Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

Filtering by Category: "adipose"

Day 339 - Calories

We live in a society that is constantly swayed by trends. Recently, one major trend that is taking over is counting calories. You would be pretty hard-pressed to go somewhere without seeing some sort of mention of calories. Restaurants print them on menus (not always accurate, only an estimation), food companies print them on packaging, diet and exercise claims on the radio, tv, and in advertisements all claim to "burn more calories". The problem with mostly all of this is that majority of the population never stops to think or understand what these numbers or claims mean. Unfortunately they just get caught up in the trends.

I have made a list of calorie claims, myths, truths, and partial-truths below to help my readers understand how to decipher what they see and read out in the world today.

1. Calories Fuel Our Bodies

The term "calorie" was first coined in the 19th century for steam engine heat conservation. Basically, a calorie is a unit of energy required for 1 gram of water to heat 1 degree Celsius. It was in 1890 that the USDA first brought this term over to the food industry. Scientists would literally take a piece of food and light it on fire to see how much it would heat water. Some of you may remember doing this in science class, I know I do. The term "calorie" in the food industry should actually be "kilocalorie" as the calorie count you see on food packaging refers to the amount of energy required to heat 1kg of water by 1 degree Celsius, but everyone usually drops the "kilo" because we are all lazy...

There is also one problem here, our bodies do not have little fires raging in our cells to produce energy, we break down macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) to use their chemical energy. Also, instead of one enormous chemical plant, we have billions of little energy producers in our cells called mitochondria that are much more efficient. The problem that many people think and feel, is that all calories are created equal, when this simply is not the truth, which leads me to #2.

2. All Calories are Created Equal

When we eat stuff, i.e. food, the chemical makeup of that stuff must be broken down into smaller chunks to be absorbed, transported and utilized by our bodies. This is not a passive process which means that we need energy to digest, or in other words, we require energy to produce energy. (Takes money to make money right?) To assume that all calories are created equal is just silly.

Carbohydrates are the easiest macronurtient to digest and therefore has the highest yield. Carbs, also known as sugar, is nature's form of jet fuel for our bodies. The problem is, our society seems to pack more and more and more sugar into everything, leading us to the point where we would never come close to burning off as much of that energy as we take in, leading to adipose tissue (body fat)...but that is a different blog topic altogether. Anyways, carbs return about a 90-95% energy yield per calorie. What I mean by that is, for example, every 100 calories of carbs you take in, it requires 5-10 calories of energy to digest.

Fats actually have a slightly higher energy yield than carbohydrates, ranging in the ballpark of 95-96%, but this should not be alarming as our diets require much less fat than carbs. What this means is that in 100 calories of fat, it takes about 4-5 calories to digest.

Protein has the lowest energy yield, which can actually be very beneficial for weight loss. Only about 70-80% of protein calories consumed are returned to the body when digesting proteins which isn't all that surprising as the body greatly prefers fats and carbs for energy whereas protein is mostly used for tissue repair. Regardless, proteins are highly recommended throughout the day for those looking to lose weight or are highly active.

3. You Are What You Eat

We have all heard this term before, but don't think that everything you put in your mouth stays in your body and is digested. Just keep in mind, there are things that come out the other end - and that will be as far as I go with that! When you eat your food, your teeth chew it up, then the juices in your stomach break things down further into a paste. This paste then travels through your intestines where the nutrients are absorbed through the spongy walls. For most people, however, 5-10% of this paste just keeps passing on through and is expelled as waste.

For the most part, fat digests easily and passes through the walls quickly. Animal protein sources are absorbed better than plant-based sources. Then we come to carbs. Glucose and starchy carbs (i.e. chocolate, potatoes) are absorbed rapidly, whereas high-fiber carbs like in fruits, vegetables and grains take their sweet time passing through your system. Not only that, but fiber seems to prevent your body from absorbing certain calories and can even lower cholesterol levels. An equivalent amount of broccoli compared to an equivalent piece of chocolate may register as the same number of calories in a laboratory, but that does not mean that they act the same way in your body. Studies have shown that individuals with high-fiber diets have close to 20% of their daily ingested calories move through their digestive system without being absorbed. Less calories this way can lead to less body fat!

4. "I'll Just Burn it off at the Gym"

Many people grossly over-estimate how many calories they actually burn during a workout. Everybody has heard someone say (while reaching for a second helping of dessert), "Oh, I'll just burn it off later when I am (insert weak excuse for an exercise here)." Truth is, even the craziest of fitness nuts only burn, at most, 30% of their daily calories in working out each day.

