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Stop Thinking That A Calorie Is A Calorie
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Stop Thinking That A Calorie Is A Calorie

calories in vs calories out
By: Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

I can’t tell you the number of times I hear people saying that they follow an IIFYM nutrition plan and can “eat whatever they want” and that a calorie is a calorie. 

OK, go hit your macros by eating nothing more than McDonald’s and ice cream and see what happens. I’m willing to bet you’re going to put on weight even if you hit all your nutritional markers. 

“But… but… but… I hit my macros.” Cool, but you filled them with junk. You see, a calorie is not a calorie. There are good and bad calories, and you need to be aware of both if you are trying to better your health and lose weight.

If It Were Only That Easy

Things would be so much easier if a calorie is a calorie, but they’re not. Calories from trans fat are obviously much worse than the same number of calories coming from a lean protein source. You can even look at something like sugars. Sure, glucose and fructose are sugars and provide the same number of calories per gram, but one is metabolized by the liver while the other is in the tissues. 

While some foods have the same or very similar calories to them, our body doesn’t treat everything the same. Some calories from food spike insulin, while the same calories from something else do not affect insulin levels. Some calories can actually cause us to feel hungry, while the same number of calories from another source can make you feel satiated. Throwing all calories under one umbrella simply doesn’t work, and we need to stop thinking that a calorie is a calorie.

When you look at weight loss, for example, the calories coming from one source can help you reach your goals faster, while the same number from a different source can hurt your progress and send you in the wrong direction. 

Let’s look at the thermic effect of food to help better understand this concept.

The Thermic Effect of Food

Take a lean protein source again as well as a food high in fat (you can insert whatever food options you want for the example). Protein has a much greater thermic effect than fat does. In fact, protein is about 10x more thermic than fat. The thermic effect on protein is around 30%, while fat is around 3%. What this means is that if you were to consume the same 200 calories coming from both sources, the net for the protein would be reduced to 140 calories, and the fat would only go to 194. This further debunks the thought that a calorie is a calorie.

Nutrition plans that are higher in protein tend to produce higher metabolisms for individuals due to the thermic effect in the body, which makes your body work harder to metabolize and break down the food consumed. It’s for this reason that you should pay close attention to the foods you are eating and in what quantities. Consuming a moderate protein intake daily can be extremely beneficial in your long-term weight loss success.

What About Blood Sugar?

A major health issue that many people face today is diabetes. Diabetes, such as Type 2, can be reversed with proper nutrition and weight loss. The glycemic index also comes into play as it relates to blood sugar levels. 

If you consume carb sources that are refined, you are definitely going to elevate your glucose and insulin levels due to those items being higher on the glycemic index. These sources are quickly broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream, which shoots insulin through the roof to bring those blood glucose levels back down to normal. 

Carbohydrate sources that contain the same number of calories as the refined version mentioned above that have a good amount of fiber are unprocessed and as natural as possible, have a lower score on the glycemic index, and rather than creating a spike in blood sugar, like the refined example above, it’s a much slower and more stable release without shocking the body.

Stop Thinking That a Calorie is a Calorie: The Take Home

If you are looking to lose weight, pay more attention to where your calories are coming from — the source matters. Don’t be as focused on “hitting your numbers” by simply filling them with anything, because in the end, as shown above (and there is more that can be said on this topic), there are many factors that come into play based on where you are getting those calories from.

We need to once and for all stop thinking that a calorie is a calorie and that everyone who follows something like the IIFYM diet plan can eat whatever they want as long as they hit their daily numbers. It’s going to end poorly for these individuals.

Sources of calories have different effects on the body. Some will give you energy, while others will tire you out. Some will make you feel full, while others will actually make you hungry. Some will improve hormone levels in the body, while others will disrupt them. Take the information from this article and apply it to your own nutrition and exercise plan to see better results from your dedication. 

Leverage Protein Powder

Far too many people look at protein powder as a post-workout option. They’re not wrong, but there are other uses for protein powder as well. For instance, MuscleSport Lean Whey can be used any time of day — morning, afternoon, evening, whenever. 

The added protein intake will keep your metabolism revving, allow you to feel full for longer, and maximize your muscle growth and recovery from training sessions. Best of all, Lean Whey comes in a variety of unique and delicious flavors that resemble a treat — making your dieting experience more pleasant. With MuscleSport Lean Whey, you’ll actually look forward to drinking shakes each day without guilt.

So, stop thinking that a calorie is a calorie, start changing up your nutrition, and be sure to incorporate MuscleSport Lean Whey into your regimen to help see the best results possible.

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