Are All Calories Created Equal?

Gauging your caloric consumption without having an awareness of your energy expenditure is useless in gaining or losing body weight.
If getting into the best shape of your life was as easy as the multi-billion dollar fitness industry would lead you to believe then why aren't more of our friends, co-workers, or family members in the best shape of their lives? Look around and you will undoubtedly see the influence bodybuilding is having on our society today. With the bodybuilding lifestyle spilling over into the mainstream, more people have become increasingly aware of their caloric consumption.

This awareness has grown from our desire to lose body weight. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the growing number of obese people in the United States, there is more to energy balance than caloric consumption. Gauging your caloric consumption without having an awareness of your energy expenditure is useless in gaining or losing body weight.

Your Bodies Energy

Your body needs energy to carry out daily activities. This energy comes from the foods we eat. These foods are measured in units of calories. Energy balance between what is eaten and what is used determines if you will gain or lose bodyweight. If more or less calories are consumed, then weight is gained or lost. As simple as it may seem, the human metabolism is more complex. Fat, protein, and carbohydrates all have different and distinct nutrient functions in the body.

Fat, protein, and carbohydrates are all metabolized differently and are converted into bodyweight with different rates of efficiency. For example, take one thousand calories of brown rice and yams and an equal number of calories from brownies and cookies and they will probably burn at an equal rate over a campfire, and experience the same rate of oxidation. Yet, try and replace one thousand calories of brown rice and yams with brownies and cookies and you will see that all calories are not created equal.

The rate of oxidation, or the burning of the calories, is different for fats, carbohydrates and protein. The food you eat can either be broken down to create energy, converted into body tissue, or excreted. All foods release heat when they are broken down. This release of heat is measured in kilocalories. A calorie is a unit of heat. Practically speaking this unit is too small to be useful, therefore the kilocalorie is the preferred unit in metabolite studies. Not all foods are burned completely to produce energy.

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Some of them are only partially degraded to provide building blocks to support repair and growth. Generally speaking, the calories coming from protein are used for maintenance, repair, and growth of new tissues and organs. Calories from carbohydrates are used for energy. Calories from conventional sources of fat are prone to be stored as such since they already have the same molecular structure as body fat. The heat liberated from a particular food is thus a measure not only of its energy content but also of its tendency to produce heat. This is known as the thermogenic effect.

Increased thermogenesis means increased heat production, which correlates with increased oxygen consumption, and an increased metabolic rate. The more heat your body produces, the more oxygen it needs because heat can not be liberated in the absence of oxygen. Food efficiency is simply a measure of how efficiently a particular food is converted to body weight. Foods with high food efficiency are prone to be converted to body weight, while foods with low food efficiency are prone to be used as energy.

Understanding how your body will use the calories you consume can help you in setting up your nutritional program. Simply counting calories will not lead to bodyfat loss. Knowing that the heat liberated from a particular food, whether it is fat, protein, or carbohydrate is determined by its particular molecular structure, and that this structure determines its thermogenic effect. The higher the thermogenic effect of any particular food, the higher your metabolic rate. Know what you are consuming, but more importantly, know how your body will use your consumed calories. When planning your nutritional plan, remember that all calories are not created equal.

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