Answering the Questions Of Caloric Intake… Where Do They Go? Are All Calories Treated The Same?

We set out to help athletes answer the common questions about calories and how the body processes different types of calories from food.  The prevalent idea is that an excess intake of calories, meaning consuming more calories than you burn on average, leads to an increase in body fat. This logic is flawed. Calories are a unit of energy and not a nutrient, they have no physical form unlike, for example, fat which is essentially a long string of carbons with hydrogens attached to them.

When you eat food, you are consuming a myriad of macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs), micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) and other chemicals (phytochemicals, antioxidants, polyphenols and many more). Macronutrients contain calories in the sense that our bodies can manipulate their chemical structure to release energy that we can use to do work (in the physical sense). Eating food which contains calories (pretty much anything obviously) causes those "calories" to go somewhere. The calories don't physically go anywhere, as they have no physical form; what is happening is the form that they are contained in is repurposed into another form for either energy production or energy storage.

Let's use a banana to exemplify this. A banana contains the majority of it's calories in carbohydrates. Eating the banana, after digestion and absorption, leave these carbohydrates as the simple sugar glucose. This glucose can then do several things it can be:

  • mobilized for energy
  • stored as glycogen (a glucose polymer) in the muscles or liver to be used later
  • stored in another form, such as fat or protein, after being converted to a suitable form with other substances required to do this.
Bananas are a good source of carbohydrates

The point to this is that this banana, and the calories that came with it, can be used in multiple ways, with fat accumulation being only one of those possibilities. What determines how these calories will be stored is more a matter of hormonal regulation than of simple caloric intake.

Certain foods have a propensity to leave their calories distributed one way or another; soda will likely cause an increase in body fat due to the hormonal involvement that results from drinking soda. Taking in an excess 250 calories of soda (which is high in sugar) will likely make you fat.Taking in excess 250 calories of something nutrient dense, let's say eggs (and let's not get started with the cholesterol fears) will cause a completely different hormonal response in your body due to the difference in the makeup of the food, chemically speaking.

Soda Is High In Sugar and More Likely to Be Converted To Fat

If you are a completely sedentary person that extra 250 calories from the eggs probably will contribute to some increase in body fat, however if you are an active person (but not so active as to create calorie balance or a calorie deficit) those 250 calories from the egg will be more likely to going to a process like protein synthesis than the sugar from the soda.

One last quick example. Think of a kid going through puberty. He can take in a significant amount of calories more than he burns and not get fat. These calories are used not to make more fat, but to allow him to physically grow. This example is extreme in the sense that puberty is relatively short and most people are not experiencing that rate of linear growth, however it illustrates that excess calories are not specifically targeted for fat, they just go there if you have no reason to do anything else with them (you sit around on the couch all day) or you eat unhealthy food that is chemically designed to be stored as fat.

 

The above article was contributed by EnduroPacks Health and Fitness editor, Armando Gallegos.  You can find out more about our products by visiting us at www.enduropacks.com