If I asked random people around the gym to explain what calories are, the importance of protein, how different carbs are processed or how fat affects body function, around 80% of them wouldn’t have a clue. In your case however, after reading this page, you’ll be an expert on calories, protein, carbs, fat and fibre.
You’ll know exactly what calories and macros are, their function, how they are processed and where they are stored in your body.
So let’s get started!
What is a Calorie?
The best way to begin is with the definition of a calorie:
“One Calorie (kilocalorie) = The amount of heat required to raise 1 kilogram (1 liter) of water 1 degree Centigrade”
A calorie is simply a measure of heat energy. When food is metabolised, it releases heat energy. The more calories that are in the food, the more energy will be released when it’s burned. The word “calorie” is used interchangeably to describe the amount of energy in food and the amount of energy stored in the body as adipose tissue (body fat) and glycogen (stored carbohydrate).
Example – A Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut contains about 210 calories (and a 25-minute jog on the treadmill burns off about 210 calories).
Body fat is like your reserve storage tank for energy. When we talk about “burning off body fat” we are actually talking about releasing calories from your “storage tank” and burning them to fuel your activities. If you’re inactive, the body fat just sits there in storage until you need it. If you’re an average 185-pound man with about 18% body fat, you have 33.3 pounds of adipose tissue. There are 3500 calories in each pound of body fat, which adds up to a grand total of 116,550 calories of reserve energy in storage – enough to last you a long time!
Such a large calorie storage depot, combined with the body’s starvation response, explains why you can stay alive for so long without food (as long as you get plenty of water). Fasting has been studied extensively and there are many documented cases of people living for months without eating any food whatsoever.
Your energy reserves served an important evolutionary purpose, but only very small amounts of body fat are essential for health. In our modern society where famine is no longer the concern it was for our ancestors, body fat is today little more than an annoying cosmetic problem (and a possible health risk).
Thanks to tens of thousands of years of evolution, you’ve developed a body that is an incredibly efficient fat-storing machine. That’s the bad news. The good news is, by understanding calories and balancing your input with your output, you can easily lose fat or maintain a healthy and attractive body fat ratio.
A good analogy is to think of your body like a calorie storage bank and caloric energy like your money.
You store calories in your body the way you store money in a bank. You can make energy deposits and withdrawals from your body the way you would make money deposits and withdrawals from the bank, depending on how high your energy costs are.
When your energy costs are equal to the calories you consume, then all the calories you consume are burned immediately and no deposit or withdrawal of calories takes place – your balance stays the same.
When your energy costs are greater than the number of calories consumed, you will make an energy “withdrawal” from your calorie bank and your body fat “balance” will decrease. When your energy costs are less than the amount of calories you ingest, then you will make an energy “deposit” and your body fat “balance” will increase (excess calories go into fat storage).
The exception to this rule is when you are on a high-intensity weight training program to gain lean body weight. In this case, a small part of the calorie surplus is directed into muscle growth. Even when you’re training hard, if the calorie surplus is too large, the excess beyond what is needed for muscle growth will go straight into fat storage.
Diet Myths and Scams
“Eat all you want and still lose weight?” – WRONG!
Keeping track of calories (using portion sizes or counting calories) is just as important as keeping track of the deposits and withdrawals to your bank account. If you fail to pay attention to your finances and you make more withdrawals than deposits, you would soon find yourself broke and in debt. It’s the same with your body, although in the case of calories, the reverse is true: If you don’t keep track of your calorie deposits, you’ll soon find yourself with an overstuffed calorie account in the form of unsightly and unwanted body fat!
Despite the obvious importance of watching your caloric intake, many diet programs insist calories don’t matter as long as you eat the right “secret combinations” of foods.
For example, in 1961, a book called “Calories Don’t Count” was published by Dr. Herman Taller. The program was one of the first to promote high protein, very low carbohydrate diets (VLCDs). Others followed, the most popular of which was “Dr. Robert Atkin’s New Diet Revolution.”
The common denominator in most of these VLCDs is the claim that by removing most or all of the carbohydrates, you can eat an unlimited amount of calories from everything else (protein and fat). This is where the phrase “calories don’t count” originally came from and that’s why you hear about this idea so often. Unfortunately, the concepts of eating unlimited anything or of calories “not counting” are dead wrong!
According to the “calories-don’t-count” theory, if you eat certain foods, or certain combinations of foods, you can eat as much as you want and you’ll still lose weight. In our lazy and pleasure-seeking society today, this idea sounds wonderful, but this is physiologically impossible. The reason you lose weight on VLCDs without setting calorie limits or requiring calorie counting is because they tend to reduce appetite and cravings.
