
A simple way to start your weight loss transformation is by cutting these empty calories off and replacing them with veggies and fruits. Eat more protein, drink a lot of water (having a cup of water about half-an-hour before having a meal should help you eat less), train hard so you can be almost sure you’re using up more calories than you’re taking in, and rest well. Most importantly, BE CONSISTENT, because – a lot of people hate to hear this – IT TAKES TIME!
Now you know what makes you fat and how to put a stop to it. It’s over to you now.