Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
9 Jul

The Context of Calories

200 Calories Food

200 Calories is 200 Calories. Right?

“What’s that in the road ahead?”


“What’s that in the road!? A head!?”

Context is important.

Many people think weight loss is simply about cutting calories. But context counts here, too. Calories do have context and that’s what I want to explore today. Is a calorie from fat the same as a calorie from protein or carbohydrate? Depends on the context. Does day-to-day calorie monitoring make any difference if your week-to-week weight and energy expenditure are dialed in? Maybe not.

Most people (even many scientists) believe that the body composition challenge is a relatively simple equation: to lose weight you must reduce calories (either eat less or burn more), to gain weight you must add calories, and to maintain weight you keep calories constant. Calories in over calories out.

The truth is, it’s more like a complex equation where you have to factor in many other very important variables: Do I want to lose weight or just body fat? Do I want to gain weight or just muscle? How much muscle do I want to put on and how fast? What is my personal genetic “range” or limit for body fat or muscle? These are all different contexts. And these are further affected by supply (types and quantity of foods as well as frequency of meals) and metabolic demand (your relative immediate need for either energy, repair, or building). In the short-term, they are rate-limited by hormones (insulin, glucagon, epinephrine, nor-epinephrine, cortisol etc). And in the long-term the range (or limits) of possible outcomes is determined by gene expression (5’8” ectomorphs simply can’t become 275-lb body-builders, but they can be well-proportioned 165-lb men or 135-lb women.). The context can also change day-to-day. That’s where you come in as the director.

Fat burning, glucose burning, ketone burning, glycogen storage, fat storage, gluconeogenesis, and protein turnover. All of these energy-related processes are going on simultaneously in each of us at all times. But the rate at which each of these processes happens is different in each of us and they can increase or decrease (sometimes dramatically) depending on the context of our present circumstances and our long term goals. All of these contexts utilize the same gene-based principles of energy metabolism – the biochemical machinery that we all share – but because they all involve different starting points as well as different goals or possible outcomes, they often require different action plans. We can alter the rate at which each of these metabolic processes happens simply by changing what and when we eat. We can change the context.

The RD’s will tell you that protein has four calories per gram, so when you figure your daily intake, budget calories accordingly. But protein is used by the body mostly for maintaining structure and function. Yes, it can be burned as fuel, but really only as a secondary source, and even then, it must be converted to glucose to be utilized. So, depending on the need within the body, the first 10, 20 or 30 grams of protein might go towards repair and growth – not energy. Do we therefore discount those first 30 grams when we “count calories?” Depends on the context. If you don’t exercise much and eat frequently and copiously all the time, maybe most of the protein you eat will count more towards your calorie budget (since your structural protein turnover is relatively less). On the other hand, if you run yourself ragged, are under a great deal of stress (lots of catabolic hormones) and generally don’t get much protein, maybe most of that one high-protein meal goes toward repair and won’t be called upon as fuel for days or weeks. Or maybe you’re coming off an IF day. Does it really count as calories today if it isn’t burned or stored as fat? If those protein calories today go to adding lean mass (muscle) that is retained for years, do those calories count today? Then again, as muscle it does offer a potential long-term stored source of energy when gluconeogenesis is increased. See what I mean? Depends on the context.

Fats aren’t just for fuel either. They can be integral parts of all cell membranes and hormones and can serve as critical protective cushioning for delicate organs. At what point do the fats we consume stop becoming structural and start becoming calorically dense fuel? Depends again on the context. If there’s a ton of carbohydrates accompanying the fat on a daily basis, it’s pretty certain that that fat will be stored as adipose tissue sooner rather than later. That’s nine calories per gram in the tank for future use (if ever). And that’s what adds up over time when you weigh yourself. OTOH, if you’ve withheld carbs for a few days and your insulin remains low, the fats from this meal might be used quickly to provide fuel for normal resting metabolic processes.

