The Science of Fat

Posted: March 30, 2011 in Injuries and Owies, Nutrition
Tags: ,

My quads are still screaming today after the weekend’s Bay race.  Well, maybe they aren’t as bad as they were, say, yesterday or Monday, but sore nonetheless.  I’ve since had a home massage (which felt awesome), managed a short easy spin yesterday, and even participated in a yoga class; which, it must be said, was like being at the mercy of a Nazi doctor judging by the protests emanating from my lower limbs.  I’m not terribly surprised, really, as I was also sore after last years race, albeit not this sore…again, yay me!  However, most other runners I am speaking with now have informed me that their legs feel fine already with no lingering aches or pains.  How can that be?  Did they not just run the same 30-freakin-kilometers I did?  Did they not also suffer through the same 11k of brutal hills that I did?  Are they superhuman or something or am I just a pussy?  What gives?

But I need to give myself a little credit here.  Understanding that I’m running at the lightest I have ever run, I’m still easily 40-50 lbs heavier than most of my very capable training peers.  I’m not offering you this as any type of excuse; it just is what it is.  I can still certainly manage the same distances that they do and I’m just as strong enough to complete the same challenging workouts, but, let’s just say that my body has to absorb a little more punishment to do it…hence my lingering soreness.

Think of it this way, I raced this past weekend at 192 lbs.  One of my peers ran the same distance at 150 lbs (approximately).  This equates to more than a 40 lb difference in the load being carrying as well as the amount of continuous punishment being inflicted on the body throughout.  That difference on Sunday cost me approximately 10 minutes of time between the two of us.  Still not too shabby for a fat guy, but I’m paying for it dearly now.

I know, ‘so what’…right?  Well, the ‘so what’ here is that for me to begin closing that time gap there is only one thing that I can think of that I’m not doing already.  It would be quite impossible at this point form me to train more frequently than I am now without either quitting my job or inventing a time machine…and I’m no Emmett Brown, let me assure you.  So what’s to be done?  Loose more weight, fat boy!  That’s what.

When I first started dieting nearly 4 years ago, I knew next to nothing about health, nutrition, physical fitness, or even basic human physiology.  I didn’t know the difference between carbs and protein, what you should eat, or when.  Shit I didn’t know much at all!  Food went directly in my pie hole and my belly extended over my belt buckle; no muss, no fuss.  What was there to figure out exactly?  If you want to retract that belly back over the buckle, you just have to limit what goes in the pie hole.  Simple!  And I have done that…but now I need to take it to that next level if I’m ever going to make my ideal race weight.

What I understand now about dieting is that ‘health’ and ‘weight’ are not necessarily the same thing. At 5’10” and 192 lbs, I am still approximately 20-30 lbs overweight according to medical science although I can do things now physically that I could never do before.  I also like to think I’m a little easier on the eye now as well, but I digress.  So really, what I’m saying is that I’m healthy, but I’m not really healthy…get it?  However, knowing where I’d like to be – how do I get there if what I was doing before is no longer working as efficiently?  Well, I guess I’m going to have to begin counting calories…oi vay!

First, though, let’s start with whatever the heck a ‘calorie’ is in the first place and why do so many people get their panties in a total twist over them.  Basically, a calorie is a unit of energy. We tend to associate calories with food, but they apply to anything containing energy. For example, a gallon (about 4 liters) of gasoline contains about 31,000,000 calories.  Specifically, a calorie is the amount of energy, or heat, it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit).  One calorie is equal to 4.184 joules, a common unit of energy used in the physical sciences.  Yeah, yeah, whoopie shit…I know.  Get on with it.

Well, like cars need energy (gas) to work so to do human beings to survive – to breathe, move, pump blood – and they acquire this energy from food.  The number of calories in a food is a measure of how much potential energy that food possesses.  A gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories, a gram of protein has 4 calories, and a gram of fat has 9 calories.  Foods are a compilation of these three building blocks.  So if you know how many carbohydrates, fats and proteins are in any given food, you know how many calories, or how much energy, that food contains.

