I read a terrific article the other day about calories and it made me realize that many of us don't really focus on the quality of our calories. First off, contrary to popular belief a calorie is NOT a calorie. What that means is that carbs, fats and protein calories are not equal because the body processes each in a distinct way, and these differences have a definite affect on weight management and health. Think about it, two different people eat 2000 calories a day:
Person #1 eats those calories in the form of no breakfast (cause they hate breakfast!), a small burger and fries for lunch with a diet Coke (cause there's no calories, so it must be good..right?) and a pint of Ben and Jerry's for dinner.
Person #2 eats those calories in the form of a protein smoothie with all the goods in it for breakfast (400 calories), an apple and small handful of almonds for a snack (250 calories), a flat bread wrap with turkey, spinach, cucumbers and mustard with a clementine for lunch (300 calories), a yogurt with cottage cheese and kashi go lean cereal for another snack (350 calories), and tilapia fish with a big green salad, sweet potato, and grilled asparagus or brocolli for dinner (450 calories). Later that evening they want a small snack so they have a serving of edamame or a small protein smoothie (150 calories) and they go to bed feeling content, healthy and never hungry with a metabolism that has been fired up all day long and keeps working happily all night long as they sleep!
Same amount of calories for the 2 different people, but which one is going to be the leaner, lighter, healthier person? Easy answer! (and if you said person #1...we've got some problems!)
Here is how this breaks down:
#1 The energy cost to metabolize fat, carbs and protein is different.
Did you know it takes energy to digest, absorb and metabolize the energy in food? The body uses different amounts of energy to process different energy containing nutrients. It takes more energy (in general) to burn protein than carbs. And, it takes more energy to process carbs than fat! Don't get me wrong, we need all three of these beneficial macronutrients, but we need to utilize them in the right manner.
#2 Calorie restriction SLOWS your metabolism.
So, if you think that just by cutting back on your caloric intake that you are going to lose weight, you are right at first. Then what happens is your body will metabolically adapt to your intake and your body will literally run cooler to conserve the reduced number of calories you are eating. Which means you are right back where you started, but hungrier!
There is an interesting study that involved elite female gymnasts and distance runners. The study found that those athletes who had inconsistent caloric intake in regards to their caloric needs tended to have more body fat and were less lean than the runners and gymnasts who timed their nutrient intake to supply their bodies with the necessary fuel to keep their metabolic rate healthy and muscle mass sufficient. It is also interesting to note that this study showed that even if these athletes took in the same number of calories, the athletes that distributed their calories most evenly throughout the day were those that were leanest and healthiest!
#3 Protein reduces appetite.
In general, protein will reduce your appetite more per calorie than fat and carbohydrate. Basically what this means is, if you just include more lean protein in your daily nutrition you will most likely eat less without even noticing because you will feel more full. Here are the results from a study conducted by the University of Washington School of Medicine: "In a recent study from the University of Washington School of Medicine, 19 subjects were fed each of three diets sequentially. For two weeks they followed a weight-maintenance diet comprising 15 percent protein, 35 percent fat, and 50 percent carbohydrate. For the next two weeks they followed a high–protein diet of equal calories. The macronutrient breakdown of this diet was 30 percent protein, 20 percent fat, and 50 percent carbohydrate. Finally, the subjects switched to a high-protein diet with the same macronutrient breakdown but no calorie restriction—subjects were allowed to eat as much or as little as they pleased (or “ad libitum”). They stayed on this last diet for 12 weeks. "
The authors of the study reported that when subjects switched from the low-protein weight maintenance diet to the high-protein weight maintenance diet, they started feeling much fuller despite the fact that they were consuming the same number of calories. Even more significant, during the unrestricted high-protein diet phase, the subjects voluntarily reduced their daily eating by 441 calories per day and lost almost 11 pounds, including more than eight pounds of body fat, on average. They actually felt more full and yet, were eating less cause they weren't hungry. Oh yeah- and lost weight and more importantly, body fat!
#4 Eat your fiber.
Fiber is a form of Carbohydrate that contributes to feeling full without contributing calories, because it is not absorbed into the body. So, a calorie inside a high fiber food is not equal to a calorie inside a low-calorie food.
#5 Time your eating to affect calorie effectiveness.
Have you ever heard the term "thermic effect of Food" (TEF)? It's basically just a fancy name for the energy used up as a result of digesting and absorbing food. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that TEF is higher in the morning than in the evening. We actually burn more calories in the morning! A Japanese study found that boxers eating six meals a day lowered their body fat percentage significantly more than boxers who ate exactly the same amount of calories in just two meals. This is a big deal for all you endurance athletes as well, because studies have also shown that people build more muscle and gain less body fat, or lose body fat, when they eat enough calories within 2 hours after exercise than when they do not, even if they eat the same number of calories over the course of a day! So, get your postworkout protein smoothie in you quick. It will not only help you recover more effectively from your workout, but will also keep you leaner and lighter.
Make a conscious effort to incorporate these tips into your daily nutrition and you should notice a positive difference. Focus on quality of calories vs. just the amount, eat consistently throughout the day, keep the protein coming, eat your fiber, and eat your breakfast to keep the fat off. Oh- and as long as I have your attention, DRINK YOUR WATER! 96 oz. a day sure is a good number to shoot for. You can thank me later!
Coach Keena is a regular contributor at TriEdge and has 15 years experience coaching and training hundreds of individuals. She s a USA Triathlon Certified Coach and holds additional certifications from the National association of Sports Medicine (NASM) and the American Council of Exercise (ACE) as a certified personal trainer. If you would like to contact Coach Keena go to: www.coachkeena.com.