Thursday, February 13, 2014

Calorie counter for athletes (or soon-to-be-athletes!)

counting calories? Do beans count?
image: StaceyReid
Many of us want to know how many calories we should be eating per day. OK, maybe we DON'T want to know how many calories we SHOULD be eating per day....

Nevertheless, whether we want to lose, gain, or maintain our weight, the number of calories we consume matters a lot, even if we aren't counting each of them.

Our bodies need energy to keep us going, yet even for active people, most of the energy (which is measured in calories) we use up on a given day goes to our body's internal maintenance. What's that? Read on!


Even when we are resting, our bodies need a certain amount of energy to maintain their basic functions of breathing, digesting, regenerating cells, thinking, you name it.

image: Laura Hom
In other words, the number of calories we burn while resting – our basal metabolic rate (BMR) – is the bulk of what many people need to eat per day.

Here is a calorie counter from Runner's World that calculates how many calories your body needs, depending on your age, height, weight, and gender.

I'll share my results, which give a sense of how much more food you should (can?) eat if you exercise regularly!  But of course that is not the point of exercise...right?



Calorie needs for a fitness blogger


1/2 cup = 1/2 meal? Sigh.
image: RodzillaReviews
My basal metabolic rate (BMR) is 1358 calories per day – it's the number of calories I would burn if I were completely inactive. It amounts to 453 calories per meal x 3 meals, with no additional snacks.**

** But what about ice cream? (you may ask): a 1/2 cup (72g) of vanilla ice cream adds 137 calories, double that for richer flavors, or Ben and Jerry's, and 1/2 cup is about 1/4 of the B & J's pint container.

It's also not the full story. All activity (including typing this post!) takes some energy, and here is what the counter suggested that I consume, given different lifestyles:

  • 1630 Calories · Sedentary · If I do little or no exercise, but still walk to the car or bus, clean the kitchen, etc.

  • 1867 Calories · Lightly Active · If I participate in sports or light exercise 1-3 days per week.

  • 2105 Calories · Moderately Active · If I do moderate exercise or play sports 3-5 days per week.

  • 2343 Calories · Very Active · If I exercise hard or play sports 6-7 days per week.

  • 2580 Calories · Overly Active · If I exercise very hard daily and have a physical job, or do two workouts per day.

By these criteria, I'm normally a "Very Active" person, though some weeks I might be just "Moderately Active".

So unless we are really Very or Overly (Overly??) active, the bulk of the energy you or I need is simply to maintain normal functioning (i.e. a Sedentary lifestyle).

But lifestyle does make a difference, so do keep moving! If you ski, skate, or snowboard (or swim, bike, run, or dance) for one hour each day, you are likely burning between 400-700 additional calories, and walking briskly will burn roughly 200-300 calories per hour.

this is what 200 calories buys you, foodwise
this is what 200 calories buys you, snackwise
(Yes, you need to walk for an hour to burn up 6 peanut butter crackers or 8 Hersheys Kisses)


These values are for full hours, though, so if your workout is actually 30 minutes, you're burning only half those values! If this includes a slow warm-up, you'll need to adjust for that too...Sorry.

On the other end of the spectrum, Olympic and other intensive athletes that train several hours each day would multiply these values and would truly need to ramp up their calorie intake to support their training.


Helpful links for calorie management


Here is the calorie counter link again, plus a companion calories-burned counter for walkers and runners. Here's another counter showing calories burned by swimmers (with comparisons to walking, running, and cycling).

image: Rescu
I know I haven't mentioned the types of foods we eat, or how they are actually digested in this discussion. Of course we all should eat foods with the vitamins and minerals we need to run properly, but that is another story.

Calorie counting doesn't suggest you consume 1,500 or 2,000 calories of chocolate milk shake or fried chicken, and the web is full of suggestions about how to eat for good health!

Here are just one - two - three examples (national guidelines for the US, UK, and Canada).

You can check the calories found in hundreds of different foods at either of these two calorie-counter web sites, CalorieCount and WebMD. Both are very complete, including a huge range of foods and name brand products and dishes at particular restaurant chains (mostly US chains, but the foods count for everywhere!). Even if you don't want to count your calories, the numbers can help you estimate your intake.

I'll just have 1..., OK 10.
Snacks 1,  Calorie-counting 0.
image: Nemi, by Lise Myhre


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