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How Much To Eat?

Calorie Balance:

We measure the calories we eat and drink in kilocalories which are identified as Kcal (pronounced Kay Cal). One Kcal is 1000 calories and is the exact amount of energy needed to heat 1 litre of water by 1 degree Celsius.

Put simply, Kcal balance means, the total amount of Kcal we absorb from food and drink should equal the total Kcal we use to power our bodily functions. Breathing, digesting food and sleeping all require Kcal as we are living organisms. Our hearts are always beating. We are always repairing damaged tissue and fighting off germs. Exercise and training burn Kcal much more quickly. A healthy amount to eat and drink is enough Kcal to balance the energy you burn off.

The NHS says that an ideal daily intake of Kcal varies depending on age, metabolism and levels of physical activity, among other things. It states the recommended daily Kcal intake is 2,000 Kcal a day for women and 2,500 for men. However, this is openly, a very rough guide. It is not the correct number for athletes. Here we explore further to improve your dietary and nutritional intake.

Lucky for us, our fantastic bodies let us know when we are hungry, thirsty, full etc. Whilst Kcal is a absolutely exact measure for energy, to quantify all expended energy and count every single Kcal consumed is not ever going to be exact, unless (and still not exact) you go to a lab (and then it is only for the time at the lab). Here are some ways you can get a good estimation of Kcal burn but as an athlete, you don't need to worry a great deal about trying to count:

  • Your watch or activity tracking app will estimate your Kcal burn for you. Although the problem is accuracy can vary between devices, apps and products.

  • If you have a heart rate monitor that is another metric that will estimate your Kcal burn. Based on your zones being correct all the time, your heart rate will show how much effort it takes for you to do a certain activity, and that effort determines the Kcal you burn. Heart rate is normally more accurate than an activity tracker alone because it’s taken your specific heart rate into account but not precise, not nearly.

  • A MET values chart can also show you how much Kcal is typically burned during a specific activity based on your weight. This chart was created by researchers and used widely throughout the medical community. You get a generic figure similar to how the watch or HR monitor would estimate your calorie burn. It's good but not exact.

So why mention Kcal balance if we don't need to count?

Well, it's how much we need to eat and drink... Some people would burn lots of energy just sleeping whilst others could run miles and hardly need a thing.

Weighing yourself might be a good marker of status quo but if you are in training your weight could increase or decrease with Kcal balance as you change the composition of your body - muscle is heavier than fat and most of skeletal muscle is water so being hypohydrated (often termed dehydrated, which is the process of getting hypo hydrated) or hyperhydrated (over full of hydration) would also affect your weight acutely.

To conclude:

  • Don't count your calories, just be mindful of what you take on and expend.

  • Kcal balance means that when you do more, you need more. Likewise, when you do less you need less. But sometimes it's impossible to eat enough to cover the more so eating the same leads to balance.

  • Don't aim for a set body weight, but it could be a guide of hydration status.

  • Rather than count Kcal you could better judge your intake by looking at nutritional value.

  • We are referring to diet as our three meals and snacks and nutrition as the supplementary food and drink we have on top for training. 

  • Keep to a healthy diet and listen to your body.... but there is more to consider...


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