Most of our calories burned on a day to day basis come from doing things like digesting food, thinking, breathing, repairing a cut to your leg/face from shaving, etc. This is known as our resting metabolic rate, which means you are burning a ton of calories even when watching tv! There are other daily activities can also contribute to our daily caloric expenditure that are known as non-exercise thermo-genesis (N.E.A.T.) such as walking up the stairs, walking your dog, having sex, etc.

I know what you may be thinking, "Hell, I don't need to exercise then!" Keep in mind that exercise causes a whole list of benefits too long to list in this blog, so I highly recommend you continue (or start) to exercise 5-6 days a week. Not only that, but a properly designed strength and conditioning program consisting of cardio and resistance training will raise your resting metabolic rate, mentioned earlier, so that the rest of the day when you are not exercising, you will burn more calories than the average person!

The best scenario in this case would be to exercise often, but to also make small changes in your life that can result in bigger changes over the long-haul. For example, if you live or work in a multi-storey building, take the stairs more often rather than the elevator. Park at the back of the parking lot when shopping to force you to walk a bit further, etc.

5. "Big" People Have Slower Metabolisms

There are many studies that show that thin people may potentially absorb and burn dietary fats quicker than their "bigger" counterparts, but this topic is definitely false. When referring to the "resting metabolic rate" (RMR) discussed in #4, studies have shown that the average man requires 11 calories per pound of body weight for their RMR, even if they sat in front of the tv all day. If you do the math, you would quickly discover that the bigger you become, more calories are actually required to maintain your current weight.

6. Low Calorie Foods Help You Lose Weight

This seems to be a very hot-button issue as of late. Many people seem to think that eating "Low-Fat" or "Low-Calorie" food substitutes will help them lose weight. It looks and sounds good on paper! The problem here is that companies often remove fat from products, but replace with either sugar or artificial sweeteners or in high-sugary foods, they remove natural sugars and replace with zero-calorie artificial sweeteners. The problem arises when those "zero-cal" sweeteners hit the bloodstream. A long story short, the body thinks its taking in sugar (and calories) when in fact the artificial sweeteners are useless which causes a blood-sugar dip causing you to crave guess what, more sugar!

More and more studies are coming out detailing how individuals who frequently consume things like "Diet" sodas and low-cal foods are actually gaining weight in the process, oh, the irony! The ideal situation here would be to remove soda from the diet and replace with another zero-cal beverage...water!

Quote of the day:

"It is not enough to take steps which may some day lead to a goal; each step must be itself a goal and a step likewise."
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Check out my new Website: tylerrobbinsfitness.com

Day 237 - Fat

Simple title, straight and to the point. But what fat am I referring to, body fat or fat in our diet. Some of you may say, "What's the difference?" I say, "Sounds like you need to keep reading!"

Most often, when people begin an exercise program, their reasons for doing so almost always include the goal, 'to lose weight'. They aren't really wanting to lose weight though, they are wanting to lose body fat which is known as adipose tissue.

The human body needs a certain amount of body fat. It is packed in and around our bodies in specific areas (usually determined by genetics) for a myriad of reasons such as insulation, protection (shock absorption) and as a stored fuel source. Women tend to store their body fat in areas around their hips, buns and thighs, where guys tend to pack on the adipose around their midsections, although there are plenty of exceptions to this!

As I said previously, we need adipose tissue to survive and live healthy lives, as having too little body fat can be nearly as detrimental as having too much. In a general sense, men should aim for around 8-15% body fat percentage, wheras women should be closer to the 20-25% range. Anything above 25% for men, and 30% for women is deemed "obese".

It is important to try and stay in these body fat percentage ranges because research has shown that people that can maintain healthy body fat percentages have a decreased risk for things such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, etc. Oh, and I wouldn't worry too much about dropping too low on the body fat scale, as it is quite difficult to do unless you are an olympic athlete training for hours every day, or have an eating disorder that needs to be discussed with the proper medical authorities.

Back to the topic. I am going to discuss a few topics regarding 'fat' below that should help clear the air on some things that some people have either heard or wondered about.

1. How do I calculate my body fat percentage?

There are very expensive and complicated systems that will calculate your body fat based on xrays, and electrical impedance, etc. or you could try at-home methods, its up to you. Keep in mind that calculating your body by using one of those scales where you step on it and it registers your body fat percentage is quite inaccurate.

I recommend buying a simple body fat caliper and looking online for different websites that will calculate your body fat by using said caliper to pinch some skin folds at different spots on your body and plugging the numbers into a formula. Yes, these can also be somewhat inaccurate, but it should at least give you a rough idea and will do a good job ball-parking where your body fat percentage is so that you can aim to lower it if need be.

