"Calories are king" is a widely-used term in the fitness industry . However, what does it actually mean and is it correct?

Food is fundamentally a fuel that provides us with the energy to move and function. Calories are the unit of energy for that fuel. The concept of calories has actually only been around for the last 200 years. It is defined as the amount of energy required to heat 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. This enabled basal metabolic rate to be calculated.

Basal metabolic rate or BMR is the number of calories your body needs to perform basic life-sustaining function. Literally the calories you need to just breathe, sleep, think and keep your heart beating. BMR is different for everyone. It will be relative to your size (height and weight), age and gender. Over and above that, you have to take into account your daily movement. Just sitting up and being sedentary requires more calories than your BMR.

From this very definition it is clear that everyone will be different and require a different number of calories to not only merely function but to just be you. Whether you are an office worker, an athlete, a construction worker, a student or simply male or female. This demonstrates that everyone’s diets should be and are different. Instagram and Youtube are full of “What I eat in a day” videos and they are utterly pointless and unhelpful. They are click bait, that is all. What works for or suits one person will not suit another. Not only for diets but for fitness and exercising. Burpees or HIIT are not the answer and neither are detox diets or the way one celebrity or influencer eats.

Food and drink provide us with a source of these calories. Sources which are vital for life. Proteins, carbohydrates and fats are the main macronutrients. The break down of these products by the process of digestion are what form the building blocks of the human body. Namely amino acids (from proteins), glucose (from carbohydrates) and fatty acids (from fats). All 3 of these macronutrients have had their moments in the social media and fad diet spotlight. In next week’s post I will discuss macronutrients in more detail and explain why all 3 are important and necessary to consume.

Calories are often portrayed to be “king”, in other words the most important focus above any so-called diet, because eating too much of anything (too many calories) will mean you put on weight. In the same manner, if you are looking to put on muscle and be the next Arnie, you won’t get there if you don’t eat enough calories to be in a surplus (see my last post on calorie surplus and energy balance).

To be very black and white, pizza is seen as “bad”, “unhealthy” or a “cheat” food. However, if all you ate was pizza but it was only 1000 calories of pizza, you would still lose weight. Cucumber is seen as a very “healthy” and “good” food and is indeed incredibly low in calories. Nevertheless, if you still managed to eat 3000 calories of it (please don’t try!) you would most certainly put on weight even if you were a relatively active person.

This is one of the reasons as to why the IIFYM diet trend was born (If It Fits Your Macros). It professes that as long as you eat the right amount of proteins, carbs and fats for your “gainz” or goals (and therefore the calories) then you could consume whatever foods and drinks you wanted. True, if you just look at calories alone. However, achieving healthy weight loss or a healthy lifestyle are not that simple.

What is required is a lot less sexy and unabbreivated. A balanced diet with plentiful colourful fruit and veg and whole foods is vital for all the fibre, macro and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that they provide. This is where the “calories are king” argument isn't really all that correct. If you eat too much of ANYTHING you won’t lose weight, regardless if it’s pizza or cucumber. However, it is still important (integral) to be aware of what you eat, to ensure you nourish yourself with all the necessary micronutrients, as well as the macronutrients. You can be slim but still “unhealthy” if you don’t provide yourself with enough macronutrients, vitamins and minerals for your cells to function properly.

Unfortunately, there is no magic diet or perfect amount of calories to lose or gain weight. The beauty is that we are all unique. My ethos is to ensure all my training programs and nutrition coaching strategies are personalised to each and every client. I spend time finding out their “whys” and the reasons for pursuing their goals. I make sure their diet is something they can enjoy while still eating the foods they love (in moderation!). Of course, there will still be a large element of change but small steps with consistency rather than all or nothing approaches will pay dividends in the long term.

If you would like to find out more and if you feel you need some help for motivation and accountability, visit my website www.fsandersfitness.com or email me directly at fsandersfitness@gmail.com