Good or Bad Calories? Are You Calorie Wise?
JED WIGHTMAN PERFORMANCE/SPORTS NUTRITIONIST ADVANTAGE FITNESS LTD
This article has been written for Canadian Physique Alliance – September/October 2020 Edition
Good calories, bad calories? This is a very important question and also correlates to something commonly and in my opinion irresponsibly used today in our Bodybuilding, health and fitness nutrition programs / plans; Macros.
First we must understand that no calories are created equal even though that numerically they are the same regarding protein, carbohydrates and fat. For example; there are 4 cal. per gram of protein, there are 4 cal per gram of carbohydrates or 9 cal per gram of fat, no matter the source. For the experienced individual this is well-known for the layman not so, and for individuals without knowledge or experience can be greatly misleading.
When we think about calories we think immediately that too many is bad and less is better, now I don’t say this from my personal opinion, but this is the feedback that I get from a great number of clients. “We must eat fewer calories if we want to lose fat and if we eat too many we will get fat”.
Unfortunately, this archaic and simplistic rule is very spurious. Sure if you eat a little bit of calories as opposed to a lot of calories you’ll probably lose weight. And if you eat a lot of calories as opposed to a little bit of calories you may very well gain weight. But what are we looking for here? We are looking for the loss of body fat, and we are looking for the gain in muscle mass.
The importance here is the source of the calories and then it’s the amount of calories. To gain muscle mass we need a substantial amount of calories to keep our body in an anabolic state. In that we need to have a substantial amount of those calories coming from complete proteins. Now to have that protein effectively synthesize (to do its job) we also need to have fat but what kind of fat?
Now before I get any further into that, for the process of muscle gain carbohydrates are not essential, maybe we still can without them but it’s very slow and very much a diminished return. So to gain effective muscle and put on the necessary amount of muscle that we need for the sport that we are so deeply involved in and love so much, they do have a very necessary place. That’s because carbohydrates promote the stimulus of the hormone insulin and insulin is the most anabolic hormone that we can have in our bodybuilding regimen. Trouble is, eat the wrong kind of carbohydrate, too much of it and that insulin production is a flood as opposed to a pulsatile release and we promote body fat because although insulin is our most anabolic hormone it is a catalyst to fat storage.
Coming back to fat, we need a certain amount of essential fat. We can eat less protein and use it more effectively if we have a basis of essential fat as that’s what allows protein to synthesize effectively into the muscle cell. Essential fat is what constructs our lipid layer cell membrane. Moreover, we can also greatly benefit from a small amount of saturated fat because of what this does for hormones as well. Remember I said above that each gram of fat has 9 calories of fat. That is much more calorie dense than carbohydrates but I tell you what, if you eat more carbohydrates from refined and simple sources even good complex sources because of the insulin mechanism you’re going to put on a substantial amount of fat. Carbohydrates can be manipulated, cycled if you will, as effective positive nutrient partitioning agents. However, if you eat the wrong kind and you overdo it you’re turning those carbs into fat.
So if you eat the right kinds of fat and complete proteins, both positive nutrient partitioning agents, without the insulin components involved, you’re not going to gain fat, You actually lose body fat because you’re in an insulin depressed state which increases what we call insulin sensitivity whereby releasing body fat as a usable source of fuel.
Negative nutrient partitioning agents like saturated fats and chemically altered fats like trans fats, eaten in high amounts means you are putting macro nutrients in the wrong place. Your stored body fat levels will increase in genetically predisposed areas. You are gaining unnecessary amounts of fat in your blood and it is important we keep this in check to better manage our cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
So now to calories, we all have what’s called a resting metabolic rate we need to eat more calories than what we burn at rest plus the amount of calories we burn and exercise to be able to put on muscle. The common place rule is if you reduce the amount of calories lower than your exercise level plus you’re resting metabolic rate you’ll lose fat. But this is not an umbrella that dictates this rule as fact/truth to everyone.
There are so many components that affect us such as a person’s natural metabolism. Some of us have an incredibly fast metabolism while others, sluggish. That’s not even adding in the equation of supplements, ancillaries, fat burners or pharmacology.
I have a client for example who is a figure competitor with an insane metabolism who can eat an enormous amount of food (carbs especially) and get shredded. I have also had a super heavy weight bodybuilder that to get shredded had to eat less than 2100 calories a day.
So we must take into great consideration what source of calories, how many calories, who we are dealing with and how their body is affected by all of the above. To do this we must have an experienced information resource that doesn’t just propagate fallacious rhetoric of diets given to them then blanketed on to others. We must run trial based analysis on how a person’s body will individually respond to nutritional protocols to find what fits best for them and this can also change as the person gains more muscle, maintains a lean offseason weight and doesn’t get overly fat. It’s a constant tailoring of a person’s individual parameters that must be always monitored.
There are good calories and bad calories certainly and macros play a huge part in that as well but if you want to be healthy if we want to have the best results we can’t just look at these terms and apply a one size fits all approach. Yes it may seem simple yet it is so very specific and no matter what, there is no such thing as one size fits all. One half cup of cooked rolled oats yielding 25 g of carbohydrates is not going to do the same thing as the same amount of carbohydrates coming from chemically processed refined sugar.