VLCDs allow you to eat more fat, which makes you feel full sooner. You also tend to get fewer cravings because eating fat and protein in the absence of carbohydrates levels out your blood sugar and insulin levels. The end result is you automatically eat fewer calories. The weight loss experienced on these programs comes from a calorie deficit, not from any “magical” effect of the diet itself. If you were to follow a VLCD, but you consumed more calories than you burned up in a day, you would still gain body fat. The often-made claim, “Eat all you want and still lose weight,” is one of the biggest and most common lies told in the weight loss industry.
The Law of Calorie Balance
This brings us to the law of energy balance; the first fundamental you must understand and obey if you want to get lean.
The law of energy balance says, if you burn more calories than you consume, then your body must tap into stored energy (fat / muscle) to make up for the calorie deficit and you will lose weight.
The reverse is also true: If you consume more calories than you burn each day, you will store the surplus and gain weight.
“To Lose weight, you must consume less calories than you burn each day.”
“To Gain weight, you must consume more calories than you burn each day.”
Points to Consider
“Too much of ANYTHING will get stored as fat – even healthy food.”
Too much of any food – even so-called “healthy” foods – will get stored as body fat. If you consume more calories than you burn, (you’re in a calorie surplus), it doesn’t matter what you eat; you will gain weight, usually in the form of body fat. If the calorie surplus is beyond what you need for muscle growth, then all extra calories will be converted into body fat.
“Small amounts of ANYTHING (even junk food) will probably NOT get stored as fat if you are eating fewer calories than you burn up.”
If you are eating fewer calories than you are burning each day (you’re in a calorie deficit), then even if you eat “junk food,” you won’t store it as body fat. This should not be interpreted as a recommendation or a free license to eat anything you want in small quantities because you can “get away with it.” Obviously calorie quality is also important. The good news however is that this point takes some of the pressure off you and allows you to relax your diet and enjoy “naughty” foods from time to time without guilt, as long as you do it in moderation. In other words, you can have your cake and eat it too, but you can’t eat the whole thing! This fits well with the 90/10 rule that I discuss with you in Option 1 of the nutrition section.
Typical Caloric Intakes
It’s useful to know the average person’s calorie requirements. The image above shows a 2500 calorie food intake.
Dinner: 6 oz. Atlantic salmon, 1 cup green beans, 2 pat butter.
According to exercise physiologists William McArdle and Frank Katch, the average maintenance level for women is 2000-2100 calories per day and the average for men is 2700-2900 per day.
These numbers are only averages, of course. Actual calorie expenditures can vary widely and are much higher for athletes or extremely active people. Some triathletes and ultra-endurance athletes may require as many as 5000-6000 calories per day or more just to maintain their weight! Endurance cyclists often slog down energy bars and high calorie carbohydrate drinks on the saddle, just to keep from losing weight by the hour! Calorie requirements can also vary among people with the same activity levels because of differences in inherited metabolic rates.
Typical calorie averages for men and women:
Maintaining weight: Men (average): 2700-2900 / Women (average): 2000-2100
Losing weight: Men (average): 2200-2700 / Women (average): 1400-1800
Gaining weight: Men (average): 3200-4000+ / Women (average): 2200-2500+
Factors that Affect Calories Needs (Metabolism)
Your daily calorie requirements depend on six major factors. A lot of it comes down to your daily lifestyle, activity and food intake.
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
BMR is the total number of calories your body burns for normal bodily functions, including digestion, circulation, respiration, temperature regulation, cell construction, and every other metabolic process in your body. In other words, your BMR is the sum total of all the energy used for basic bodily functions, not including physical activity. BMR usually accounts for the largest amount of your daily calorie expenditure – about two thirds. BMR is at its lowest when you’re sleeping and you’re not digesting anything. BMR can vary dramatically from person to person depending on genetic factors. You probably know someone who can eat anything they want yet they never gain an ounce of fat. This type of “fast metabolism” person has inherited a naturally high BMR.
Next to BMR, your activity level is the second most important factor in how many calories you need every day. The more active you are, the more calories you burn; it’s that simple. Become more active and you burn more calories. Sit on the couch all day long and you hardly burn any.
Your total body weight and total body size are also major factors in the number of calories you require. The bigger you are, the more calories you’ll require to move your body.
Lean Body Mass (LBM)
Separating your total weight into its lean and fat components allows you to calculate your calorie needs even more accurately. The higher your LBM, the higher your BMR will be. This is very significant when you want to lose body fat because it means the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn at rest. Muscle is metabolically active tissue, and it requires a great deal of energy to sustain it. The best way to increase your BMR is to increase your LBM. This is why you could say that weight training helps you lose body fat, albeit indirectly.
Metabolic rate tends to slow down with age. Therefore, the number of calories the average person requires also goes down with age. Fortunately, you can prevent and even reverse the age-related slowdown in metabolism by developing more muscle through weight training and nutrition.