Keep your carbs low enough long enough and you get into ketosis, a fat-burning state that creates what many now refer to as the “metabolic advantage.” In this context, fats are fueling most of the body’s energy demands either directly as fatty acids or as the fat-metabolism byproducts called ketones. To the delight of those looking to burn off unwanted fat, it gets better. The body balances the acidic effect of any excess ketones by either excreting them in the urine (in today’s $5 a gallon economy, isn’t that wasting fuel?) and by using ketones and fatty acids to create a bit more glucose for the brain via gluconeogenesis in a fairly “energy inefficient” process.

Finally, let’s look at the lowly carbohydrate and its four calories per gram. All carbs are broken down into simple sugars, and eventually (and almost always) into glucose. The primary use of glucose from all carbohydrate food is as fuel, whether burned immediately as it passes by different organs and muscles or whether stored for later use. The brain, red blood cells, and nerve cells prefer glucose as primary fuel (but don’t absolutely require it – they can use ketones). Muscles that are working hard will prefer glucose if it is available, but don’t absolutely require it unless they are working very hard for very long. If it is not burned immediately as fuel, excess glucose will be first stored as glycogen in muscle and liver cells and then, if or when these glycogen storage depots are full, it will be converted to fatty acids and stored in fat cells as fat. The things to remember about carbs and to put into context: Carbs are not used as structural components in the body – they are used only as a form of fuel; glucose in the bloodstream is toxic to humans UNLESS it is being burned immediately as fuel. (For reference, “normal” blood sugar represents only about one teaspoon of glucose dissolved in the entire blood pool in your body). That’s why insulin is so critical to taking it out of the bloodstream and putting it somewhere FAST, like muscle cells or fat cells. Moreover, humans can exist quite easily without ever eating carbs, since the body has several mechanisms for generating glucose from the fat and proteins consumed, as well as from proteins stripped from muscle tissue. For all these reasons, in the PB-style of eating, carbs are lowest priority. Unless your context includes lots of endurance activities (or storing fat) there’s little reason to overdo the carbs (USDA and RDs’ recommendations notwithstanding).

So what’s the take home message from all this? To be honest, I thought maybe you could tell me! Maybe it’s that by understanding how these metabolic processes work, and knowing that we can control the rates at which each one happens through our diet (and exercise) we needn’t agonize over the day-to-day calorie counting. As long as we are generally eating a PB-style plan and providing the right context, our bodies will ease into a healthy, fit, long-lived comfort zone rather effortlessly.

Disease Proof via Wisegeek Photo

Further Reading:

Definitive Guides to:

The Primal Blueprint




Insulin, Blood Sugar and Type 2 Diabetes

Stress, Cortisol and the Adrenals

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Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Great post, guys. I have long thought that the “black box” theory of calories in, calories out doesn’t make much sense in the real world. I always tried to put it in environment context though. I’d never really thought about the metabolic context. I feel much educated. What’s my takeaway message? The thing that I have learned most from you guys over the past year: you should tailor your food not just to your goals but to your activities as well. It sounds so simple when I type it out like that but for me it was a revelation. Thanks!

    charlotte wrote on July 9th, 2008
  2. Really great post. It all depends what you want and its so important to be keeping healthy and making the good choices- and to figure out what kind of fuel our bodies need for what we require of them.

    Sagan wrote on July 9th, 2008
  3. I just started using the food log on, as suggested by Mark a few months ago. I believe I am pretty active and eat well, well, not according to you all, as I do eat some carbs. It has been an eye opener to see what the breakdown of my diet really is. I’m happy to say that I’m usually pretty well covered nutritionally, but i want to take off the ten pounds I put on accidentally.

    So, Mark, what percentage of one’s diet should be appropriated to proteins, fats, and carbohydrates?

    BTW, I find the info fitday fascinating and it has been keeping me more attentive to the quality of my meals. I do wish they listed in line skating as one of their activities though! It’s one of my staples.


