While one thing is for sure, there is no “true” solution to weight gain or health. Just as some people excel on HIIT training while others find fitness by running— and others do not like organized exercise at all— some people will be successful with calorie counting and others won’t.
This calorie counting guide covers how it can help with health goals, when it is working and when it is not, and how to get started.
So what are calories?
A calorie is a measure of energy. In science, it’s defined as the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius.
For vital body functions such as breathing and thinking, as well as everyday tasks such as walking, talking and drinking, you use the calories that you eat and drink.
Any excess calories that you eat will be stored as fat, and eating more consistently than you burn over time will lead to weight gain.
Why calories matter.
It is common for many to say that calories don’t matter and counting this calories is a waste of time all together. But when it comes to weight gaining, calories do matter.
This is a fact which has been repeatedly proven in scientific experiments called overfeeding studies.
This basically means that counting calories can be very effective in your weight gain journey.
How much calories should you consume?
This a common question many people ask. How many calories should I eat to gain weight?
For example, a 30 year old athletic male will need more calories than a 60 year old who is inactive and doesn’t do any exercise.
To maintain normal weight, the average woman needs to eat about 2,000 calories per day, and 1,500 calories per day to lose one pound of weight per week. The average man, meanwhile, requires 2,500 calories to sustain, and 2,000 to lose one pound a week. This means that for them to add weight they should add 500- 1000 calories per day so as to be in caloric surplus.
That, however, depends on many factors. These include age, levels of activity, metabolic health,height, current weight, and a variety of others.
Counting calories for weight gain.
Weight management is nothing more than a game of calories in and out. As explained earlier, a calorie is a measuring unit which describes how much energy there is in a given food or drink. The same measuring unit is used to describe how much energy you exert (calories burned) in a day.
To gain weight you have to consume more calories than you are burning. If you’re interested in changing your weight one way or the other, you’ll need to create a calorie surplus— and you need to keep track of the calories you eat and burn to make sure you stay in your desired surplus. By counting the calories you eat and burn, you can create the calorie balance you desire.
Say you want to gain 10 pounds (one pound per week) over 10 weeks. One pound of body fat is approximately equal to 3,500 calories, though depending on the density of body fat and how your body composition changes over time there is potential for variation between individuals.
Based on the estimate of 3,500 calories, to gain that one pound you need to create a calorie surplus of 3,500 calories every week. There are a few ways you can do this:
- Increase your calorie intake by 1000 calories per day
- Increase or intensify exercise to burn 500 calories per day
- A mix of the two, e.g. increase your calorie intake by 500 calories per day and burn an extra 250 calories per day through exercise.
The fact of the matter is that all weight- gain and weight- loss programs are all about change in your calorie balance through dietary habits and exercise though other tactics, such as intermittent fasting or food group exclusions, might disguise that. Most people just like to eat and enjoy food without having to worry about the caloric value. Some people don’t have the time or energy to count calories (probably most of us) while others have health goals that don’t include calorie counting.
Calorie counting works when:
- Your main focus is strictly gaining weight.
- You want a simple, no-frills way to keep tabs on your diet.
- You need to keep track of your body composition for medical reasons (tracking macros is a better approach to body recomposition).
- You want or need to keep track of micronutrients, such as particular vitamins or minerals.
- You have a history of disordered eating and feel the urgency.
Your diet quality is very important.
When it comes to the human body and food, a calorie is not exactly a calorie. What do I mean? 100 calories of vegetable salad will differently affect your health than 100 calories of potato chips.
In essence, your overall diet and the kinds of foods you eat will affect your health. It is important to consume high quality plant and animal based foods.
How to start counting calories the correct way.
The first thing to do is to decide how many calories you need every day. If you are eating too few or too many, counting them will not do you any good. The absolute best way to understand your daily calorie allowance is to work with a registered dietitian, physician or certified nutritionist who is able to take into account your weight, height, health history and goals for an ideal daily calorie number.