Men usually require more calories than women. The average male has a maintenance level of 2800 calories per day. The average female requires only 2000 calories per day to maintain. The reason for this difference is not so much a sex-related issue as a body weight and muscle mass issue; the average man carries much more muscle mass than the average female and this explains the spread in calorie requirements between men and women. Except for individual genetically-related differences in BMR, a 140 pound man and a 140 pound woman would have the same calorie requirements if their activity levels were identical.
What 200 Calories looks like
Some foods have significantly more Calories than others but what does the difference actually look like?
Each of the images below represents 200 Calories of the particular type of food; the images are sorted from low to high calorie density.
When you consider that an entire plate of broccoli contains the same number of Calories as a small spoonful of peanut butter, you might think twice the next time you decide what to eat. Don’t forget that there are also other considerations when choosing which foods to eat, such as nutritive value and diversity of your food choices.
Remember, you have a fixed amount of Calories to “spend” each day; based on the following pictures, which would you prefer to eat?
Tracking your calories and macros can be confusing and a real pain, especially if you’re just starting to learn about nutrition and how food influences your workouts and alters your physique. Measuring 30 grams of protein for a meal can often be so confusing that many people just give up and go back to filling their plates with whatever is on the table.
To alleviate some of this confusion, and to clear up misinformation, I’m going to explain what macronutrients are (see below), and help you learn how to measure them better. Let’s learn about protein, carbs, and fat, and how to accurately fit each into your nutrition plan!
Protein is the actual raw construction material for body cells like bricks are for a building. Body structures made from protein include skin, hair, nails, bones, connective tissue and of course, muscle. Next to water, protein is the most abundant substance in your body, making up approximately 15-20% of your weight. Of most interest to people who want to gain muscle and lose fat is the fact that 60-70% of all protein in the body is located in skeletal muscles.
Proteins, carbs and fats are all composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, but it’s the additional presence of nitrogen that separates protein from the other macronutrients. Only protein can bring nitrogen into the body. Because muscle tissue contains most of the body’s protein and protein contains nitrogen, scientists can study the effect of dietary protein on muscle growth by comparing the amount of nitrogen consumed with the amount excreted (In feces, urine and sweat). If the intake of nitrogen is greater than the amount excreted, then we know that protein is being retained and new muscle is being synthesized. This is known as positive nitrogen balance. If more nitrogen is excreted than consumed, you are in negative nitrogen balance, indicating that protein is being broken down and muscle is being lost.
Tracking Protein Intake
Not everybody has a food scale, and no-one wants to look up every meal ingredient for the rest of their lives. So, here’s what 30 grams of protein looks like from various common sources. Use these photos as guides so you can quickly and easily measure your own protein needs! For example, if you need 150 grams of protein per day, you need around 5 of these protein portions per day.
Examples: (Each portion contains 30 grams of protein)
Hint: Hover over each food to reveal calories and extra tips.
One 4 oz Chicken Breast
Lean source of protein, contains potassium and vitamin B12
4 oz Lean Beef Mince
Good source of iron. Make sure you use premium lean mince and trim the fat on steaks for less saturated fat.
Five Whole Eggs
Excellent protein source! For less fat, use egg whites only.
One Scoop Whey Protein Powder
Very calorie efficient (low carbs and fat). Convenient for use when travelling.
Seven Rashers of Bacon
Contains protein, but also fat. If you want to keep your fat intake down, trim the fat off, or find an alternative.
¾ Block of Tofu
For vegetarians and vegans, is a good protein source. Made of soybeans and contains a lot of healthy fat.
6 oz Tempeh
Tempeh is another soy product. Along with protein and fat, you'll get a healthy dose of magnesium, iron, and vitamin B6.
7 Cups Quinoa
Quinoa is a complete protein and can be used as a vegetarian protein source.
Amino Acids - The Building Blocks of Muscle
The smallest units of a protein are called amino acids. Like bricks in a wall, amino acids are “the building blocks of protein.” Just as glycogen is formed from the linkage of numerous glucose molecules, proteins are formed from the joining of numerous amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that are required for growth by the human body. From these 20 amino acids, there are tens of thousands of different protein molecules that can be formed. Each protein is assembled from the bonding of different amino acids into various configurations. Growth hormone, for example, is a protein chain of 156 amino acids.
Amino acids are a lot like bricks. Individual bricks are building material that can be cemented together into a nearly unlimited number of structures such as a brick house, a brick wall, a brick oven, a brick chimney, a brick road, and so on. In the same fashion, your body takes the individual amino acids and “cements” them together with peptide bonds into various configurations to create muscle tissue and other body proteins.
Essential and non-essential amino acids
Essential amino acids (from nutrition only)
Out of the twenty amino acids, the human body cannot make nine of them. These nine are called “essential amino acids” and must be supplied from your food.
Non essential amino acids (made in the body)
The other eleven amino acids are called “non essential amino acids” and can be made by the body itself as required.
The Importance of Complete Protein
Complete Protein vs Incomplete Proteins
Foods that contain a balanced combination of all the essential and nonessential amino acids in the exact amounts required by the body for growth are called “complete proteins.”
