Is a calorie just a calorie?


MYTH – All calories are equal, regardless of the food source.

Nutrition is confusing.  Everywhere you look, people are promoting different diets and approaches to eating. The most common mistake is the simple notion that a calorie is a calorie. Seems correct – foods contain calories and they all add up throughout the day. While that is true, not all calories are created equally, and learning this difference is a good first step in developing a better idea of how to be successful with weight management.


As a broad overview, people are predominately concerned with their macronutrient intake – carbs, fat, and protein – and how these three make up their total calorie count for the day.  While it’s true that these are your three main factors, and having a healthy balance of them in your diet is important, they aren’t created equally and need to be properly balanced throughout the day.

Carbs – the body’s main source of fuel, carbs are broken down into glucose. Stop fearing carbs! Carbs are our friends when the right types are eaten.  Focus on complex carbs found in vegetables and unrefined whole grains and avoid simple carbs found in sugars. One gram of carbs has 4 calories. For more information on carbs, check out my article in Training and Fitness magazine.

Protein – the main component of all our muscles, organs, and cells, protein is made of chains of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids – 9 of which are “essential” because they can’t be manufactured by your body and need to come from food sources. One gram of protein has 4 calories.

Fat – is necessary to build body tissue and cells, and helps with nutrient absorption. The majority of your fat intake should come from healthy sources and limited amounts of unhealthy fats. One gram of fat has 9 calories.

Who wants to eat less??

Who wants to eat less??

Obviously, with the calorie count of fats higher than both carbs and proteins, you need to watch your fat intake as it will add up quickly. So, how do you use this information to find a balanced intake?  Again, it’s not an easy answer. There are a lot of factors to consider when developing your breakdown of macronutrients such as, your health goals (weight loss / muscle gain / maintenance), activity level, current body composition, gender, and even the fact of learning how your body processes these nutrients (influenced by your body type).

A general ratio of 40% carbs / 40% protein / 20% fat is often used as a starting point and then manipulated based on how your body responds. In other words, does your body do what we want it to on this plan?  If you want to maintain your weight and this ratio has you losing weight, macros can be changed to reach your goal.

Don’t forget the Micros!

Another factor to keep in mind is micronutrients. They don’t get a lot of attention, but are vitally important to your health. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals found in food and shouldn’t be overlooked. This is my biggest issue with IIFYM eaters who thrive on junk (not all of you do this, I know) – they aren’t feeding their body the vitamins and minerals needed for sustained HEALTH. The good news is that if you eat a balanced diet with vegetables, whole grains, and fruit you’ll likely consume the right amount of micros. On the other hand, if you live off processed, packaged foods, you’re doing your body a big disservice and your health will take a hit.

Color = micronutrients

Color = micronutrients

Again, nutrition can be confusing, especially if you have health goals in mind. You need to properly fuel your body to do what you want it to do and figuring out the best way to do this isn’t always straightforward.  It often takes a little trial and error. If you have any questions about this, or want help finding your best meal plan, get in touch! Email me at and we can get you started on the right path!

About Ashleigh

I'm passionate about health and fitness. I work as a Health Promotion Specialist, a group fitness instructor, and also a coach for physique competitors / weight loss clients. I grew up as a competitive athlete, and have continued with this passion as a Women's Physique competitor. Research and writing is another interest of mine, which I use to share my knowledge with the general public.
This entry was posted in Bodybuilding, Education, Fitness, Health, Lifestyle, Motivation, Nutrition, Personal, Uncategorized, Wellness and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Tell me your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s