Are You Eating Enough Calories?
It’s the simple formula for weight loss posted on most every health and fitness website: Burn more calories than you consume. Seems easy enough, but for many, this translates to cutting calories too low or spending hours each day in the gym. Trying to flesh out all the numbers associated with calorie burn takes all the fun out of creating a healthier lifestyle. However, there is a middle ground.
Don’t Cut Too Many Calories at Once
To lose weight safely, as well as keep you from feeling lightheaded and sluggish, you’d ideally consume about between 500 to 1000 calories less a day than what you’re burning. Before you slash your calorie count by thousands of calories on day one, figure out how many calories you’re already eating at your starting weight and start slow. Cutting calories too much can slow your metabolism and while you’ll still lose weight, too drastic of a drop in calories could burn precious muscle, when the goal is to shed fat. Another reason why cutting calories too drastically is a problem is that it will affect your energy levels and make it harder for you to do more in the gym. Keeping your caloric restriction in check will keep your metabolism revved and ensure you stay relatively satisfied hunger and energy-wise. This approach allows for a gradual weight loss of about a pound or two a week depending on your level of physical activity.
How Many Calories are Enough?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests between 1000 and 1200 calories a day as a lower limit for dieting and says any caloric intake fewer than 800 calories per day should be monitored by a doctor. However, the general rule, based on the NHLBI Clinical Guidelines, is no less than 1200 calories a day for women and 1500 calories for men. But that calorie count may be too low for you depending on your starting weight. Remember also your body needs a certain number of calories just to perform functions like breathing, your heart beating, and for digestion. A new weight management program called Move!, administered by the VHA National Center for Health Promotion & Disease Prevention (NCP), offers the nation’s veterans these suggested calorie goals based on starting weight. This chart aligns with our Calories Needed for Goal Weight tool. As you reach a lower weight range, lower your daily calorie goal accordingly to continue to lose weight effectively.
Burning Calories through Exercise
If you’re exercising, you may need to eat more so that you don’t dip below that 500-1000 calories less than what you’re burning. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends between 150 to 250 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise or the equivalent of burning 1200 to 2000 calories a week through physical activity to prevent weight gain. Their Position Stand points to greater weight loss and enhanced prevention of weight regain “with doses of PA [physical activity] that approximate 250 to 300 minutes per week.” Ideally, this should also include two days of strength training. So you know, more than half of the members of the National Weight Control Registry, a group of weight loss maintainers, log more than 200 minutes per week. So what does this mean for your calorie burning efforts? How many calories you burn exercising varies greatly depending on your sex, age, starting weight, and prior fitness level. While it’s difficult to detect exactly how much you are burning because of variations in exercises and intensity level, use Calorie Count’s Activity Browser to give you a round-about number. You can also invest in an electronic device like theFitBit or a heart rate monitor for an even better estimate.
An interesting study found when people were shown the calories of a meal alongside the number of miles to walk to burn those calories, they ordered significantly lower calorie meals. 82% of respondents said they’d prefer physical activity based menu labels over labels with calorie information alone.
While this can be a motivator and the two are certainly connected, keep in mind that the goal to moving is not only to burn calories, but also to help reduce stress, maintain your muscle mass, and increase your cardiovascular endurance and fitness levels, all of which will help keep your metabolism fired up.
How your diet can affect your fitness: Learn What to Eat… When and Why!!!
if you want to lose weight, get stronger, gain size or maintain a healthy lifestyle, your diet plays such a huge part.
Food is fuel
Food is what fuels our bodies, calories are simply a measurement of energy. Some foods give more energy depending on how the body processes them — carbohydrates give a burst of energy while protein releases more slowly.
If you are about to head to the gym, you’ll need to be properly fueled in order to get the best workout. This is where quick release energy is needed; bananas, oats, dried fruit and so on are all good sources of energy if you’re about to work out.
If you’re not going to work out straight away then you’ll need food that will take you through to the next meal (even if that meal is an 11am snack). This is where protein and complex carbohydrates come in. Grilled bacon, poached eggs and a slice of wholemeal toast is a great breakfast for anyone who needs energy up until lunch time.
Food helps to repair the body
Let’s take strength training for example. Strength training of any kind will cause micro-tears in the muscle fibres, as these repair they get stronger. Your diet can help this process along. Foods such as quinoa, almonds, oysters, cottage cheese and lean minced beef can all help to repair your muscles. They contain all sorts of nutrients but the common factor is protein.
Fat is not your enemy
Even if you’re trying to lose weight, fat is not the enemy. The only reason fat has been labeled in this way over the years is because, per gram, it contains more calories than the other macro-nutrient (carbohydrates and protein). When trying to make food to aid weight loss, companies looked at this fact and decided low fat was the quickest way to cut calories from a meal.
The reality is that yes, an excess of saturated fat is bad for you but there are good fats out there and out body needs them.
Fish, meat, olive oil, eggs, avocados, nuts and similar wholefoods contain good fats that help the body to absorb other nutrients, provide storage spots for energy, play a role in brain development, and help to manage inflammation.
A serious lack of good fat can lead to vision problems, memory loss, mood swings and more, all of which are going to affect your fitness goals.
Balance is key
Losing weight, building muscle and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are all down to a balanced diet. Have treats in moderation and don’t cut out things your body needs. The only thing you can get away with cutting out completely is processed foods but don’t deprive yourself, life’s too short for that.
If you include the right balance of carbohydrates, fats, proteins and other nutrients in your diet then you’re going to be more productive, will recover quicker after tough workouts and you’re bound to lose some weight too. (Don’t forget, though, it is possible to overeat on these good foods so if you are looking to lose weight, it’s worth tracking your calories too.)