In order for the body to synthesize muscle, all the essential amino acids must be available simultaneously. Any non-essential amino acids that are in short supply can be produced by the liver, but if an essential amino acid is missing, the body must break down its own proteins to obtain it. To prevent muscle cell breakdown, dietary protein must supply all the essential amino acids. If your diet is missing any essential amino acids, protein synthesis will be inhibited.
The complete proteins are those that come from sources such as:
Many grains and legumes contain substantial amounts of protein, but none provide the full array of essential amino acids. Beans, for example, are very high in protein with about 15 grams per cup. However, they are missing the essential amino acid Methionine. Grains are lacking the essential amino acid Lysine. It’s been frequently pointed out that combining two incomplete sources of vegetable protein such as rice and beans provides you with the full complement of essential amino acids. This may be true, but there’s a decided difference between simply meeting your minimum amino acid requirements for health and consuming the optimal quality of protein for building muscle.
Real food vs Protein Powders
Protein powder manufacturers throw around fancy words like cross flow microfiltration, oligopeptides, ion-exchange, whey isolates, biological value and they list numerous scientific references, and it sure sounds convincing. But don’t forget that the supplement industry is big business. The truth is that as long as you eat a sufficient quality of whole food proteins at frequent intervals throughout the day, it’s not necessary to consume any protein supplements whatsoever to get outstanding results.
Make no mistake, the best sources of protein come from real, natural, unprocessed quality foods. The problem is that all these lean protein sources tend to be more expensive and it can be tough to get enough protein within your budget. Also there comes the time when you just want some sweet chocolate or cinnamon-bun taste while getting your protein in at the same time.
Protein supplements are a simple and tasty method to fill your daily protein requirements and they are pretty cheap on a cost-per-serving basis.
The main advantage of protein supplements is convenience. Whey-based protein powders are an excellent way to get protein if you’re not consuming enough from whole foods, but they’re NOT better than whole foods. The human digestive system was not designed to process liquids all day long; it was designed to digest food. By over- consuming liquid protein supplements you’re only short-changing yourself on the thermic effects that solid food provides. Similarly, amino acid tablets provide no benefit that food cannot. Amino acids are nothing more than an extremely expensive way to get extra protein.
In this important section, you’ll learn about the various types of carbohydrates and which ones are best for increasing energy and losing body fat. You’ll learn that some carbohydrates are beneficial and some are harmful.
Unlike proteins, which are used as building materials, carbohydrates are used for energy, particularly for high-intensity exercise. Sports nutritionist Dr. Michael Colgan, author of “Optimum Sports Nutrition,” calls carbohydrates “premium fuel.” I’ve never heard a better definition. Fats are also used for fuel, but the difference is that fats don’t burn as efficiently as carbohydrates. It’s a common misconception that fat is a more efficient fuel source, but it’s not – it’s simply a more concentrated fuel source (nine calories per gram for fat versus four calories per gram for carbohydrate).
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred and most efficient energy source. Whenever carbohydrates are restricted, energy levels and performance usually decline.
There are simple and complex carbohydrates, starchy and fibrous carbohydrates, refined and natural carbohydrates, high-glycemic and low-glycemic carbohydrates. Some of these carbohydrates are good and some are bad. The good carbohydrates are your friends; they will supply you with energy and nutrients and help you get leaner and more muscular. The bad carbohydrates are your foes; they have a greater potential for fat storage, they are nutritionally void and rob you of energy.
Tracking Carb Intake
The following are examples of different types of carbs. Aim to stick mainly to complex carbs like oatmeal and vegetables, that take a little longer to digest, don’t spike your blood sugar as dramatically, and often contain more fiber than their simple counterparts.
Use these photos below as guides so you can quickly and easily measure your own carb needs! If you want to feel more full while in a calorie deficit, then select carb sources with less carbs per 100g (lower density of calories and carbs).
FIBROUS Complex Carbs: (Displays number of net carbs per 100 grams)*
* Net carbs = digestible carbs, i.e. total carbs minus fibre
STARCHY Complex Carbs: (Displays number of net carbs per 100 grams)*
* Net carbs = digestible carbs, i.e. total carbs minus fibre
FRUITS: (Displays number of net carbs per 100 grams)*
* Net carbs = digestible carbs, i.e. total carbs minus fibre
Processed Starchy Carbs: (Each portion contains 50 grams of carbohydrates)
Hint: Hover over each food to reveal calories and extra tips.
1 ¾ Cup Oatmeal
Low-cholesterol, lots of fibre, and contains some iron, calcium, riboflavin, and folate.
One Cup Brown Rice
Low in fat, cholesterol, and salt. Has fiber, and includes selenium and manganese.
Two Slices of Wholegrain Bread
Cheap and convenient carbohydrate source. Whole-grain is not the same as whole-wheat.