    Pat wrote on July 9th, 2008
  4. Pat,

    The point I was trying to make here is that there is no set percentage formula. It all depends on your “context” and what you are trying to achieve. It’s almost never about percentages of Fat/Pro/Cho, but rather figuring your exact “average” requirements of each individual nutrient. It’s different for everyone. I guess I’ll do a follow-up post to go into the “math” of figuring out your daily needs with some examples.

    Mark Sisson wrote on July 9th, 2008
    • Hi Mark, I love what you’re doing to help us all here!!
      I do have a question about this as well, I’m looking back to see where I was loosing weight and what %’s I was taking in, would that be the recommended way to determine what my requirements are to loose weight?
      The last couple weeks I haven’t budged but weight wise, although I feel it, but wondering if this is how I can hone into how my body reacts to what I’m taking in…..
      I’m looking all around the site and dont see where you might have posted on the math…

      thank you!!

      Kelly wrote on February 2nd, 2011
    • As much as people from all dietary backgrounds love to riff on Atkins, that’s actually a good start. If you have body fat to lose, start at 20g of carbs a day, then up your intake by about 5 or 10g a week. (If you’re really carb-sensitive, better make it 5.) The Eadeses in their book Protein Power also give a method of calculating lean mass so you can figure out your protein needs (they also factor in activity level). It’s a starting point from which to experiment, anyway.

      Dana wrote on April 1st, 2011
  5. I do 65% fat 30% protien and 5% carbs just because i want to lose weight as fast as i can.

    willyd wrote on July 9th, 2008
  6. I wrote Mark awhile back and as part of that exchange I identified my carb intake as being 60-80 grams a day. I thought I was closer to 60 most days than 80s. Well here’s the numbers over the last couple of weeks according to Fitday:

    Average Calories
    grams cals %total
    Total: 1674
    Fat: 92 831 50%
    Sat: 29 262 16%
    Poly: 15 136 8%
    Mono: 31 278 17%
    Carbs: 95 345 21%
    Fiber: 8 0 0%
    Protein: 95 380 23%
    Alcohol: 15 106 6%

    If you told me that I would average 1674 calories, I would think that I’d be dropping weight pretty fast. But it’s coming off slow at this point, and that carb count probably has a lot to do with that.

    I didn’t jump on the Challenge because I thought I was already living by the BP. But I’m eating a lot more fruit than Grok probably did.

    DaveC - DaveGetsFit wrote on July 9th, 2008
  7. Dave, you’re trying to burn fat but eating 831 calories of fat a day. You want to see why you are not losing fat faster, look at that.

    Joe wrote on July 10th, 2008
    • I think you need to read Mark’s post again, Joe.

      Although if he’s above his carb tolerance at 90+ grams a day, and has his insulin up as a result, of course the dietary fat will be stored. But if he gets his carbs lower that won’t necessarily be true.

      Dana wrote on April 1st, 2011
  8. Joe,
    I’m not sure that is necessarily true.
    You need to get your calories from somewhere.
    According to the PB, Grok’s diet consisted mostly of fat and protein. If Dave cuts out all those healthy fat calories, how will he replace them?
    I wouldn’t mind hearing what Mark S. has to say about it.


    Marc wrote on July 10th, 2008
  9. you’re trying to burn fat but eating 831 calories of fat a day. You want to see why you are not losing fat faster, look at that.

