Taking Control of Your Energy Balance Part 5

To take control of your energy balance and make energy intake (dietary) and expenditure (exercise) decisions that are no longer adequately determined instinctually, you must know how much energy to ingest each day. I have previously explained how to estimate caloric maintenance level (the amount you need to maintain current body fat stores) and adjust it in conjunction with your exercise regimen in order to achieve the objectives you seek (e.g., fat loss, weight gain or maintenance). The take-home message was that once you know how much energy you require to maintain status quo, you can increase expenditure (the preferred alternative) and/or decrease intake if fat loss is desired. With overweight/obesity at epidemic proportions, this should be standard knowledge for modern man.

The energy contained in food is measured in basic units of heat called calories. A calorie represents the heat required to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius. This is a very small amount, so human energy intake and expenditure is typically measured in 1000-calorie increments called kilocalories. However, the term “calorie” is generally used instead for the sake of simplicity. Other terms used to denote this amount of energy include “food calorie,” “dietary calorie” and “Calorie” (i.e., “calorie” with a capital “C”).

Collectively, labels on food packages, new laws regarding menu labeling and Excel spreadsheets make it easier than ever to calculate the amount of dietary calories you consume each day. If this amount is less than the amount you expend, your body will have no choice but to access fuel stores. There are 3500 kilocalories of energy contained in a pound of fat, so every time your energetic ledger skews to a deficit of that quantity, you should lose a pound. However, to ensure it is predominantly fat being pared and that the loss is permanent (as opposed to the yo-yo fluctuations that dieters often experience), reduction should be slow. Generally speaking, a deficit of 500-1000 kilocalories per day that brings fat loss of approximately 1-2 pounds each week is a good plan of attack.

Once you know the daily energy intake that will allow you to work toward your objectives, you can balance your nutritional intake to provide optimum conditions for both fat loss and general health. The caloric content of a food is directly related to the amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat it contains. These three classes of chemical compounds are called macronutrients. Each macronutrient is needed for different functions within the body, but all contribute energy to the diet; for example, a gram of protein contributes approximately four dietary calories, as does a gram of carbohydrate. A gram of fat contributes nine, which means that fat gives us more energetic bang for the buck. This is why a low-fat diet is typically recommended when fat loss is the goal. Many foods consist predominantly of only one of these macronutrients, but there are some that have fair amounts of all three. Dairy products are an example, so to put this into perspective, consider 2%-milkfat cottage cheese. A glance at the label reveals that one serving (four ounces or one-half cup) of this product contains13 grams of protein, four grams of total carbohydrate and three grams of total fat. Multiplying the protein and carbohydrate totals by four and the fat total by nine yields 95 (52 + 16 + 27), which approximates the energy that the label indicates is contained in that amount of the product (97 kilocalories).   

Reference daily intake values for the three macronutrients have been established by the United States Department of Agriculture. These recommendations are expressed relative to the total amount of energy you consume. For example, it is recommended that 10-35 percent of total energy intake derives from protein. This means that if you multiply the total protein you have ingested throughout your day (measured in grams) by four, divide that product by the total amount of kilocalories you have taken in and multiply that quotient by 100, the product should fall within this range. Using the serving of cottage cheese as an example, four ounces contains 13 grams of protein, which contributes roughly 52 kilocalories to the 97 contained in the serving. Dividing 52 by 97 and multiplying by 100 reveals that 54 percent of this product’s energy comes in the form of protein. This is above the reference range, which means that another food consumed either during the same meal or at a different time of the day should have less of its energy contributed by protein so that the proper balance is achieved by the time all of your meals have been consumed. The recommended ranges for carbohydrate and fat are 45-65 and 20-35 percent, respectively. It is also important to recognize that while the energy equivalent of the three macronutrients is relatively constant in different foods (i.e., four, four and nine kilocalories for protein, carbohydrate and fat, respectively), all protein, carbohydrate and fat foods are not created equally with respect to how your body processes and uses them. So, in addition to ensuring appropriate proportions, you should also strive to satisfy each requirement by consuming specific foods within each category that are best suited for your purposes.

This article was originally published in New Living Magazine, which can be accessed on-line at www.newliving.com.





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