125g Cooked Pasta
Normally made of flour, eggs, salt and water. Most is made with semolina or durum.
How Carbs are Used and Stored
Fat is stored in the body as a backup energy source (“reserve fuel tank”). A 185-pound man with 18% body fat has 116,500 calories stored in his “reserve tank.”
Carbohydrates are stored in your muscles and liver in the form of glycogen, but in much more limited quantities. About 400 grams of glycogen can be stored in the muscles (1600 calories) and approximately 100 grams (400 calories) in the liver. Stored carbohydrates (glycogen) are your primary energy source (“main fuel tank”) for weight training and high-intensity exercise, so this explains why your energy will be low and your workouts will suffer when you don’t eat many carbohydrates (And if you don’t have the energy to work out hard, you won’t be burning much fat, will you?) Low carbohydrate diets are seldom appropriate for athletes or anyone else involved in serious training.
Your body is always burning a mixture of carbohydrate and fat for fuel. During low intensity, long duration exercise, most of your energy comes from body fat. Most of your energy also comes from fat while you are at rest (Although you don’t burn many calories worth of fat when you’re laying on the couch). During short bouts of high intensity exercise such as sprinting or weight lifting, glycogen (carbohydrate) is the main fuel source. Your primary fuel source also tends to change depending on which fuel is more readily available.
Your body can easily use fat for fuel and even in lean people, there’s enough fat stored to last a long time. However, carbohydrates are always the limiting factor in exercise and athletic performance because carbohydrates are the more efficient fuel source. Exercise burns up muscle glycogen very quickly and if you fail to replace it every day by eating high carbohydrate foods, your glycogen stores quickly diminish. Within about three days of a severe carbohydrate cutback, your muscle glycogen will be almost totally depleted.
The trick to fat loss then is to reduce the amount of energy in your fat fuel tank while retaining the energy in your carbohydrates fuel tank. This is done by gently encouraging fat loss with a conservative calorie reduction, correct macro ratios, well timed nutrition adjustments, quality weight training and consistency.
There are two broad categories of carbohydrates: Simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates consist of a single sugar molecule (monosaccharide) or two single sugar molecules linked together (disaccharide).
The Monosaccharides include fructose, glucose, and galactose. The two we’ll refer to the most are fructose (fruit sugar) and glucose (blood sugar.) Glucose is found naturally in food or it can be produced in the body through the breakdown of complex carbohydrates. Fructose is the type of simple carbohydrate found in fruit and sugar cane.
Disaccharides are formed by the combination of two monosaccharide molecules. Examples include Sucrose (table sugar), which is formed by the combination of fructose and glucose, and Lactose (dairy sugar), which is composed of galactose and glucose.
Glucose (blood sugar)
Fructose (fruit sugar)
Sucrose (table sugar) glucose and fructose
Lactose (dairy sugar) glucose and galactose
Maltose (malt sugar) glucose and glucose
Blood Sugar Levels and Insulin
Effect of Simple Carbs on Blood Sugar Levels
Due to their “simple” molecular structure, they’re digested very quickly and they cause a rapid rise in blood sugar. Your body responds to blood sugar peaks by releasing large amounts of insulin (the hormone responsible for getting the glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells where it can be used for energy).
When there’s a large blood sugar spike, your body tends to “overreact” and produce too much insulin. The insulin quickly clears the glucose from the bloodstream, leading to a sharp drop in blood sugar known as hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar is accompanied by cravings, hunger, weakness, mood swings and decreased energy. The hunger and cravings tend to cause the sugar consumption to perpetuate itself, resulting in a vicious cycle of ups and downs in energy throughout the day.
Controlling Blood Sugar Levels for Fat Loss
To lose body fat more efficiently, your goal is to maintain steady blood sugar levels.
Here’s why: The over-secretion of insulin activates fat storage enzymes and promotes the movement of triglycerides (fat) in the bloodstream into fat cells for storage. High insulin levels also inhibit enzymes that promote the breakdown of existing stored body fat. You can manage your blood sugar and insulin levels by choosing fewer simple carbohydrates, more complex carbohydrates, eating fiber and having your carbohydrates with lean proteins approximately every three hours.
Insulin is not necessarily the “bad guy” as it is sometimes portrayed, but it can be a double-edged sword if not managed through proper carbohydrate choices. Insulin is an anabolic hormone that’s absolutely essential for getting amino acids into the muscles for growth and getting carbohydrates into the muscles where they’re needed for energy.
The problem is when there’s too much insulin and when resistance to insulin is produced by chronically eating too many simple and refined carbohydrates. When your blood sugar and insulin levels are abnormally high, you’re not in a fat-burning mode – you’re in a fat-storing mode.
