Calorie Basics

Calorie Basics — The Physics involves More Newton than Anyone Else!

We all need energy and when we talk about the energy we need to turn the pedals of our bicycles we generally talk in terms of calories and here are some quick Calorie Basics.

Calorie Basics — What is a Calorie?

The official definition of a calorie is: the heat energy required to raise one gram of water, 1° C. A gram is about the weight of a paperclip and so is not much water and that makes the calorie a small unit of energy. In fact, I once calculated the calories it takes to move me up a flight of stairs and was stunned at the huge number, but when a colleague informed me that in the context I was performing the calculation I need to think in larger units.

Calorie Basics — Calories vs. Kilo-Calories: The Larger Units.

The opening definition of a calorie is a small amount of energy; therefore, the calorie we normally talk about is a kilo-calorie, that is 1,000 calories. So take heart, and that 2,300 calorie budget you are on is actually 2,300,000 calories!

Calorie Basics — Measuring the Calories in Food

It was da-bomb! The old technique involved burning the food in question in a water filled sealed container, the process used electricity and when the food was consumed they would measure the temperature of the water. However, that technique is no longer used due to the expense of it and the genuine concern it overstates the extractable calories from the food.

Instead, they now typically use tables and base the caloric content off the macro-nutrient content. That is, it is generally accepted protein and carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram and fats provide about 9 calories per gram. There are other nutrients in the mix, but that is the big 3 (alcohol comes in at 7 calories per gram).

Calorie Basics — Digging Deeper What is Energy?

Energy is simply the “stuff” we need to do work and work at its easiest to understand level is changing the motion of an object (making a still object move, bring a moving object to a stop, making an object turn, etc). In order to move your legs, to turn the crank, to move the chain, to spin the rear wheel you need energy. That energy is derived from the calories you eat and drink!

Now, often times when we talk of biking we often hear the word power used. Power is related to but is NOT energy and is actually the rate at which work is performed. Two actors can accomplish the same work using different power, but the one who used the greater power did the work in less time. The energy output is the same the time is different.

Calorie Basics — Biological Facts

Now we have some of the basic physics out of the way we can talk of calories as they relate to biking and weight loss or gain. I have seen a number of people argue that the weight loss equation of `calories in < calories out` is not true, that if you eat smart you will lose weight. Rubbish. Eating smart is always needed, but if in eating smart you take in more calories than you expend you will gain weight.

Our bodies are built to consume, store, and expend energy. Since most of human existence has been in feast-famine mode our bodies are always glad to take on more energy and reluctant to give it up. Who knows, the dry season may come early this year and we will have to go an extra month with little food. This has been the case until very recent in our history. I have read stories of my ancestors in Door County having very little to eat over the winter (and sharing what little they had with others). Now a days, we hear much about obesity.

Calorie Basics — 3,500

It is generally accepted as fact that one pound of human body weight is equivalent to 3,500 calories. If you eat 3,500 more calories than you burn you will gain a pound, if you expend 3,500 calories more than you eat you will lose that pound. Over the course of a year that translates to 10 calories per day. That amounts to +/- 1 peanut M&M per day.

Calorie Basics — Biking

Bicyclists soon learn about the need to add calories judiciously while riding. The evil bane of processed sugars and even soda pop (usually defizzed) is used by professional riders. The reason is because sugars can be quickly broken down and delivered to the muscles in useful form to provide the energy to make the crank turn round n’ round! Sure a hunk prime-rib fat contains a lot more calories but we all know how hard it is to digest that fat and my body is busy trying to set a course record.