Look Good, Feel Great : Part 17 - all about calories

So far in Look Good, Feel Great we’ve learned  that most of us will lose enough fat simply by adding a regular exercise routine to our schedule and by cleaning up our diets a little. Hopefully, you’ve mastered all the basics like making sure you eat breakfast. controlling portion sizes, cutting down on fats, avoiding added sugar, eating one thirds lean protein and two thirds carbohydrates at every meal and eating smaller, more frequent meals

For 90% of us this should do the trick. If you’re one of the 90% and you’re happy with where you’ve got to now, then there’s no real need to follow this section at all! This is for those who want to go the whole hog and really get into the detail of food and drink.

Mr. Micawber

Everybody ‘knows’ that your energy intake is measured in calories, but what is a calorie? Ask this question casually at the next dinner party you’re at (first make sure there are no scientists invited!) and sit back and enjoy the resulting confusion, especially amongst those whose lives have been dominated by dieting!  Technically, a calorie is the amount of energy, or heat, it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). One calorie is equal to 4.184 joules, a common unit of energy used in the physical sciences.If you knew that - very impressive

If we ever think of them, most of us think of calories in relation to food, as in ‘this packet of crisps has 140 calories’. In fact, the calories on a food label are actually kilocalories (1000 calories = 1 kilocalorie). So that packet of crisps containing 140 calories actually contains 140,000 regular or 140 kilocalories. In other words one food calorie (of which you need two to three thousand a day) is really one thousand calories. I suppose someone somewhere thought it would be too depressing to talk about needing two million calories a day!

The same applies to exercise – when a fitness chart says that you burn about 100 calories for every mile you jog, it means 100 kilocalories

In fat loss terms, to paraphrase Mr. Micawber: “Daily calorie intake 3000; daily expenditure of calories 3100 result happiness. Daily calorie intake 3100; daily expenditure of calories 3000: result misery”

If you take in 3000 calories a day but only need (and so burn) 2500 you’ll gain weight at the rate of about 1lb a week

It’s important to understand that too much of any food (that is, surplus calories), no matter how ‘healthy’, will get stored as body fat. There is no such thing as an ‘eat all you want’ diet. If you see one advertised, beware. It will certainly consist almost entirely of foods with a low caloric density. That is, foods that have far fewer calories per 100 grams (or any other measure) than the majority of foods in our diet. Examples are lettuce, celery, broccoli etc. It’s almost physically impossible to eat enough of these to get into calorie surplus. But just eating these foods alone makes for an unsustainable diet for most of us

How many calories do I need?

Do you really want to know? NMTBP is not a big fan of calorie counting and calculating daily energy requirements, preferring to rely on common sense and a little education

Still want to know? OK then, here we go. According to the Food Standards Agency the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) of calories for men is 2500. Fair enough, but, slightly disconcertingly the Department of Health pegs it at 2550. More interestingly, Help the Aged says that the average man needs 3000 – 5000 calories per day depending on activity levels, while at the other extreme the US Department of Agriculture recommends that the average sedentary male aged 51+ takes in 2000 calories a day!

Good to know there’s such consensus among the experts!!

Quite apart from the wide variety in these numbers, the problem is that they’re for Mr. Average and none of us likes to think of ourselves as Mr.Average.

A slightly more sophisticated method is to use your own body weight to calculate your Daily Energy Requirement (DER) as follows to:

- Maintain your current weight 15 –16 calories per lb. of body weight

- Lose weight 12 –13 calories per lb. of body weight

- Gain weight 18 – 20 + calories per lb. of body weight

So using this formula, if you weigh 200 pounds your DER, if you want to maintain your current weight, is 200 x 16 = 3200 calories. If you want to lose weight then your DER is 200 x 13 = 2600 calories. This is better in that it’s more personalized and easy to calculate, but it doesn’t take into account factors such as activity level, gender and ratio of fat to Lean Body Mass (LBM). Let’s face it, if you’ve got this far and really want to know your DER, you probably want something even more precise, so here it is. Get you calculator out – you’ll need it!

