A calorie is a unit of energy. Just like pounds (lbs) is used to measure weight, and miles is used to measure distance.
When food engineers measure calorie content of a food material, it usually involves physically burning that piece of food material in a bomb caloriemeter. The total amount of heat energy generated from the total breakdown of the food material estimates the amount of calories the food has.
So the equation goes like this:
Food + Oxygen (O2) — combustion —> Carbon dioxide (CO2) + Water (H2O) + Heat (Calorie)
That is physics.
The food we consume, if we burn it off due to physical activity, will produce a somewhat similar end products:
Food (digested and absorbed ) + O2 — metabolism —> CO2 + H2O + ENERGY in the form of ATP
That is Biochemistry.
What is similar? The end product CO2 and H2O plus some form of energy.
What is different? Almost everything else.
I begin this article with this very important fact, because we tend to forget that metabolism is way different from physics.
Anything we do, voluntarily or involuntarily requires energy. As long as we are alive, we need constant supply of energy just to keep going.
ATP or Adenosine Tri Phosphate is the currency of energy.
When ATP breaks down to ADP, things happen that allows us to function biochemically. ATP is a factor that facilitates biochemical reactions in the body.
ATP —–> ADP —> biochemical function
Movement is a biochemical function. When we exercise, ATP is depleted.
Since moving is voluntary, it is a means for us to deliberately spend more energy that is in our body.
That is why the only thing to do to quickly burn calories is to exercise.
What happens when we exercise and the ATP is depleted?
More ATP is generated by the break down of larger molecules in the body.
The favored fuel is glucose and fat.
GLUCOSE + O2 =====> CO2 + H2O + Generate more ATP
FAT + O2 ========> CO2 + H2O + Generate more ATP
This is a very simplified explanation of what energy is and what happens in your body when we talk about burning calories.
Note that in the beginning of this article the difference between a machine burns calories and the way our metabolism burns calories. Machine burns calories with heat, and more heat is released. Our metabolism does not burn calories with heat (otherwise we’d all self-destruct). Rather, a complex series of biochemical reactions takes place that breaks the molecules down step-by-step. All this is done in a regulated manner.
Since by just being alive, we require energy, even at rest we burn off about 80 Kcalories per hour.
If we want to burn more calories, we simply have to be more active — move.
This is of course, not the end of it.
Because we know we cannot move (over-exercise) to burn everything. We cannot even starve to lose everything. This is because, metabolism is a step-by-step, highly regulated function.
In order to get things right, we have to understand how our bodies work.
Interesting Facts About Burning Calories
- ATP is the currency for energy in the body, and it is required for every biochemical function to keep us alive.
- The more weight we carry (the more body mass we have) the more energy is required by the body, even at rest.
- Different types of cells require different levels of energy. Fat cells, for example utilizes much less energy as muscle cells.
- When ATP is depleted, glucose and fat break down to replace this deficit.
- The brain can only use glucose as a fuel.
- A metabolically healthy body prefers fat as fuel, while a metabolically “deranged” body prefers glucose as fuel. What determines this is your diet. (refer to chapter 5, Food Glorious Food in Forever Young Forever Fit)
- While moving helps to utilize energy (hence burn calories), building muscle tissue, and recovering from an intense anaerobic workout requires a whole lot of ATP too.
- Stress, starvation and over-exercise can sap out your energy, because it is a biochemical function. This leads to poor state of health, aging and disease because it turns the body on itself. The body in such situation begins to use it’s own tissues as fuel for ATP.
What is this article good for? It is important that we understand concepts well enough to make good lifestyle choices. Much of this information can be found in Forever Young Forever Fit, or the following publications:Uncover that stronger you. Embark on the new lifestyle. This process involves taking many steps. These aren’t big steps, but little ones that work together. I have managed to put these in the book for anyone to benefit from it. Forever Young Forever Fit is available in Amazon stores in Kindle and paperback. Now available in German, Jung & Fit: fuer immer.
Highly Recommended Reading
This online article on calories can only touch the surface of this very much talked about (but poorly understood) subject. This is a great book to read if you are interested in understanding nutritional calories, and all the diet myths circling around burning calories and consuming calories. Gary Taubes is not a doctor, but a journalist, who for decade has sought to put to right all the un-truths and misinformation health authorities around the world has perpetuated for 3 decades leading to the obesity crisis that we face worldwide today.
This book was published in 2008. One would think the world would change their idea that all calories from food are created equal. It will take more time before authorities get cracking on education and food laws.
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