Fruit does contain fructose (a simple carb), but it also has inherent fibre. Fruit doesn’t cause any health issues because it is perfectly balanced by natural fibre that makes up a solid part of the fruit. If you consume both together (as nature intended), it reduces the rate of absorption into the liver and the bloodstream. The liver can process the fructose in the fruit at a stable, steady rate and so blood sugar levels remain stable throughout. Anything sweet in nature comes with inherent fibre built in with it to ensure stable blood sugar levels. The only exception is honey which nature tries to make difficult to obtain (bees that sting you).
From here, you can see the problem with fruit juice. Juice is devoid of the insoluble fibre found in whole vegetables and fruits. It doesn’t matter where the fructose comes from – fruit, sugarcane, beets, etc, without the fibre, it has the same metabolic effect on your body as table sugar.
What about fruit smoothies?
When people juice the entire fruit to make a “smoothie”, the sheering action from the blender blades can completely destroy the insoluble fibre of the fruit. The cellulose is torn to smithereens. While the soluble fibre is still there, and can help move food through the intestine faster, it no longer has the “latticework” of the insoluble fibre to slow down absorption. You need both types of fibre to get the beneficial effects. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have fruit in your smoothies, just be careful with the amount you put in. Consider just having whole fruit along with the smoothie instead of all of it combined.
The second major category is complex carbohydrates, also known as polysaccharides (meaning many saccharides).
Complex carbohydrates are formed when thousands of sugar molecules are linked together in long chains. These chains take longer to break down and digest than simple carbohydrates (which gives them a higher thermic effect).
Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and absorb than simple carbohydrates. They provide sustained energy levels without the highs and lows in blood sugar and energy levels produced by eating simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, which slows down their absorption and helps stabilise blood sugar and insulin.
Complex carbohydrates are also more filling, allowing you to feel fuller on less food. Complex carbohydrates from natural sources are also the most nutrient dense carbohydrates you can eat, whereas refined (white) sugar is nutritionally void.
Complex carbohydrates have a higher thermic effect and they stimulate less insulin production. For all these reasons, complex carbohydrates are the carbohydrates of choice for fat loss. As a general rule, 2/3 or more of all your carbohydrates should be complex carbohydrates, while 1/3 or less should be simple carbohydrates.
Starchy and Fibrous Complex Carbs
There are two types of complex carbohydrates: Starchy and fibrous.
Starchy Complex Carbohydrates (starches)
Starch is a form of energy storage in plants – like glycogen is energy storage in human muscle.
Starchy carbohydrates are found in potatoes, cereals, grains, bread, pasta, rice, oats, wheat and beans.
Your body is able to completely absorb and digest all the caloric energy in starches, and therefore the calorie density of starch is higher than fibrous carbohydrates.
Fibrous Complex Carbohydrates (Fibre)
Fiber is the indigestible portion of the plant and therefore passes straight through your digestive tract without all the caloric energy being absorbed.
Fiber gives bulk to the intestinal contents, promotes healthy digestion and elimination, speeds the transit time of food through the digestive tract and provides protection from gastrointestinal diseases and colon cancer. You could say that fiber is “nature’s internal cleanser.” When you’re eating every three hours and your diet is high in protein, the importance of fiber for your health is obvious.
Let’s talk more about the fibre that comes from complex carbs (specifically fibrous carbs). Why? Because fibre – also known as roughage or “bulk”, is one of the best tools in our fat loss tool box.
Benefits of fibre include:
Promotes healthy digestion and elimination.
Ensures steady transit of food through the digestive tract.
Stabilises blood sugar levels and corresponding energy levels.
Lowers excess insulin production and subsequent fat storage.
Provides protection from gastrointestinal diseases and colon cancer
You could say that fiber is “nature’s internal cleanser.” When you’re eating every three hours and your diet is high in protein, the importance of fiber for your health is obvious.
Remember fibre is NOT digested or absorbed by your body. It simply travels through your digestive system.
There are two types of fibre:
Soluble (dissolves in water)
Soluble fibre is fermented by colon bacteria into gases (farts). It’s made up of strings of glucose molecules such as pectins (found in fruit and processed jelly) that absorb water. This acts like treacle in your food to slow down digestion and give your body a chance to absorb as much of the nutrients as possible. Examples include:
Insoluble (doesn’t dissolve in water)
This is made of non-glucose carbohydrates such as cellulose (like the stringy stuff in your celery). Because it doesn’t dissolve in water, it acts like a natural laxative to speed up the passage of food through your system. Examples include:
Dark Leafy Greens
Root vegetable skins
How do these two work together?
The insoluble fibre forms a stringy latticework that the gloopy soluble fibre clings to. It’s kind of like the hair catcher on your shower drain. Without it, the hair simply passes down the drain quickly. But when the catcher is in place, you can eventually get a blocked up shower plug.
In our case however this is a good thing! It provides a slow steady drip feed of nutrients into the liver to metabolise.