A commonly accepted method for calculating your DER is to first determine your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and then multiply the BMR by an activity multiplier. There are 2 popular formulas that you can use:

• The Harris-Benedict Formula, and

• The Katch-McArdle Formula

Let’s work through both formulas so you can choose to use the one that’s more suitable for you

Harris-Benedict Formula

The Harris-Benedict formula uses the factors of gender, weight, height and age to determine BMR. Remember though that it doesn’t take into consideration LBM, and so won’t be accurate for the extremely muscular or the extremely overweight

The formula is: BMR = 66 + (13.7 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) - (6.8 x age in years) OR BMR = 66 + (6.213 x weight in lbs) + (12.69 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)

So for a 55 year old man who’s 6 feet tall and weighs 200 pounds the calculation is:

BMR = 66 + (6.213 x 200) + (12.69 x 72) - (6.8 x 55)

BMR = 66 + (1242.6) + (913.68) - (374)

BMR = 1848.28 calories

You now need to multiply this BMR by an activity factor as follows:

- Sedentary (desk job, with little or no exercise) = BMR x 1.2

- Lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) = BMR x 1.375

- Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) = BMR 1.55

- Very active (intensive exercise/sports 6-7 days/week) = BMR x 1.725

- Extremely active (intensive daily exercise/sports & physical job or twice per day training for marathon, races, fitness contests, etc.) = BMR x 1.9

So if our man is ‘lightly active’ his DER is 1848.28 * 1.375 = 2541 calories

Katch-McArdle Formula

If you know your LBM, this is daddy of them all and the most accurate. The formula is:

BMR = 370 + (21.6 x LBM in kg) OR BMR = 370 + (9.8 x LBM in lbs)

So for a 55 year old man who weighs 200 pounds and has 20% body fat (40 pounds fat, 160 pounds lean) the calculation is:

BMR = 370 + (9.8 x lean body mass in lbs)

BMR = 370 + (9.8 x 160)

BMR = 1938 calories

As with Harris-Benedict, to determine the DER from BMR, you again multiply BMR by the activity multiplier

So our ‘lightly active’ man’s DER is 1938 x 1.375 = 2665 calories

So there it is. Which one you use is up to you. You’ll see that the result using the different methods isn’t statistically significant (2541 v 2665) so you pays your money and you takes your choice. Our preference is for Katch-McArdle, as it takes lean body mass into account

Whichever one you choose, always keep in mind that you should do everything you can to preserve, and, wherever possible, build up, your LBM

So now you know your DER – what next? The first thing to note is that this DER is what’s called your maintenance level. In other words, it’s what you need to stay at exactly the same weight and fat as you are now. So:

• To lose fat, you need to create a calorie deficit by reducing your calories slightly below your maintenance level, or by keeping your calories the same and increasing your activity above your current level, or both

• To gain muscle, you need to create a calorie surplus above your maintenance level, and engage in a program of strength training

If you examine the statements above one thing seems clear – you can’t lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. That’s because of the opposing demands these goals impose on your body. To build a lot of new muscle tissue, your body needs energy. In other words, you’ll need to overfeed - to consume more calories than you’re burning each day. To lose fat, you need to underfeed - to consume fewer calories than you burn. It would be nice if the energy your body needs to build new muscle tissue came from stored fat, but it doesn’t – it comes from the calories you eat

Adjusting calories for fat loss

The maths is simple –

• There are 3500 calories in a pound of stored body fat.

• If you create a 3500-calorie deficit per week through diet, exercise or a combination of both, you’ll lose one pound

• If you create a 7000 calorie deficit in a week you’ll lose two pounds

The calorie deficit can be created through diet, exercise or preferably with a combination of the two

The key, and NMTBP can’t stress this too highly, is patience. Resist the temptation to create too large a calorie deficit too quickly. Why? Well it’s all to do with our old friend the starvation response. An energy deficit that’s too large or maintained for too long will eventually invoke the starvation response and slow your metabolism. Our recommendation is that your energy deficit should be no more than 15% of your current DER

So if your current DER is 4000 then your maximum energy deficit should be 600 calories i.e. you should aim to consume 3400 calories a day. If it’s 3000 then the deficit is 450 calories and so on

The key point is that the deficit isn’t so large as to trigger the starvation response, a slowdown of your metabolism and the end of your fat loss

Remember that, while you’re in energy deficit, you MUST keep doing strength training to preserve your LBM.

