Anyone who has ever dedicated him or herself to a healthy lifestyle knows this: There is far more to it than working out. Sure, exercising is a significant part of it. You need to put in the hours in the gym if you want to accomplish your fitness goals (these workouts should obviously include a good ankle brace or knee brace to help protect yourself). That’s only part of the equation, though. An equally important aspect of fitness and health is a good diet.
We’ve all heard the basics of eating healthy. Have a good breakfast, don’t eat too late, eat your fruits and vegetables, blah blah blah. Sticking to the basics can get you some decent results but, after a while, you’re going to have to dive deeper into nutrition if you really want to get to your ideal weight. It is not enough to simply count calories. It turns out, not all calories are created equal.
That’s right. There is such a thing as good calories and bad calories. Though they have a few similar properties, some foods have calories that are far better for you than the ones in other foods. Bad calories, or “empty” calories as they are often referred to, can put a serious damper on your quest to your perfect weight. Regardless of how many hours you are dedicating to the gym, these empty calories can and will hold you back from reaching all of your fitness goals. Here is a breakdown of how these little devils in disguise work.
What Are They?
Your body uses calories as its fuel to get through each day. Naturally, this is where your energy comes from—the food you eat every day. Athletes and active people, in general, require more calories in order to perform as they need to—i.e., they eat more—while people with less-active lifestyles need a lower level of caloric intake. In summation, calories are what makes us go.
Because our body relies so heavily on calories, people will turn to them in order to affect their weight in some way. It’s simple. If you want to put on some weight, you eat more. If you want to trim a few pounds, you eat less. This seems like a simple plan to get yourself looking the way you want, at least on the scale. However, empty calories in your system can adversely affect this plan.
While all calories give the body energy, empty calories do not have the nutritional value that good calories have. They offer little to no minerals, fiber or vitamins that your body needs in order to perform the way you want it to. Additionally, since they offer less than good calories, they will make you feel hungry again soon after consuming them. The body uses all of the good stuff that comes with healthy calories in order to satisfy hunger and other bodily needs. However, with empty calories, there is little to break down, leaving the body wanting more. This can cause overeating (the opposite of what you want when you are trying to lose weight). What’s the point of exercising so much if you are just going to put all of the weight right back on and then some during your daily meals? With a diet high in empty calories, you will continuously be taking one step forward and two steps back.
Foods to Avoid
The most common types of foods with high amounts of empty calories are probably the ones you would expect. Foods and beverages that are high in sugar, such as sweets and sodas, are chock full of these harmful calories. In other words, though a sugar rush can make you feel invincible for a short period of time, it is probably not a good idea to consume an energy drink to get you through a workout.
Foods that are high in fat are also not a great idea if you are trying to stay away from empty calories. I’m talking about fried foods, chips, margarine and white bread, to name a few. Try to lay off the junk food and substitute the white bread with wheat bread, which has far more nutrients for your body to use. Mix in some healthy, lean proteins such as eggs, beans and fish in order to give your body a high amount of nutrition and healthy fats. You should also stay away from excessive amounts of alcohol since it contains high levels of empty calories that your body will convert into fat.
It isn’t a deal breaker if you do decide to indulge in some empty calories daily. Generally, it is safe to consume 200-400 of these calories per day without experiencing any negative setbacks. Depending on how much you are eating overall, about 10% of your caloric intake can be composed of empty calories. Take a peek at the amount of added sugar, saturated fat and trans fat on food labels if you want to calculate this total. If you can either eliminate these foods altogether or at least limit your consumption of them, you will find it much easier to accomplish all of your health and fitness objectives.
It’s Worth the Trouble
Counting multiple types of calories throughout your day can be annoying. You will find yourself constantly examining labels to make sure you don’t go over your daily allotment of calories and empty calories. If you are serious about getting the body you have always wanted though, this inconvenience is a very small price to pay.
As with many things in life, moderation is key. There’s really no way around it; the foods with a lot of empty calories are delicious. But for the sake of your health, it is worth educating yourself as to the danger of consuming too much of them. Take action. Be above the urge to have these specific types of foods. When beach season rolls along, you’ll be very glad you did.