    That flies in the face of everything I’ve come to believe over the last year of reading this blog, several others, and Gary Taubes’ book. One of the mantras I’ve repeated in discussing diet in other forums is that “eating fat doesn’t make you fat.” My fat consumption has stayed pretty constant over the last 11 months, including a three month period where I dropped 30 pounds. I’m still losing but it’s been a bit of a roller coaster in that after steady losses, I’ll have a spike where I put back three or four pounds. Those spikes correlate directly with carb binging. Case in point: I stepped on the scale on the morning of July 3rd and weighed 199. That’s the first time I’ve been under 200 in maybe 17 years! I was going to post a “breaking the Mendoza line” entry on my blog but I decided to hold off. Good thing. On the 4th of July I chased my grilled t-bone with five pieces of pistachio creme pie and four bottles of Shiner Bock. I was afraid to get on the scale Saturday but I finally did on Sunday and it read 205! It seems I pay dearly for carb binging (my attempts to find an oral surgeon who does sweet tooth extractions has been futile). I have cut back on fats somewhat recently but only because of the calorie content it was adding. I used to bathe my salads in olive oil and vinegar dressing, and I ate a lot of almonds. When I first started using Fitday was the first time I realized how calorie dense that dressing was. So now I only use a couple of tablespoons and I don’t munch on almonds.

    My plan going forward now is to cut back a little on the fruit, especially the tropical stuff that I love (mango & pineapple). I’m still going to have my daily apple (to not do so sounds sacrilegious). As long as I avoid the binging, the weight will come off. I’m just a little surprised that my total calorie intake is as low as it is. It’s probably a testament to the satisfying nature of good fats that I can eat this way and not feel hungry!

    Dave C. - DaveGetsFit wrote on July 10th, 2008
  10. Eating fat dosn”t make you fat,but if you eat to many carbs with that fat it will.I tried adding in berries iam to carb sensitive,i stick with fat mostly saturated,meat,and a little veggies.As soon as i cut the beer out i started lossing again.

    willyd wrote on July 10th, 2008
  11. Guys, don’t forget that the scale isn’t the best thing to look at sometimes. Depending on your hydration levels and whether you’ve excreted your bowels that day, I’d give or take 5 lbs.

    Overnight, I lose around 5 lbs, after I wake up and pee.

    I’d say go for bodyfat % measurements to see how much leaner you are.

    And a mirror doesn’t lie, as long as your brain is willing to not lie to you about how you feel about yourself!

    Arthur wrote on July 10th, 2008
    • Getting bodyfat measurements can be weird if you don’t have access to the accurate methods for whatever reason. Might be better just to measure waist and hips and thighs and upper arms once a week or once a month. The scale can at least demonstrate a trend but I tend to weigh once a week, not once a day.

      Dana wrote on April 1st, 2011
    • Very very true.. I had dropped weight to 125 from 142 and was at 23.6% bf then noticed a big change in my body, I went up to 129-130 depending on the time of day lol, and my bf dropped to 20.6.

      I cut the carbs out entirely went through the candida die off phase and about two months in I am loving it all. My cloths fit better and I don’t mind the 5lb weight gain of muscle, because I am LOVING that 20.6% Scale numbers can be dangerous if you don’t consider your bf%…. :)

      Desi wrote on June 20th, 2011
  12. Arthur: Yep, that’s true. That’s why I gave up my weekly “Tale of the Scale” on my blog. If it just happened I was a little “backed up” on Fridays, then it looked like I wasn’t making any progress. But I assure you that I’ve had enough “carb events” to be convinced there is a correlation that goes beyond a liquid/waste variance.

    Dave C. - DaveGetsFit wrote on July 10th, 2008
  13. Perfect discussion to reflect upon the post. When Dave (or anyone) has a great couple of days or weeks of low carb eating, the body gets into a fat-burning mode. Doesn’t matter that he gets 831 calories from fat because he does need a minimum number of calories to cover his daily needs and it has to come from somewhere if not from carbs (or else he would burn muscle off as well as fat). As long as his daily protein is high enough to repair and build muscle and a little extra to offer up as glucose through gluconeogenesis, everything is working according to his plan. Where the plan changes (OK, the context changes), is when he adds the 5 (count’em, 5) pieces of pie. With the insulin spike here, most of what he eats will try to get stored: sugar as glycogen first, then fat; fat as adipose fat; aminos from the steak as muscle first, then glucose, then fat.

