Understanding Calories (The Ultimate Guide) - Macro Lean

Understanding Calories (The Ultimate Guide)

Understanding Calories:

Everyone’s heard of calories but not everyone knows what the actual deal is with them.

You’ve probably heard “That’s full of calories”… or “You need to count your calories” or maybe even “Calories are a myth” **Huge Sigh**

So you might be thinking…

What the hell are they?  How many do I need?  What has calories and how much?

Calories can seem confusing

It can be a little overwhelming!

This mindset leads many to abandon ship and head back towards the ‘eat clean camp’ or throw more money down the drain on some crappy ‘juice fast’.

Don’t you dare!

Unless you want to keep up the perpetuating cycle of dieting hell:(

In this article we’re gonna cover it all so by the time your done and dusted you’ll know what deal is fo sho.

Calories 101:

What Are Calories?

Calories are simply units of energy measured in food and drink. Also known as a kilojoule or kilocalorie, but that’s more for the science-y research geeks so let’s stick to calories to make it as simple as poss.

What is a calorie?

All the calories you consume are made up of 3 macronutrients:

-1g of Protein = 4 calories

-1g of Carbs = 4 calories

-1g of Fat = 9 calories

**Alcohol is technically a 4th macro with 7 calories per gram and no value to the body. More on that in a bit!**

Knowing about macronutrients AKA: macros and tracking them is super important to change your body so check out my ultimate guide on ‘How To Count Your Macros’ here:)

That being said this article is a deep dive on dem callys so macros aren’t gonna steal the show this time.

If you’re clueless about macros though hit the above link once you’re done devouring this bad boy!

Calories and Energy Balance:

Your body needs energy to stay alive and keep the organs functioning. The food we eat and drink is our energy.

That energy is used throughout the day for every function from breathing, thinking to exercise and more…

We need calories for everything

To maintain your weight and body composition you must be taking in the same about of energy (calories) as you’re burning. This is known being at your calorie maintenance.

If you consistently consume more calories than you need for your energy requirements you would gain weight and body fat. This known as being in a calorie surplus.

On the flip side if you consistently consume less calories than you need for your energy requirements you would lose weight and body fat.

As your body is taking in less than needed it would make up the difference using your body fat which is stored energy. This known as being in a calorie deficit.

Calories and energy balance

The basic premise of energy balance is…

Energy In (amount of food and drink) Vs Energy Out (Calories used for activity and requirements)

This is defined by the laws of thermodynamics that dictates whether weight is lost, gained or remains the same as proven by science many times like HERE.

Calories in Food?

Almost everything you eat and drink contains calories with a few exceptions such as water and calorie free drinks.

As all foods contain calories (and macros too) becoming aware of how many calories are in certain foods is going to serve you big time!

Obviously I’m not going to list every food and it’s calorie content here as I’d be here forever 😛  

Webites like Myfitnesspal and Cronometer have every food under the sun with full nutritional breakdowns.

Don’y stress yourself that you have to find out all the calories in every food at once. Just check it when needed:)

Rome wasn’t built in a day so take your time, but start educating yourself on certain foods as you go about your days.

Nutritional label showing calories

Here you can see a food nutritional label which clearly states the calories per serving (It also has the macros below too but don’t stress too much about them for now)

As all foods contain calories any food can help or hinder when it comes to losing weight.

Yes! Even “eating clean” can get you fat!

Yes clean foods have calories.. Duh!

Over eat these and you’re still storing body fat amigo!

Don’t believe the hype with “fat doesn’t make you fat”  or “It’s not processed” so therefore it can be eaten at free will!

In your dreams buddy! LOL

Different foods have different amounts of calories so becoming aware of whats in what will give you tons of flexibility.

This means you don’t have to cut out any food from your diet. Just portion control!

None of this is inherently good nor bad. Just Calories :)

None of this is inherently good nor bad. Just Calories 🙂

My advice would be to make sure 70-80% of your food come from whole foods or choices which have been minimally processed, and the rest from wherever you want.

This is known as a flexible diet which allows you too enjoy some treat/junk food given it fits your daily number.

A bowl of ice cream, cheese toasty or cheeky glass of wine always makes life a lil’ better.

Eating ice cream and losing weight? Just calories baby.

Now add that to still losing weight and staying lean and you’ve hit the jackpot!

Without the deprivation of most diets this flexibility lets you stay the course and adhere to your calorie number.

Adherence is the biggest key to dieting and losing weight and therefore changing your body.

If you can’t stick to a diet it doesn’t matter how great the potential results are, it’s useless!

Measuring Calories:

How Many Calories Do You Need?

The amount of calories you need depend on a variety of factors including age, weight, height, lean body mass, activity level and a few other stats.

The Government guidelines are that all men require 2500 calories a day and all women require 2000 calories a day.

This is far to general and and you should obtain the amount you need for your goals in a different way.

Listening to this generic advice is very hit and miss. More miss unfortunately 🙁

A few ways to find your caloric intake are as follows…

Work With A Professional:

Hiring a trainer or coach who knows their stuff will be the most accurate way to obtain the amount of calories you need for your goal.

Hire a coach to calculate your calorie requirements

Having a coach to guide you is one of the best investments you can make in your health.

They should run your personal stats through a few equations to come very close to your calorie needs.