Adjusting calories for muscle gain

This is easy right? Just pig out as much as I want?  WRONG!

Remember the maths – any surplus energy not used will be stored as fat. So eating food willy nilly, even if you’re doing a lot of strength training might end up with you putting on some muscle, but also putting on fat. Yes folks, while you can’t usually build muscle and lose fat at the same time, you sure can add both fat and muscle at the same time

So as much, if not more, discipline is needed to gain muscle without gaining fat at the same time

There’s quite a lot of debate as to how much muscle you can gain in one week without gaining fat, with 1 - 2 pounds being the accepted range. In our view even 1 pound a week is pushing it, and we would much rather you aimed for half a pound of muscle a week. Think about it – that’s 26 pounds of muscle added a year!

Now here’s the thing – one pound of muscle contains 600 calories (as opposed to 3500 calories per pound of fat). So to build a pound of muscle you don’t have to up your energy intake as much as you have to reduce it to lose fat

This simple fact is often overlooked by those seeking to build muscle, so they usually over-consume calories and get frustrated when they put on fat as well as muscle

This is where the Katch-McArdle formula comes in particularly useful. Let’s say that at present you weigh 180 pounds (20 pounds body fat, 160 pounds LBM) and that you’re ‘lightly active’. Using Katch-McArdle your current DER is 2665 calories. Your target is to build up to 190 pounds (still 20 pounds body fat, now 170 pounds LBM) and you’re stepping up your training schedule so that you’re ‘moderately active’

So your target DER at those figures is (370 + (9.8 x 170) x1.55 = 3156 calories.

But don’t immediately start creating an energy surplus of 500 calories a day. You have to build up slowly, giving your muscles time to grow. Create an energy surplus of no more than 200-300 calories per day, no matter what your current and target DER. If you can ensure that all these calories come from protein so much the better, but don’t sweat it if not

Counting Calories

OK, that’s the theory – now comes the painful bit! Before you can calculate how much energy intake you need each day to either strip away more fat or to add more muscle per year, you need to know your actual DER. Sorry folks, but the only way to do this is to write down everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) you eat and drink for a week. At the end of the week sit down with a calorie counting book and total each day’s total intake. Then add the seven daily totals and divide by 7. Bingo - you’ll have your daily average energy intake. If you haven’t gained or lost weight during the seven day period this is your current DER

You may be (unpleasantly) surprised at what this is!

The next step is to move to whatever your new DER is depending on whether you’re going for fat loss or muscle gain. To do this you’re going to have to continue to be disciplined and record everything you eat and drink. You’ll need to read labels, count calories using your calorie counting book, and weigh or measure everything. You’ll need a good food scale, and a set of measuring cups. For any packaged foods you’ll need to read the food label. With anything that doesn’t come with labels (e.g. fresh meat, fish and veggies) use your calorie book to look up the food or drink values. The best calorie books have typical values for takeaway and branded (e.g. Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s) food chains. Sadly, you’re on your own at restaurants, or when you eat out at functions or at friends – you can estimate, you can ask, but you can never be precise – one of the frustrations of calorie counting. Don’t moan – you wanted to do this!

If you’re really going the advanced route we recommend you do this for around three months. After three months you’ll pretty much be an expert on calories and have a good handle on the caloric values of virtually every food and drink you consume frequently. For anything new you’ll know where to look (food label, calorie book etc).

OK, so now you know about calorie counting. This should take you from 90 to 99% of the way there. Hopefully you’ll be satisfied! If not, look out for part 18 next week!

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April 20, 2012

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