    I suspect that some of the overnight weight gain is muscle glycogen, which carries an extra 4 grams of water weight with each gram of glycogen. In this one evening’s indiscretion, not much damage is done in the way of excess fat storage. Some, but not so much that getting back on the program the next day can’t start to reverse it again. Furthermore, if Dave were to decide to do a longer, harder workout the next day, he could deplete the glycogen (and water with it) and find that he’s pretty much right back to normal weight. No harm from that minor foul. That’s why it’s not cool to beat yourself up after a bad day or two. As long as you get back on track and stay PB 80% (or more) of the time, you’ll move towards your ideal genetic expression, which is lower body fat, higher muscle/power, etc. Of course, if you live PB most or all the time, you’ll get there a little sooner and be able to maintain it easier.

    Mark Sisson wrote on July 10th, 2008
  14. I’ve known for a long time that a 100 calorie piece of candy is processed differently than a 100 calorie apple.

    But it’s only within the past few months that I figured out (largely with the info from Mark’s Daily Apple) that grains have a huge effect on my body composition. When I knock off the grains for a week, I’m visibly leaner and harder. A couple days back on the grains and boom!, I’ll start looking and feeling squishy around the middle. I believe it goes beyond the water retention that comes with carbs.

    On the other hand, my body really responds well to fruit. I can eat massive quantities of fruit (watermelon! plums! strawberries!) and it revs me up like a hummingbird so that I burn off the extra calories it provides. One of those individual differences that I had to figure out by paying attention.

    dragonmamma wrote on July 10th, 2008
  15. Informative and helpful post (and comments). Thanks!
    I haven’t figured myself out quite yet (you’d think by now…). It’s part of my 30 day challenge to do that (or at least start paying a little more attention). I plan and plan, but don’t always follow-up with a little day-to-day observation.

    Alex wrote on July 10th, 2008
  16. Well, then, I guess I’m a failure:(

    I’m pretty well finished eating for the day here on the East Coast and my breakdown is as follows:

    1509 Calories
    61 Grams Fat (little Saturated)
    140 Grams Carbs (whoops, but mostly fruit and veggies
    108 Protein

    I move around on a daily basis, skating, biking, walking rounds of golf and lift weights twice a week.

    Just excluding alcohol and sweets from my diet has made my clothing looser in a few days.

    I am sucked into watching fluctuating numbers on the scale.

    BTW, I’m 5′ 4″ and weigh 134, but my Body Fat is higher than it should be, while still within “healthy” numbers. Unfortunately, I am fighting the menopause pudge at 56.

    To commit to excluding grains would be tough.

    Pat wrote on July 10th, 2008
  17. Pat,

    Trust me, excluding grains isn’t too tough. Once you get past the three weeks phase of excluding them, you don’t crave them anymore. Keep your resolve high! You can do it.

    Arthur wrote on July 11th, 2008
  18. Pat, slice off some of those carbs (dare I say atleast half of them) and I think you weight will start going downwards.

    Sue wrote on July 13th, 2008
  19. Good stuff. From a diabetic perspective I found this paper covers much of 21st century dietary theory

    more excellent stuff on that site.

    I don’t have to bother with weight reduction as I’m generally a skinny bastard anyway, the only thing that made me put on weight was the Healthy High Carb Low Fat diet and IMO it’s a toss up between the high carbs and the low fat as to which had most effect in worsening my BG and lipids. There’s no doubt in my mind that metabolism is several orders of magnitude more complicated than the soundbytes you get fed over the media, and all too many “medical professional” sites, certainly with my family’s genes Taubes & co. are right

    Trinkwasser wrote on September 17th, 2008
  20. So, not sure if this discussion is still active, but I’m curious: do I count calories overall or not? And further, is it possible too have too few calories?

