Good calories and bad calories

Welcome To Part 1 Of My Nutrition Series

In this series I would like to attempt to breakdown 8 very important things about nutrition that you NEED TO KNOW.  Weight loss, muscle building, reducing chronic blood pressure, or just to feel and function better in every day life, no matter your goal, this blog is for you.   In this 8 part series I am going to attempt to educate you, so that you can attack those goals and create life long change.


This blog series IS NOT for those that don’t want to learn.  This series IS NOT a quick fix or “done for you” meal plan (granted I will, at the end of this, be giving you something special).  Finally, this IS NOT for those searching for a “Secret”.   I WILL NOT be selling you some secret supplement, or diet style.  This is an educational series and requires the reader to have an open and absorbent mindset.  I will be doing something slightly different than other diet coaches, trainers, and online nutrition bloggers.

Instead of giving you some cookie cutter “diet secret” or selling you some over hyped supplement savior.  I will be attempting to teach you 8 important lessons about sports nutrition that you WILL be able to put into action ASAP.


Specifically, a Calorie is the amount of energy, or heat, it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius.  Basically a Calorie is a unit of energy.Calorie Counting

As a matter of fact, we tend to think of calories in relation to food.  A calorie isn’t just specific to food however, it refers to anything that contains energy.   For instance 1 gallon of diesel fuel contains around 35,000,000 calories (or 35,000 kilocalories).  Calories are simply a way for us to measure the entire energy in something.

Our Calorie Is Not Really A Calorie, well what I mean is, what we refer to as 1 calorie with food is actually 1,000 true calories.   You see food has adopted the Kilocalorie as a “calorie”.   Sometimes you will see the word calorie capitalized (Calorie) to show the difference, but in most cases it’s not.

So when you see a soda with 200 calories listed on the label, it is in fact actually 200 kcal or 200,000 calories.

Now I do want to be careful not to confuse you, as a whole we tend to refer to each kilocalorie as simply a calorie.  So don’t feel the need to make things complicated.  When the back of a food label says 200 calories, though we know the truth, just keep it simple and think of it as 200.  At the end of the day we simply need a measure of energy as a reference point.

Is A Calorie A Calorie?

I realize this is a controversial conversation in the fitness world.  We have a big group of people preaching that counting calories is not necessary and that you simply need to eat “quality” food.   On the other hand we have a big group of people counting everything they consume.  In fact we have a ton of new technology that is making counting calories easier.  So whats the answer?

I would say they are both right…. and both wrong.  Just like many things, we find people taking exaggerated extremes on either end.

The first law of thermodynamics is a version of the law of conservation of energy, adapted for thermodynamic systems.  The law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system is constant; energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed.

In a way, a calorie is in fact a calorie.  By scientific measure, a calorie measures as a calorie.  As illustrated in the first law of thermodynamics, this energy (calorie) is constant.

This has unfortunately been attempted to be used as an argument in the nutrition world to discredit food quality or macronutrient content.  This position would prompt people to believe that “a calorie is a calorie” regardless of it’s type or source.  In this scenario you may be tempted to jump to the conclusion that as long as you count your calories, all is well in the world.  But before you do that….

The Second Law of Thermodynamics: The entropy of an isolated system does not decrease. In any cyclic process the entropy will either increase or remain the same. Entropy: a statevariable whose change is defined for a reversible process at T where Q is the heat absorbed.Good calories and bad calories

The 1st law of thermodynamics is referring to a closed or isolated system.  This type of system is isolated from its environment.  Well… there lies the problem, we as humans do not operate as a closed system.

In a closed system energy is not passed in and out of the system.  It also means that there is relatively low outside environmental interaction.   This of course, counts us out of that system.   We consume our energy (calories) from food which of course is outside our system.  In addition we are subject to our environmental surroundings and therefore adapt to them when utilizing or storing energy.  This leads us to being an open system, therefore subject to entropy or the 2nd law.

We Conclude That A Calorie Is In Fact A Calorie, But…

By scientific standards a calorie would be in fact a calorie.  We as humans can not create or destroy energy (the 1st law) we can only transform it from one form to another.  So if the question is referring to the energy component by itself, a calorie would in fact measure up to a calorie.  But here’s the issue…

Well, the common understanding of  “a calorie is a calorie” is actually attempting to say that we metabolize or use the energy in the same amount.   Basically it is saying that when we consume 200 calories from a soda, it would be the same as 200 calories from chicken breast.   At the end of the day, they are both 200 calories worth of energy.

Well by this understanding it would defy the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which as we now know, is relevant to our type of metabolic process.   This means that we can not exactly treat all foods the same. It also means that other external and internal processes may effect the actual total energy usage or storage.

I know this can get complicated but stay with me here.