I use equations that focuses on lean body mass which gives me very accurate results for clients when it comes to weight and fat loss.

If you’re interested working with me as a coach then click HERE for more info.

Online Calorie Calculator:

Put your stats into a generic online calorie calculator.

These are not as accurate and I don’t use any so I won’t recommend one, but if you want to go this route hit the googles for more info on that!

Online calorie calculator

Trial and Error:

The final method is just to start counting your calorie intake. You would then keep an eye on a few metrics including your bodyweight and hip and waist measurements.

If these are staying the same then that is your calorie maintenance number.

Then you could take away or add calories in depending on the feedback and your personal goal.

How To Count Calories?

Don’t start sweating before you finish this paragraph. This ain’t the 80’s yo!!!

No more carrying around a notepad to write every last morsel of grub you’re chowing down.

You have a smartphone obvs!

Myfitnesspal is a great app for counting calories

That’s prob what you’re reading this on. So, download Myfitnesspal which is the easiest thing to use ever and has every food under the sun in it’s database too.

Thanks me later:)

I accept chocolate, hugs and cold hard cash if you insist 😛

Here’s my in-depth Myfitnesspal tutorial below. It’s focused on teaching you how to count macros but you use the app in exactly the same way to count calories.

**Note: Once you have become familiar with calories you’ll want to progress to counting macros but like I said before don’t stress about that. All in good time! For now keep reading and smiling too :)**

Burning Calories?

Your metabolic rate is the rate your body burns calories for different functions. The 3 main functions are:

BMR: Basal Metabolic Rate:

This is the amount of calories you burn just to stay alive. Even when you’re lying down and lurking on instagram you body is still burning calories!

Your BMR accounts for around 60% of all calories burned.

Activity and Exercise:

This is the amount of calories you burn when moving around from everything from a gentle stroll to a gruelling workout sesh!

This accounts for around 30% of the calories burned.

Dietary Thermogenesis:

The ‘thermogenic effect’ are the calories burned in the process of eating, digesting and absorbing food.

Even when you’re putting them in, your body is burning some more to digest them. Clever Huh? 🙂

How To Burn More Calories?

I’m sure this answer isn’t going to blow ya socks off but you need to move more.

This could be anything from getting in a certain amount of steps a day (I recommend 10’000), going for a jog or hitting the gym more.

I have clients doing 3-4 resistance workouts a week which not only gets them moving and expending energy, but also has them building muscle.

Resistance training is great for burning calories

Guy or gal, young or old you need to be doing resistance work!

Having more muscle tone will make your body more metabolic which is great because you even burn more calories when resting. Yay!

See the science on it HERE!

If you’re not doing any resistance training you’re probably spinning your wheels.

To get lean and toned start putting your muscles through resistance training and reaping them rewards baby!

A few of exercises that everyone should be doing are squats, lunges, dead-lifts, press-ups and rows 🙂

Low Calorie Diets?

“No I refuse to do those low calorie diets that never work”

Listen sweetie, no one said you have to live on 800 calories a day.

Ignore these 80's low calorie crap

Ain’t nobody getting results from this 80’s crap LOL

But, to lose weight and get in shape you’re gonna have to reduce the amount of calories you’ve been eating to start tapping into those body fat stores.

Huffing and puffing ain’t doing much for that waistline so learn what actually works to start getting results sharpish.

The sooner you start, the sooner you get to where you wanna be!

To see the science on how calories are all that matter in weight loss CLICK HERE.

A sensible calorie deficit which should be about 200-500 calories below your maintenance number. This is a good ball park figure to start.

Do that with consistency and you can say bye bye belly and hello abs:)

This ain’t no overnight fix because there is no overnight fix! This is the most effective and healthy way to change your body. Period!

The balls in your court so let’s get to work!

Calories In Alcohol?

Technically not a macronutrient as it provides no nutrients, alcohol does however carry 7 calories per gram.

Alcohol is a toxin to the body, so it will burn it off first before anything else to eliminate it as quickly as possible. Bad news for fat burning!

Other downsides include messing with are hormones and increasing appetite.

My recommendation would be limiting consumption to a couple of drinks a week.

Wine or straight spirits would be the best options with no calorie mixers e.g. diet cola.

However, you’ll achieve the best results from if you eliminate it completely.

That being said, if it helps you become more attractive to other peeps and you start expending more energy in the bedroom through increased activity then you might wanna re-think banning it haha

Sex is a fun way to burn calories

I’ll leave that one up to you 🙂

The Calorie Myth?

I thought I’d address this briefly at the end of the article because there are a camp of normally over weight and unhealthy people blowing out hot air that “calories are a myth” and don’t matter when it comes to weight loss.

Instead of even giving this ridiculous statement any oxygen I’ll tell you exactly what to do if you feel calories are hocus pocus and counting them won’t affect your body.

For one month don’t count calories and follow alternative ways to lose body weight such as eating an (idiotic) low carb/ high fat paleo or keto diet and eat as much dietary fat as poss…

Then for the month after track your food in a calorie deficit and compare results.

I know for a fact it will be night and day!

But personal experience is king so if you’re on the fence then please get that rubber on the road and find out for yourself.


Calories are the big picture when it comes to changing your body and really being in control.

I hope this article served you in understanding more with what they are all about.

Good Luck


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