Calorie counting is often considered synonymous with a fitness plan. Whether you are looking to lose or gain, most of us have had a target for daily calorie intake at some point in our lives. Some diets, such as the 5:2, are entirely based on calorie counting.
But is counting calories a useful, scientific tool to help you on your fitness journey? Or does it lead us further from fitness?
What Are Calories?
First things first – what are you counting when you count calories? As we know, food and drinks provide our bodies with the fuel to survive and to be active. The amount of energy something gives you is measured in calories. In basic terms, if you use more energy than you consume, your body will use “reserve” energy from the body, and you will lose weight. If you consume more than you burn, you’ll gain weight.
Isn’t Calorie Counting A Simple Way To Reach Weight Goals?
On a purely basic level, yes. However, in our vast food and drinks industry, there are plenty of ways you can be very unhealthy whilst sticking to a calorie controlled diet. In losing your way by following calories, you can end up in worse shape than when you started.
Think of all the highly processed “low calorie” products on the market. The majority are sold as healthy products, and yet the nutritional value is minimal. You could live off these and lose weight in the short term. But in the long term your body would need fresh, unprocessed and nutritional foods to be healthy.
Equally, if you were looking to mass gain, you might think the answer lies in eating the fattiest and highest calorie foods you could lay your hand on. However, this would again leave you feeling unhealthy.
So Are Calories Ever Useful?
Calories certainly have their place when making diet choices. For example, comparing the calorie content in a gin and soda (around 100 calories) vs a pint of ale (around 203 calories) would help you make a drinks decision at the bar.
You’ll also often find that home-made dishes are far lower in calories than restaurant, or shop bought equivalents.
If you have a tendency to stray from a nutrition plan with set meals or snacks, you may find keeping to a calorie count an incentive to keep your extra additions healthy or at a minimum. However, you may need to look at your meal plan if you are unable to stick to it regularly.
How Should You Measure Foods?
Ensuring you have a balanced, nutritious diet should be your first priority. Each meal should contain 45-65% of carbs, 20-35% of fat and 10-35% of protein. Your food should be your fuel for the day, so foods that fill you up and give you a slow release of energy should take priority over foods that will give you an energy spike and crash.
You need foods that will allow you to live an active life. If you are struggling at the gym because you are starting to feel hungry, you need to adjust your nutrition plan. Each nutritional plan will be different for everyone. Before you count calories, listen to your body to decide on the fuels that you need.