Let’s go back to our example of 200 calories of soda vs 200 calories of chicken.  Well soda is generally made up of simple carbohydrates such as sucrose (table sugar).   Chicken breast on the other hand is made up of high levels of protein and some fats (very limited carbohydrates).

Both of these are 200 total calories of energy BUT when we consume them they are now treated differently and may not equate to 200 calories when it’s all said in done.

Protein has a much higher thermogenic effect when metabolized.  This means that some of the usable energy during the metabolic process is converted to heat and would not be counted towards energy available for you to use in your workouts or daily activity.  Macronutrients such as sucrose however would not have such a thermogenic response.   This would mean that 200 calories would not exactly equal 200 calories when it’s all said and done.


metabolism lecture at The Fitness Trainer Academy Now that we have a grasp on calories, let’s dive into how we utilize these calories.  Metabolism is a fun buzz word that we see popping up in just about every nutrition article on  the internet.  Most people at this point have heard the term metabolism, and in most cases think that they have an understanding of metabolism.

I have personally found, in my experience, that metabolism is one of the most misunderstood fitness buzz words out there.  I periodically will ask clients or personal training students “what is metabolism”.  The answers as you can imagine can be all over the place.

METABOLISM: the sum total of chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life.

A ton of chemical reactions and processes within our body equate to our metabolism.  Complete understanding of metabolism can be a very complex discussion.  There are many factors that play into each persons total metabolism.  A deep understanding of bioenergetics would be required to get into all of it.  The endocrine system (hormones) come into play and dictate many of these processes.

I however, like to approach it with a simple understanding 

For me, it only makes sense to think of total metabolism as 2 overall mechanisms.  I look at it as two primary mechanisms, an Anabolic process and Catabolic process.  If you think of total metabolism as a class 1 lever (teeter totter), you can see that it is a balancing act.  It is a constant state of either catabolism or anabolism and a certain amount of energy is required to maintain this.

Anabolism: building up or storage or molecules. “Constructive Metabolism”

Catabolism: breaking down or mobilization of molecules. “Destructive Metabolism”

To look at all of this very simply, on one side of the balancing act we have the breaking down or catabolic process of energy.   On the other side we have the building up of or anabolic process of energy.  We are either in a Positive, Negative, or Neutral energy state.

It stands to reason that when we are in a positive energy balance or tilting toward the anabolism side of the equation, we are likely to be storing more energy.  This could be the storage of extra fat mass or the building of new lean muscle tissue.   It also could refer to the storage of energy reserves such as glycogen.  On the other hand if we are in a negative energy balance or tilting toward the catabolism side of theequation, we are likely mobilizing energy stores and in many cases losing total mass.  Those that are losing weight would of course been in a negative caloric state and those gaining weight would of course be in a positive caloric state.

chart for macronutrient metabolism It Can Be More Complicated Than That

I wish it was that easy, but it is however more complex than that.  There are thousands of processes that interact with one another on a cellular level to determine which side of the metabolic spectrum you are leaning… aka if you’re losing or gaining weight.  I don’t want to make this too complicated so instead I would like to break this down into some basic important parts.

Resting Metabolism (RMR)

Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the first part I would like to discuss.  RMR is basically your metabolism while at rest.  Imagine yourself doing nothing, and when I say nothing, I mean NOTHING!   It would still require energy to continue on with many of the necessary bodily functions.

Though you may not be demanding much energy, there is still a demand.   I also like to refer to RMR as the base of your metabolism or its foundation.  As a matter of fact you may hear it called Basil Metabolic Rate (BMR). Granted, technically BMR is not the same as RMR, based off how each are measured.  This does however help my students to understand that without much outside interaction this is the foundation of the total amount of energy you require.

RMR has a few factors that affect it and Lean Body Mass (LBM), also known as Fat Free Mass (FFM), being the main one.  Now when I say LBM please do not confuse this for purely skeletal muscle.  Heart, lungs, brain, vascular system, and even GI tract would all play into LBM.  Fat mass (FM) also has a smaller role in RMR and energy requirement.

Building Muscle Increases Metabolism

Ok slow down now…. yes this is true.  The more muscle you have the more that will contribute to your resting metabolic rate.   With that being said I want to make a quick comment on how this has been blown out of proportion.

Kidneys – 200 calories per pound

Heart – 200 calories per pound

Brain – 109 calories per pound

Skeletal Muscle – 6 calories per pound

Fat – 2 calories per pound

Muscle contributes around 6 calories used per pound daily.  So in theory this would mean that 1 new pound of muscle will give you 6 extra calories burned per day at rest.  This would mean about 40-50 extra calories per week, or 160-200 calories per month.

That’s not very much….

