January 23

Understanding Calories


In this article, coach Matt talks calories. What they are, why they are important and how everyone uses a calorie differently. 

What actually is a calorie?

We know the word, but what actually is it. Here’s some science for you:

In 1863, a calorie was defined as ‘the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water from 0 to 1 degree Celsius’. In food nutrition we use the term kcal (kilocalorie). Calor come from the Latin for heat.

What’s in a calorie?

Proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fibres, vitamins and minerals all contain calories. The macronutrients we pay attention to mostly are the carbs, proteins and fats. Foods contain varying levels of the above and different qualities depending on how they’re made or looked after (processed food with preservatives can reduce the level of healthy macronutrients https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26270019/).

Are Calories created equal?

Wholefoods are significantly better for you than processed food and even in wholefoods, if you’re looking for certain macronutrients, such as protein, then peanuts have more protein than spinach, and spinach has around the same as red meat. 

We have to take in to account the foods other benefits, or detriments. Iron intake is important for health, as well as fibre, and spinach is loaded with it. 

Simple sugars, such as glucose, are of course energy rich, high in calorie, but really bad for us as they release energy quickly and spike blood sugar and insulin levels and affect the arteries all over your body. Though fruit sugar (fructose) have fibre and are good for you, and they’re absorbed in to the bloodstream better than glucose. Complex carbs have better fibre and slower releasing sugars and fill you up for longer. 

It’s quite complex, isn’t it?

Do people take in calories differently?

Absolutely they do! One person could eat a meal which is exactly the same as another person and the way they absorb the macronutrients would be different, even in identical twins. The TwinsUK Study is a 25 year  

 study on thousands of twins lead by Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at Kings College, London and Director of the TwinsUK Registry based at St Thomas’ Hospital, London. He noted the difference in blood sugar and gut health responses and differences in macronutrient absorption. Genes, age, physical ability, illnesses, medication, stress, etc. can all play a part in how food is taken in and what is used for the running of the complex machine of the body. Read more here: https://twinsuk.ac.uk/

How many calories should we take in?

There is a three letter acronym you may not of heard of – BMR.

BMR is your Basel Metabolic Rate, the number of calories the body requires at rest. It’s a complex equation, so online calculators are best to use: https://www.active.com/fitness/calculators/bmr 

My BMR is 1516kcal per day sitting on the sofa watching Netflix. Of course adding training, working and general movement in to the mix is going to shoot that figure up to 2600kcal and above.

To support the body and develop muscle, protein is the best for this and can fill you up for longer. An active person should aim to get 1.2-1.7grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day. Growing muscle takes good calories and plenty of them. Muscle is a huge burner of calorie. Muscle tissue will burn seven to ten calories per pound, whilst fat burns two to three calories per pound. 

Complex carbohydrates help to build the muscle by providing energy within the muscles. Reducing or avoiding carbs too much is going to negatively affect the absorption of other vitamins and minerals, such as B12 and magnesium and also fibres too.


Fats (Monounsaturated andPolyunsaturated) are a vital source of food for the body. Saturated and Trans fats are not good for us and raise our bad cholesterol levels. Fats provide us with energy and aid the absorption of vitamins, such as A, D and E.

Feeding the body in all the nutrients it requires, is going to give the greatest reward to health and fitness. Going too low on the calories (1200 a day and fewer) will mean that the body might well be devoid of nutrients that it needs to function well, avoid illnesses, fatigue, hunger and increase the cravings for energy rich, poor quality foods.

Nutrition can seem complex and just below the surface of basic knowledge it does get pretty intense. Advice from the Go Coaches and reputable places online, such as Derek Simnet Nutrition and books from authors such as Tim Spector and Michael Gregor all help in our further understanding of how to better our nutrition for our busy lives and fitness goals. Keeping it 

simple is best though. Eating a well rounded diet of good quality foods and enough to help build muscle, maintain energy levels and vitamins levels, without the need for supplementation, is always best. Crash dieting and fads will not work in the long term. Oh, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water. Sometimes hunger pangs are dehydration. 

Stay well, build strong, feel great.


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