Processed Food = Fibre Removed
75% of the foods available in most supermarkets around the country are processed foods that lack fibre of any sort. Processing foods and removing its fibre (breads, flour, rice, pasta, crackers, cereal, bars, crisps, chips, baked goods) gives it a finer texture and extends the shelf life (good for the food company but bad for the customer).
For us to get the full benefits of fibre, it must fully coat the inner starchy granules. The bran on the outside of the starch acts as a physical barrier that your digestive enzymes will slowly strip away before accessing the internal starch (glucose). This means your blood sugar levels will rise slowly and the peak level will be lower.
However, if you remove the bran layer, you are left with only the starch and your blood glucose levels will rise much faster, giving you much more erratic blood sugar levels and insulin releases (including all those corresponding negative consequences).
Fibre equals fat loss?
So does dietary fibre promote weight loss? Possibly.
If you keep your calories constant, then use of fibre will not result in any weight loss. You must eat less calories than you burn in order to use up stored body fat. However, eating fibre will make you feel fuller for longer and with less cravings. This can help you naturally reduce the amount of food you eat, and in turn allow your body to release stored fat. High fibre foods are also less calorie dense (foods with less calories for the same quantity of food). These need more time to chew which can reduce your eating speed to allow you to feel the satisfaction to stop eating. When you feel satisfied, it’s important to leave any remaining food on your plate. Notice how much less you ate, and next time simply start with a smaller portion.
Not all fats are the same. Some fats are absolutely required for health, while others are detrimental. Some fats heal you, and other fats hurt you. A significant amount (15 – 25%) of our calories should come from fat. Eating the wrong kind of fats can increase your blood cholesterol, clog your arteries, increase fat storage and wreak total havoc in your body. Eating the right kind of fats can increase your energy, increase fat burning, increase muscle-building hormones, increase your strength, improve insulin function, improve your skin texture and strengthen your joints. With benefits like these, “good fats” sound like some kind of wonder drug, and in many respects, the effects are almost “drug-like.” Surprisingly, these miraculous benefits can be obtained simply by eating small amounts of foods or oils rich in the healthy “good fats.”
Tracking Fat Intake
Per gram of fat, you get 9 calories, which is more than twice the amount of calories you get from carbs and protein above. So as you watch your calories, make sure you don’t accidentally go over your fat budget.
So, here’s what 20 grams of fat looks like from various common sources. Use these photos as guides so you can quickly and easily measure your own fat needs! For example, if you have 60 grams of fat per day, you need to limit your fat portions to less than 3 of these per day.
Fat Examples: (Each portion contains 20 grams of fats)
Hint: Hover over each food to reveal calories and extra tips.
1 ½ Tbsp Cooking Oil
Make sure you carefully measure any cooking oils when counting calories.
40 grams Raw Almonds
Full of good fat. Can be easily measured, and they store well for a long time.
40 grams (2 tbsp) Peanut Butter
Choose high quality peanut butter that has little or no sugar and is made with very few ingredients.
It's tasty, full of good nutrients, and pairs well with just about anything.
Fats are made up of chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms linked together. A fatty acid molecule is made of a carbon backbone, like this:
Now, attached to the carbon backbone are hydrogen atoms, like this:
How saturated a fat is depends on whether there are any spaces left on the carbon chain.
If all the carbons have a hydrogen attached to them, the fat is SATURATED.
If there are any carbons that aren’t hitched up to Hydrogen, then the fat is UNSATURATED.
See how those two carbons in the middle don’t have a hydrogen atom attached to them? That’s what makes a fat unsaturated – the carbons are not saturated with hydrogen.
Depending on the molecular structure, each fat can have totally different properties. The molecular structure of saturated fats makes them “sticky,” which makes you more prone to heart attacks and strokes. They also interfere with insulin function, which is important when you want to lose fat. The unsaturated fats have benefits and protective effects. They can improve insulin function, counteract some of the negative effects of saturated fats (as in the Eskimo example), increase your energy and help you lose body fat.
Types of Fat
There are three types of fatty acids. some helpful, some harmful. Every fat or oil consists of a combination of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fats in general are harmful and raise blood cholesterol. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, on the other hand, tend to lower levels of blood cholesterol and contain healthy essential fatty acids (EFA’s) such as omega 3’s and omega 6’s.
Essential Fatty Acids
Like other “essential” nutrients such as “essential” amino acids, an essential fatty acid is one that the body cannot make and must be supplied through the diet. The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats contain the essential fats – these are the good guys. Essential fatty acids are found in all the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats I mentioned earlier, but some unsaturated fats are higher in EFA’s than others.
The two EFA’s are:
Omega 6 – (linoleic acid or LA)
Omega 3 – (alpha linolenic or LNA)
Most people don’t get enough EFA’s (particularly Omega 3). People who intentionally restrict fat to very low levels are often borderline deficient. Although a true clinical EFA deficiency is rare, a very low fat diet is clearly not going to give you optimal amounts of these beneficial good fats. The classic symptom of EFA deficiency is dry, flaky skin. Omega 3’s can be provided by food or with an EFA supplement. Smooth, velvety skin is just one of many benefits of EFA’s.