The concept of muscle building up your metabolism has most defiantly been blown out of proportion.  With that being said, there does seem to be a decent RMR change in those with greater amounts of muscle mass.

One theory here may not be just due to the muscle being there at rest, but actually due to the muscle recovery aspect.  The more lean muscle tissue someone has, it would mean the rate of recovery has been exaggerated.   With more tissue, there requires more recovery.

So for those training intensely, that extra muscle may be having a slightly bigger RMR affect.

Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

Non exercise activity thermogenesis seems to self explanatory.  Outside of RMR/BMR there are other factors that affect the amount of energy we require.  NEAT refers to things such as, everyday activity outside of exercise.   Walking the dog, playing with your kids, going to work, etc…   It also involves the thermogenic effect of food.

By consuming certain types of macronutrients, as we saw in the calories section above, it may require more energy to digest.   For instance protein and fiber are more thermogenic than table sugar.

These things can substantially increase your overall daily caloric needs.  Those people that sit at a desk all day may have a much lower energy need than those that are on their feet all day.   Also the content of their diets will increase or decrease this.


As you’ve already guessed, exercise also plays a big role in energy requirement.  It’s no secret that a high level olympic athlete would require more total energy than a couch potato.

There are factors to consider within exercise as well.  Many times people get caught up at looking at the calories used during an exercise bout.   For instance, 3 miles of running or jogging required around 350 metabolism imagecalories.   What wasn’t considered here is the intensity level and oxygen demand.

At high intensity levels the oxygen demand or lactate tolerance may be at such as level that it increases metabolic rate even after the exercise.  This is referred to as Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC).

Total Metabolism = Resting Metabolism (RMR) + Non Exercise Energy Thermogenesis (NEAT) + Exercise (EX)

Calculating Your Metabolism

There are several formulas for calculating someones metabolism.  It should however be noted that each of these formulas are not exact.  Due to the complexity of metabolic processes and the individualization of each person, metabolic calculations are not always precise.   It does however allow us to take a very educated stab at how much energy each person requires.   This can at least put you in the ball park for you to make adjustments as needed.

The first 2 equations (Harris-Benedict / Mifflin) are the most basic and include total daily guesstimated metabolism.  The bottom 2 equations take into account LBM, which we mentioned may play a substantial role in RMR, this may be especially important when referring to athletes.  It is important to note, these 2 equations listed DO NOT include NEAT or EX.   You would need to add those to them.

* Revised Harris-Benedict BMR Equations (calories/day)

Male: (88.4 + 13.4 x weight) + (4.8 x height) – (5.68 x age)
Female: (447.6 + 9.25 x weight) + (3.10 x height) – (4.33 x age)
weight in kilograms, height in centimeters, age in years
Sample: 88.4 + 1072 + 864 – 272.6 = 1,751

* The Mifflin-St Jeor Equation(calories/day)

Male: 9.99 x weight + 6.25 x height – 4.92 x age + 5
Female: 9.99 x weight + 6.25 x height – 4.92 x age – 161
weight in kilograms, height in centimeters, age in years
Sample: 800 + 1125 – 236 + 5 = 1,694

* Katch-McArdle (BMR) (calories/day)

370 + (21.6 x LBM)

To calculate LBM, multiple total body weight by body-fat percentage. If our sample client has 10 percent body fat and weighs 80 kg, his LBM would be 72 kg (i.e., body weight of 80 kg – 10 percent body fat of 8 kg = 72 kg of LBM). Therefore, using the Katch-McArdle equation:

370 + (21.6 x 72) = 1,925

Note that this result is significantly higher than the non-LBM formulas (i.e., revised Harris-Benedict and Mifflin-St Jeor equations).

* Cunningham: RMR 

500 + (22 x LBM)
500 + (22 x 72) = 2,084

Concluding Sports Nutrition Part 1

I know this is a lot of information to absorb, at least it was for me at first.  This is something I continue to study on even to this day.   As I mentioned in the introduction, this blog is designed for those looking to become more educated on the topic of sports nutrition.   As you now have seen, overall energy and metabolism are extremely important and fundamental to understand before moving forward.   I would implore you to spend time studying these topics.

You can always message me privately with any questions your may have.  I always encourage those that have questions to please reach out.

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CJ Woodruff, Owner The Fitness Trainer Academy
C.J. Woodruff
Founder / CEO,
The Fitness Trainer Academy Inc.

Do You Know How Much Protein You Need?

In PART 2 of this series I will be discussing all the things you NEED TO KNOW about protein.   Protein plays a huge roles in many different metabolic processes.   If you’re looking to gain muscle or lose fat, protein IS an important variable that you need to know about

But you’re gonna have to wait….

Tuesday December 1st, 6am CST, I Will Be Publishing Part 2!  See You Then 🙂