However, if seeing a pro is not on the table, you use an online calorie calculator, such as this one from Mayo Clinic, to find out. Most calorie calculators use the same formula, the Mifflin-St Jeor equation, which represents gender, height, weight, age and level of activity. As the disclaimer on calorie calculator at Mayo Clinic says, certain variables may influence the daily calorie requirements. Pregnancy, disease and education also contribute.
There are other online calorie calculators that you can choose from:
You can start counting your calories, once you have your number. Consume more calories than your maintenance number to create a surplus, and eat less to create a deficit. You can keep track in a pen-and-paper journal, or use an app to count calories.
Tracking fresh foods.
Monitoring fresh foods is a little more complicated than monitoring packaged foods, as usually there is no mark. But the calorie data can be found online easily. To find full nutrition info, you can check virtually any food in the FDA Food Central database. Many food tracking apps also have massive food repositories so don’t let the lack of a nutrition label dissuade you from eating fresh foods.
Tracking restaurant meals.
It can be difficult to log the calories into restaurant meals if the restaurant is not a chain. In 2018, the FDA mandated that all restaurants with more than 20 locations should disclose calorie information for all menu items, so eating at a regional or national chain restaurant is simple enough. Local restaurants aren’t required to disclose calorie counts, but there’s a good chance they’ll find out if you ask your server.
Don’t forget to count the calories in the drinks you drink all day. Except if you drink just plain water and zero-calorie drinks (including black coffee and tea without sweeteners or milk), your beverages contribute to your daily calorie intake. Check your coffee, sports drinks, alcohol, soda and juices to count the calories from the creamer.
Calories can’t tell you how healthy your diet is.
While calories are useful for deliberate weight gain, they do not tell you micro nutrients in the way. Perhaps the consistency of your diet is just as critical as the number of calories you eat every day.
Where your calories come from makes a big difference in your health. A calorie is more than just a weighing device when it comes to determining how food impacts your overall health.
For example, a 100-calorie peanuts serving affects your body much differently than a Twinkie’s worth of 100 calories. Peanuts include food, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, while a Twinkie mainly contains sugar and saturated fats. A handful of peanuts will give you sustained energy; a Twinkie would undoubtedly spike and crash your blood sugar— and those are only the short-term effects.
Peanuts provide health benefits over the long term, such as regulation of blood sugar and lower cholesterol levels. Many of the ingredients in Twinkies— sugar, high fructose corn syrup and, to name a few, hydrogenated oils— were associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases.
You can eat far more fruits and vegetables for the same amount of calories in a candy bar. But the great thing is that filling your diet with fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats should naturally curb your calorie intake. You will get full on fewer calories as nutritious foods appear to be less calorie-dense than foods that are sugar, fat or refined.
A healthy diet is vital because it requires proper nutrition for your organs and tissues to function effectively. Your body is more prone to illness, infection, fatigue and poor performance without good nutrition. Kids with poor diets run the risk of problems with growth and development and low academic results, and bad eating habits will continue for the rest of their lives.
If you’re interested in pursuing good health, wanting to fend off chronic diseases, maintaining healthy fitness and age, your best bet is to pay close attention to both your calorie intake and the quality of the food you eat.
Don’t eat foods with saturated fats. Calories contain fats but it doesn’t mean that you should consume all the foods that have calorie content even if they have saturated fats. Studies show that saturated fats can make a person more prone to increased cholesterol condition and other illnesses and conditions relate to saturated fats.
REMINDER: Always choose foods that don’t only have high calorie content but nutritious and healthy as well. Always opt for fruits, vegetables, meats, and other poultry products. Avoid consuming alot of dairy and other whole-milk products, skin or chicken, sausage and bacon, butter, sour cream, and meats with high-fat as well as majority of the snack foods available in major supermarkets and groceries nationwide. But you can consider preparing this foods at home and make them more nutritious.