2. Muscle burns fat

Let me be perfectly clear here. When your body "loses weight", it loses not only body fat, but muscle mass as well. If it is starved for calories/energy, it will pull energy from any type of stored energy you have in your body, so don't think that your muscles won't be depleted as well. That is why it is critical to have a balanced exercise program consisting of cardiovascular and resistance training to not only improve your circulatory system, but to build your muscles as well. That way, as your muscles build, your 'resting metabolic rate' will increase as well.

Your resting metabolic rate is the amount of energy you require to survive at any time of the day. This includes thinking, breathing, digesting food, talking, etc. It also means that after a good resistance workout, your muscles are in "construction mode" rebuilding to be leaner, faster, stronger for next time which burns calories like crazy! Simple enough, the more muscle you have (men and women), the more calories you will be burning at all times, even when sleeping!

3. Dietary fat

Continuing on from #2, not only is muscle important, but the way you eat and strategize your diet is vital as well. Remember back to your high school days in science class when you learned about 'fat'. Fat is simply the term used for certain things based on their chemical makeup. Unfortunately the name 'fat' has been victimized over the years based on the notion that fat makes us fat, which is only partially true.

Dietary fat is 1 of 3 macronutrients that we consume in our diets. Fat has 9 calories per gram, carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, and proteins have 4 calories per gram. There are certain individuals that think, "Well, makes sense, fat is the most calorie dense, if I don't eat fat, I won't get fat!" This is the furthest thing from the truth! Adipose tissue in our bodies is storage of excess calories, not excess fat, so if you consume too many carbohydrates or too much protein, guess what, that will become body fat too! Don't believe me? Go and drink a 6-pack of beer a night and watch how fast that "beer-belly" grows! There is not a drop of fat in beer whatsoever! Not only that, pops and soft drinks don't have fat either, but they are now being attributed to the growing obesity epidemic.

I could go on all day, but we have further matters to discuss, but simply remember that yes, fat is more calorie dense than carbohydrates or proteins, which means that you should eatless of it, but don't cut it from your diet completely, because chances are, it is being replaced by more useless things like sugar! Dieticians usually recommend that at least 20-30% of your daily caloric intake should come from healthy fat sources!

4. Can I spot-reduce my body fat?

We have all seen the commercials promising to do 10 minutes of crunches on the "ab-destroyer 2000" and you will get a perfect 6-pack, wrong! As much as we would like to think that doing squats will eliminate body fat from our legs more than the rest of our body, or doing crunches will reveal that 6-pack, we have to take a better approach.

Truth of the matter is, when our bodies burn calories, and therefore, stored body fat, it is taken from stores throughout our bodies quite evenly. Again, women tend to have more storage around hips, thighs and buns and guys tend to store around their midsections more (in a general sense) so these 'problem areas' will tend to take longer to deplete, but keep at it, and you can get there.

The secret is a combination of a healthy diet (healthy fats, lean proteins, whole-grain carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables), and an exercise program that combines both cardiovascular and resistance exercise. Consistency with both of these variables and you will cut your body fat down to a healthy range!

5. I can never lose weight, I have a slow metabolism!

This may be hard for some of you to understand, or believe. Similar to when your body gains muscle mass, and your resting metabolic rate increases, research has shown that your resting metabolic rate actually increases the fatter you become. That means, the more body fat that you pack on, the more calories your body is actually burning at any given time...quickening your metabolism, not slowing it down!

Truth of the matter is, body fat increases when your caloric intake (the amount you eat) is more than your caloric expenditure, more or less. As people become heavier, they do in fact increase their resting metabolic rate, but tend to also eat more as well as they become hungrier and hungrier.

6. Weight gain/loss is a quick process

Truth is, losing weight and gaining weight are both actually a pretty slow process. It requires anywhere from 2500-3500 calories to gain a pound of body fat (and vice versa to lose). Many people who have a little dessert here or there make the comment, "Ugh, I feel fatter already!" Some may even weigh themselves after a big meal only to realize that they have gained a few pounds. Keep in mind that what we consume has weight to it as well and most of the 'quick weight' you put on after a meal is due to fluids.

Similarly, don't weight yourself immediately after a workout to think that you have lost a few pounds as that is almost entirely water weight that you lost through sweat that you will gain back as soon as you drink some water.

A consistent, healthy plan over an extended period of time is the best way to witness safe, healthy weight loss.
Quote of the day:
"Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity."
~ Oprah Winfrey

Check out my new Website: tylerrobbinsfitness.com