There are at least eleven important function of EFA’s in your diet:
Improves insulin sensitivity
Required for absorption of fat soluble vitamins
Essential for joint health
Required for energy production
Required for Oxygen transfer
Maintains cell membrane integrity
Suppresses cortisol production
Improves skin texture (dry skin is a classic symptom of EFA deficiency)
Increases metabolic rate
Helps burn fat
Bet the last two on this list really got your attention!
“At levels above 12 or 15% of total calories, EFAs increase the rate of metabolic reactions in the body and the increased rate burns more fat into carbon dioxide, water and energy (heat), resulting in fat burn off and loss of excess weight.” – Udo Erasmus’s book “Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill.”
You might want to go back and read that quote again, because this is huge! There goes the entire very low fat diet right out the window as a means of fat loss.
Although it only takes a tiny amount of essential fatty acids in the diet to prevent a deficiency, avoiding a deficiency is not the goal when your interest is losing body fat. Your goal is to take in the optimal amount that will have fat-reducing and growth-enhancing effects; that amount is at least 12 to 15%.
What is Too Much Fat?
Even though there are major differences in the various types of fats, you should almost always keep your overall fat intake relatively low (30% or less, preferably closer to 20%).
Keep in mind that every fat or oil gets 100% of its calories from fat. Olive oil for example, is more healthful than partially hydrogenated oil, but one tablespoon still derives 100% of its calories from fat. Regardless of whether an oil or fat is healthy or not, it’s still high in calories. A tablespoon of any oil will set you back about 130 calories and 14 grams of fat.
Therefore, you should try to reduce the amount of fats and oils you consume in general if fat loss is your goal. Otherwise, you are much more likely to exceed your daily calorie limits. If you eat macadamia nuts, walnut, cashews or peanuts as your favorite snack every time you watch TV, you could be hundreds – even thousands of calories over your optimal fat burning level! Nuts contain good fats, but watch those calories!
There are now many lower-calorie substitutes for conventional fats such as Butter Buds, Molly Mc Butter, “low calorie butter flavored sprays”, fat-free butter spreads, cooking spray, fat-free dressings, and so on. These can add some flavor to your food without overdoing the calories. Using cooking spray is much better than throwing oil in your fry pan because it would take a 15 second spray to equal 1 tablespoon of oil.
Dangers of Trans Fats
Oils are by nature, extremely unstable substances that go rancid very quickly upon exposure to light and air. “Hydrogenation” and “partial hydrogenation” are processes that food manufacturers use to prolong the shelf life of their products and to make cheap spreadable products such as margarine.
“Hydrogenated oils are a manufacturers dream: an unspoilable substance that lasts forever.” – Dr. Erasmus.
Si whats the problem? The process of hydrogenation makes an unsaturated fat such as vegetable oil take on the dangerous properties. Hydrogenated oils are “processed fats” the same way that white flour is a “processed carbohydrate.”
Partially hydrogenated oils contain large amounts of chemically altered fats known as trans fatty acids. Some nutritionists like to call them “funny foods.” Partial hydrogenation is what turns oils into spreadable margarines and makes the oils more stable. They also make baked goods moist and flaky.
Hydrogenated oils and trans fatty acids are primarily found in margarines and spreads, baked goods and fried foods. Food manufacturers get real sneaky when it comes to trans fats, because they aren’t required to list them on their labels. They can say things like “no cholesterol,” or “low saturated fat” yet their product is loaded with harmful trans fats. Many people switched from butter to margarine thinking they were doing good by avoiding the saturated fat in the butter. What they missed was that the margarine was full of the “phantom” trans fats! Fats that contain trans fats include fried foods (fried chicken, french fries, fried onion rings, tater tots, etc), cookies, crackers, biscuits, frostings, pies, pastries, doughnuts, corn chips, taco shells, shortening, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, refined vegetable oils, baked goods (croutons, crackers, cookies, cakes, breads) and margarine.
Trans fatty acids are very dangerous. They cause numerous health problems including heart disease and possibly even cancer. They certainly don’t help you get any leaner and may hinder the fat-burning process in more ways than one. The trans fatty acids in hydrogenated oil are believed to raise bad blood cholesterol (LDL) even more than saturated fats. Dr. Erasmus once said, “If you see the “H” word on the label (hydrogenated), get the “H” out of there!”
10 Destructive Effects of Trans Fats:
Trans fat decreases insulin sensitivity.
Trans fat increases insulin response to glucose.
Trans fat hampers immune system function.
Trans fat raises the “bad” LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream.
Trans fat lowers HDL (good) cholesterol.
Trans fat increases blood triglycerides.
Trans fat interferes with your liver’s detoxification processes.