With the weather starting to warm up and failed New Year’s resolutions well within the rearview mirror, it’s time to start looking (again) at your fitness, weight, and health. Let me keep it simple and start by asking these three questions:
- How many calories do you eat per day/per week?
- How many calories should you be consuming per day?
- How many calories do currently burn throughout the day?
How many of these could you answer? (Give me two more paragraphs and you’ll get your answers)
Weight management is a numbers game. You may be getting tired of hearing about numbers and math, and statistical analysis in sport, and TAXES, and spreadsheet thinking, blah, blah, blah, but hear me out. Our body operates within an energy balance. This balance looks at the amount of energy you are bringing into your body (or food) versus how much energy you use throughout the day (or physical activity and metabolism). This balance, or lack thereof, is what results in weight gain, weight loss, or a maintaining your current weight.
Checkout at the following diagram.
To breakdown the scale diagram, the foods you eat can be classified as substrates or energy sources: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats (alcohol can also be put in here, which yields 7 kcal/g). A calorie is nothing more than a unit of energy (1,2). The INPUT side of the scale equals how many calories you are taking in per day via eating food. The easiest way to track your caloric intake is by keeping a food log or journal. Below are some online suggestions to do just that:
*** Be sure to check out Apps as well: Five Best Food and Nutrition Tracking Tools ***
Monitor your diet for a few days, see what foods have the most calories, and then track and distinguish a daily caloric average. How many calories are you typically taking in per day?
Once you have a number in mind, compare it to how many calories you should be taking in by using the following calculator: Estimated Energy Requirement Calculator. This calculator gives you your EER, or Estimated Energy Requirement. The EER calculator is a rough estimate of the OUTPUT side of your scale and you can make it more precise by breaking it down further. All of the following go into your EER:
- Basal Metabolism Calculator: This calculator will give you how many calories you burn a day just by being alive. By definition, it is the minimum energy expended to keep a resting, awake body alive (1).
- Physical Activity: You can find out exactly how many calories you burn during physical activity through a number of ways. One is to use the following list: Calories Burned During Exercise, Sports, and Activities. Another more accurate way is to use technology. Wearable technology like the Nike+ Fuel Band and Fitbit can give on-demand information regarding your calories burned and can keep a running total for you throughout the day.
- Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): Your body uses energy to digest, absorb, and metabolize food. This can equal up to 5-10% of total calories consumed (1).
So, that’s it. Add up your INPUT calories by using a food log or journal and then substrate your OUTPUT calories used by using the calculators and monitoring your physical activity. Energy IN vs. Energy OUT. Here’s the formula:
Your weight loss, weight gain, or weight maintenance all depends upon the numbers. If you consume more calories than you use, you’ll gain weight. If you burn more calories than you take in, you’ll lose weight.
See, simple math! The hardest part about doing this is finding the numbers and now you have the means to do that with the calculators, physical activity trackers, and food journals. Crunch those numbers and see where you’re at.
- Wardlaw, G. M., Smith, A. M., & Collene. (2013). Contemporary nutrition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
- Kenney, W. L., Wilmore, J. H., Costill, & Wilmore, J. H. (2012). Physiology of sport and exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.