Weekly column by fitness expert Cashel Hayden for the Waterford News & Star, in association with Kingfisher Fitness Club
THIS is a commonly asked question I get from people who are starting out on their fitness journey, trying to be more adherent with their diet, or simply trying to educate themselves on what exactly they are consuming within each food source.
So what exactly is a calorie? In layman terms I would define a calorie as “a unit of energy used by the body which is obtained from the food and drinks in which we consume”. Not a very complicated description, is it? Most people might expect a more scientific definition here, but why complicate matters when looking to understand a process, which if understood can be utilised quite well. Calories are usually measured as kilocalories where 1,000 Calories = 1 kcal.
‘Once we feel our health and body composition are in a good place we can then look to either build muscle, improve sports performance or more than likely both!’
A calorie can be broken down into the three main macronutrients, these include protein, carbohydrates and fats. These can be broken down again to a certain degree but this is not entirely necessary nor useful for the topic at hand. Each macronutrient mentioned above is equal to a different number of kilocalories.
Protein – 4kcal
Carbohydrate – 4kcal
Fat – 9kcal
These macronutrients will be split to fit within our desired energy intake, which will be different for everyone and what their goals may be. There is no “one size fits all approach” here but the principles remain the same when utilized with a certain degree of trial and error to find what works best for each person.
So each person will have a certain number of these calories each day that will allow them to have the required levels of energy for their day to day tasks, while also maintaining their current body weight. This can be referred to as somebody’s “Maintenance Calories”. Yes, very simple I know. There are many equations online which can help you calculate this number whereby variables such as your weight, height and activity level are used.
Then we have “The Caloric Deficit”. I have touched on this topic in previous articles. The key word here being “deficit”. As you’ve probably gathered to some degree, this refers to someone consuming less calories than their body requires to maintain their current body weight. This method is used when looking to lose weight. As mentioned above, calculate your “maintenance calories” and cut roughly 300 – 400 kcal from this figure. Track your weight at the same time each morning (or at the same time each day consistently) for a week or so. If your weight begins to shift downwards, you are in a deficit. If not you might need to lower calories again, or double check your training methods (if any) while also reanalysing your methods of tracking food to make sure you are remaining accurate with how many calories you consume each day.
We should also note; the more weight we lose – the lower our maintenance calories will become. i.e. If we are in a deficit for four weeks on 2,000kcal per day and lose 5kg, we will need to lower calories further if we are to continue losing weight, this is because our body has adjusted to the given calories and requires less food to function given the loss of overall weight.
Building Muscle / Performance
Once we feel our health and body composition are in a good place we can then look to either build muscle, improve sports performance or more than likely both! This will require us to be in what is simply called “A Caloric Surplus”. This is where we consume more calories than required to maintain our current body weight/energy levels. This will allow for optimising muscle growth and increasing energy and mood to a certain degree.
Making sure we do not overreach here is essential when looking to avoid excessive weight gain. While a certain amount of weight gain is perfectly normal, monitoring how fast we put on weight is helpful when looking to optimally make changes to most efficiently reach the desired outcome.
My Final Few Points
While there is no doubt that our nutrition has a huge emphasis on our progression, we must not let it take over our mind. Priorities for people looking to improve their nutrition should include the following from my experience; Maintaining a healthy relationship with food and their body image, taking diet breaks every now and again (these are essential in order to help shake off fatigue accumulated through constantly tracking everything you eat.) Aim for “consistency” over “perfection”. Allow for setbacks, nobody is a robot and gets everything perfect all the time. And finally, enjoy the process!
Lastly, I would also like to clarify that I am not a registered dietician. All advice disclosed here is simply advisory based on my qualifications as a fitness professional and personal experience and knowledge gained working with individuals and helping them reach their goals. The advice given is not designed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any health problem – nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician. Always consult your physician or qualified health professional on any matters regarding your health.
I hope someone found some of this information useful here, just some food for thought.
For any questions in relation to this topic or training, nutrition, etc. or for coaching inquiries simply message me on my business page on instagram @coachedbycashel_ or by email – [email protected]