June 2012 Newsletter #1: Does Counting Calories Burn Calories?

Wouldn’t it be great if counting calories actually burned calories? I know many of us competitive athletes as well as non-competitors looking to be in great shape love the activity of counting calories. This month I am going to talk about what exactly is involved in the equation calories in=calories out.

First, instead of calling it calories in= calories out, I like to say energy in= energy out. The reason for this is it gives us a more accurate understanding of what is really going on in the calorie burning equation.

The Body’s Energy Balance

So what is going on in the calorie burning equation? We have two events happening, one event is calories are coming in. This is pretty simple to calculate as is comes exclusively from the food we eat and drinks we consume. There is nothing more to this end of the equation. You can use any number of calorie counting devises such as calorieking.com, fitday.com or my favorite, myfitnesspal.com, to calculate your calories in.

The calories out, or as I like to call it, energy out part of the equation is a bit more tricky in that we have 4 variables involved, some of which are difficult to measure in an easy methodical way. But here they are:
1.Basal metabolism: This is the amount of food you need in order to sustain life. It is the rate at which your body uses energy to support its metabolism when resting and awake, as well as energy needs for your heartbeat, respiration, and cellular metabolism. When you perform this equation: BMR = 655 + ( 9.6 x weight in kilos ) + ( 1.8 x height in cm ) – ( 4.7 x age in years ) or for those that hate math, http://www.bmi-calculator.net You will get the amount of calories your body needs to sustain life.

2.Voluntary activity: This is any type of activity you do whether in the form of weight training, cardiovascular exercise or taking the stairs at work.

3.Thermic effect of food: Your metabolism increases after eating a meal. In other words, it takes calories to eat your food as well as digest it. This accounts for about 10% of the energy out equation.

4.NEAT or Non-exercise activity thermogenesis: We don’t really have a way to calculate this. You may try to use a bodybugg or something to that nature. But the translation is this, people that jitter, pace, walk around, and are anxious or “hyper” will actually burn more calories in their jittering movements. There is no percentage allocated for NEAT, there is not an accurate measure for NEAT at this time.

So now you have the information for both sides of the equation, energy in=energy out. How do you calculate this effectively? How many calories do you add to your BMR to get the amount of calories you need in order to get the result you want? Some people will add 500 calories to the equation. There is also a standard EER that the DRI will use to calculate how many calories you actually need. But as you can see, the energy out side of the equation is a bit messy. Can you really know your thermic effect of food or NEAT or even when you do weight training are you actually burning the same amount of calories that it says in your calorie counter? It is unlikely. The closest to perfection we get is with the energy in. Maybe that is why so many people love to count calories, but the reality is many people just try to go lower and lower with the calories without really knowing how many calories their body needs. Many competitors are eating way too little and would get better results by actually eating more food. So here is a fun exercise to do in the off season, since most of us don’t have an off season plan anyway. Here is something you can do that will set you up for great success the next time you go into pre-contest diet mode.

Count your BMR and add 500 calories, then count your calories each day to see that you are eating that amount of calories. Workout with your typical off season schedule, then weigh yourself each week. When you are consistently staying at the same weight for 4 weeks that is a good gauge of how many calories you will need in order to stay in homeostasis. Then when you get ready to compete you can tip these scales slightly by decreasing calories by about 200 and adding cardiovascular activity. You will then see a smooth steady weight loss of about 1 pound a week, which will give you the most sustaining results.

That ought to keep you busy in your next off season.

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