What is a Calorie?

Recently the question, “What is a calorie?” was posed on an early morning show. The responses inspired me to write this post. They spanned from, “I think a calorie is based on how….what it’s made up of…..I’m not really sure?” to, “Ummm, I’m not exactly sure what a calorie is, but I’ve always heard it’s kind of bad to have a lot of calories and things like that..” Confused yet?

A calorie is a unit of energy; more specifically, it is the amount of energy (or heat) needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water, one degree Celsius. Even more confused? You’re probably not alone. The key word from the definition above is “energy”. Calories give us the energy we need to keep us alive; we need calories for our brains to function, our hearts to beat, and for our lungs to breathe. We need calories for our daily activities: from working, to working out, and everything in between. All activities we partake in require a certain amount of energy. Strenuous activities need more calories than easier activities. Think of calories as gasoline for our body’s fuel tank.

When you read a consumable label that contains a certain amount of calories (such as 100, 200, or 300 kcals, etc.), it’s describing how much potential energy your body could get from eating or drinking it. Alternatively, if you know how many carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are in any given food or drink, you can compute how many calories it contains. For every gram: carbohydrates (CHO) contain 4.1 kcals, proteins (PRO) contain 4.3 kcals, and fats contain 9 kcals.

Example: 1 serving (½ cup) of Hood Low Fat Cottage Cheese—No Salt Added:

6g of CHO (6g × 4.1 kcals) = 24.6 kcals

14g of PRO (14g × 4.3 kcals) = 60.2 kcals

1g of Fat = (1g × 9 kcals) = 9 kcals

Total = 94 kcals

Although used synonymously, calories on labels are actually kilocalories (kcals), not calories. This is misleading because one thousand calories = one kilocalorie. In order to distinguish a kilocalorie on labels, a capitalized “C” in Calorie is used. Calories are not bad; they become harmful when we eat too many of them and don’t burn off enough, which leads to weight gain. It takes a reduction of thirty-five hundred kcals to lose one pound of fat. To gain one pound of lean muscle, it takes an increase of thirty-five hundred kcals. Want to know how to maximize fat loss or lean muscle gain? Want to know how many calories you’re taking in, and more importantly where they’re coming from (CHO, PRO, fat)? Contact Dan @ (978) 807-8579, or visit seachangefitness.net.

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