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Are All Calories Created Equal? The Scoop On Protein

“It’s all about calories in, calories out.” In many ways, this is true. To lose weight (and in turn lose fat), we must be in an energy or caloric deficit. This means we take in less calories than we expend. A 500-calorie per day deficit, yielding 3,500 per week, will drop roughly one pound of bodyweight.

Now, what do we want that pound to be? It could be a reduction in bodyfat (good) or a reduction in lean tissue (not good). When we look at our overall caloric intake, we also need to consider what the intake is made of from a macronutrient perspective. Macronutrients are three categories consisting of protein (4kcal/gram), carbohydrates (4kcal/gram) and fats (9kcal/gram). Each reacts differently in each of our bodies, but they all have specific jobs to do. Our muscle is made up primarily of protein, so if our goal is heavy weight training and adding lean tissue while losing fat, higher protein is a must. Fat consumption is crucial for how our bodies function hormonally, absorb nutrients, insulate & protect our organs, and provide stored energy. We will want a healthy balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6’s, and typically our diets are jam packed with the 6’s only. Omega-3 rich eggs, fish & fish oil, chia seeds, and walnuts are great options for improving this balance. Lastly, carbohydrates provide energy and regulation of blood glucose – while sparing the use of protein and muscle for energy.

Let’s say 2,000 calories per day is enough to create a deficit (hypothetically, everyone is different) and should produce weight loss. We decide this number based on our basal metabolic rate (calories burned at rest) and our daily energy expenditure (working out, walking, heavy labor job, etc.). We take in those 2,000 calories religiously, and the scale is moving. However, say we are taking in a very small amount of protein, and mostly fats and carbohydrates (snacking on nuts and fruit all day because it’s the, “healthy fats, and fruit is always good, duh”). We will probably lose a few pounds of fat, but at the same time forfeit lean tissue. Protein is a great macronutrient to leverage when it comes to fat loss and working up to one gram per pound of bodyweight or more is not overdoing it. The thermic effect of feeding (TEF) is up to four times greater in our body processing and utilizing protein than the other two macronutrients, among other fat loss benefits such as staying fuller longer (satiety hormones). If we leverage a balanced approach including adequate protein, we will still have consumed adequate calories and in turn allow us to take in fewer protein sparing nutrients.

All in all, a balanced dietary approach will always be best, and we need to cater food intake to our goals and lifestyle. Bringing awareness to what we’re putting in our bodies is step one. After that we make small adjustments to what we’re eating- leveraging a balance of these three groups with quality food choices will get us where we want to go. Keep it simple!

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