Our bodies “burn” the calories through normal metabolic processes, by which enzymes break the carbohydrates into glucose and other sugars, the fats into glycerol and fatty acids and the proteins into amino acids.  These molecules are then transported through the bloodstream to the cells, where they are either absorbed for immediate use or sent on to the final stage of metabolism in which they are reacted with oxygen to release their stored energy.

But just how many calories do our cells need to function well? Well, the number is different for every person. You may notice on the labels of the foods you buy that the “percent daily values” are based on a 2000 calorie diet – 2000 calories is a rough average of what a person needs to eat in a day, but your body might need more or less than 2,000 calories.  Height, weight, gender, age and activity level all affect your caloric needs.  There are three main factors involved in calculating how many calories your body needs per day:

  • Basal metabolic rate
  • Physical activity
  • Thermic effect of food

Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy your body needs to function at rest. This accounts for about 60 to 70 percent of calories burned in a day and includes the energy required to keep the heart beating, the lungs breathing, the kidneys functioning and the body temperature stabilized. In general, men have a higher BMR than women. One of the most accurate methods of estimating your basal metabolic rate is the Harris-Benedict formula:

  • Adult male: 66 + (6.3 x body weight in lbs.) + (12.9 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
  • Adult female: 655 + (4.3 x weight in lbs.) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)

The second factor in the equation, physical activity, consumes the next highest number of calories. Physical activity includes everything from making your bed to jogging. Walking, lifting, bending, and just generally moving around burns calories, but the number of calories you burn in any given activity depends on your overall body weight.  To further validate this particular point, given that I am now about 20 lbs lighter than I was at this time last year, I have also noticed that my total calories burned is approximately 300 less now than what I was burning this time last year during the same 90 minute Brick workout.  So that’s good…wait, or is it?  I’m getting confused here.

The thermic effect of food is the final addition to the number of calories your body burns. This is the amount of energy your body uses to digest the food you eat – it takes energy to break food down to its basic elements in order to be used by the body. To calculate the number of calories you expend in this process, multiply the total number of calories you eat in a day by 0.10, or 10 percent.

The total number of calories a body needs in a day is the sum of these three calculations. As I figure it, I need approximately 2200 calories a day to function adequately.  So what happens if I take in more or fewer calories than my body burns? I would either gain or lose fat, respectively.  An accumulation of 3,500 extra calories is stored by your body as 1 lb of fat – fat is the body’s way of saving energy for a rainy day. If, on the other hand, I burn 3500 more calories than you eat, whether by exercising more or eating less, your body converts 1 lb of its stored fat into energy to make up for the deficit.  And in my case, that 1 lb of fat is also going to translate as 25 seconds of time gained on my peers come race day.

So, starting today (well, Monday actually) I’m going to eat less and eat better.  I’m going to track what I eat, and tally-up those damn calories. What I’m doing should be fairly simple.  The plan is to target 1,900 calories per day for the next little while and gauge what happens.  I don’t know what my intake has been, but I’m sure it’s been much more than 2200 calories per day.  I should also mention that I do not plan on going hungry either. Part of what I’m doing is just cutting out things that don’t matter much.  For example, I can skip the amount of brown sugar I put in my evening cups of tea.  Perhaps, I can skip the butter on my vegetables or cut out the handfuls of Jube-Jube’s from the many candy bowls at the desks of my work colleagues.

Sure it sounds pretty easy…but only time will tell.  What I will say, is that I hope my peers do in fact invent themselves a time machine, and soon, because if this whole calorie-counting thing works…they’re sure going to need it.

  1. Jan says:

    OMG! Brown sugar in your tea every day? You dingbat! But 192 and going down with watching calories? Just let me know if I miss you in the hallway when you walk past me!

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