    I’ve been doing PB for a while, segued into it from more general low-carb. I turn those ketostix a lovely shade of purple, but just don’t seem to be losing any weight. I’m working out (turbulence training), and I track everything I put in my mouth. Keep calories to about 1800 or so a day. Help!

    mgood66 wrote on January 12th, 2009
    • 1800 calories is semi-starvation, if I’m not mistaken. Fitday tracks micronutrients as well as macro and calories… make sure you’re getting what you need. I was reading over at WholeHealthSource that merely supplementing with a multivitamin encouraged weight loss in obese people. I suspect what people think of as “starvation mode” on very low calorie diets is actually malnutrition that shuts down metabolism. I mean, from what I can tell, *ketosis* is starvation mode, and most people lose weight with that if everything else is working properly.

      Dana wrote on April 1st, 2011
  21. If you truly eat “Primally” there’s no need to count calories. But I ‘d need more info, like where are you at in weight and body fat? where do you want to be? are you sprinting ever? etc.

    Mark Sisson wrote on January 12th, 2009
  22. I’m hovering around 200. 42 years old, 5’9″, probably around 17 or 18% bodyfat.

    I do HIIT 3-4 times a week on an eliptical trainer. Bad feet, so running/sprints not really an option.

    Not sure if it’s the fish oil, PB, vitamin D or what, but I feel great. I really even notice a lot of mental fog has disappeared (didn’t even know it was there until it was gone), but the fat loss just doesn’t seem to be happening. Could I actually need to bump UP calories?

    I’ve even been doing a fast once a week, thinking of going to two. The first few weren’t fun, but after a few under my belt, it’s not so bad.

    mgood66 wrote on January 12th, 2009
  23. I wouldn’t bump the calories up. Just keep doing what you’re doing and IF once or twice a week. May take a while to draw down your extra fat stores

    Mark Sisson wrote on January 23rd, 2009
  24. Mark,
    I hate to be so picky, but just wanted to point out that Carbohydrates are used structurally. Many post-translational proteins and membrane lipids are glycosylated in order to become biologically active. And what about the extremely prevalent carbohydrate ribose? It is found in every cell as a component of RNA, DNA, ATP, etc! The point being, the food we eat, even carbohydrates, are much more than just sources of energy. And, I agree with you, we are fools to think that we can over simplify such a complex phenomenon such as cellular biochemistry to help us lose a few pounds. It is not as simple as Calories in vs Calories out.

    Dan Hubbard wrote on January 17th, 2010
    • Your body can make sugar, though. So there’s no need to eat the stuff in order to have sugars to use structurally. In fact it can be dangerous, because it doesn’t take much to go over your structural requirement for ribose or whatever, and then you wind up with all that surplus glucose that your body has to get rid of *right now.* This, by the way, is why glucose has been termed the body’s preferred fuel. It is not because your body sits around going, “Gee, I believe I would like some sugar right now.” It’s because when that glucose hits your system, your body goes “OMG! INCOMING! QUICK, GET RID OF IT!”

      As I pointed out somewhere else recently, alcohol is an even more preferred fuel than glucose. Again, not because the body’s sitting around going “Gee, I would really like a six-pack of Bud today,” but because it’s poison. I think it’s rather clever of Nature, actually, to arrange matters such that our bodies can sometimes get rid of toxic substances by turning them into fuel.

      Dana wrote on April 1st, 2011
  25. Hi Guys, appreciate any advice people can offer…Im 5’8, 143 pounds (about 120 pounds lean BW). I train 4-5 times a week, mostly following crossfit workouts. I’ve been working on my food log, but somedays the calories Im consuming seem low around 1800, with the highest day around 2350. Do I need to be consuming more food if I want to increase my muscle mass? My protein intake is already over the suggested 1 pound per pound lean BW, and my fat intake is around 50% of my calories, and my carbs are around 110g a day. So do I need anymore calories to add some muscle mass? and if so where should I be getting then from?
    Sorry for the long post! Thanks for the help

    Phil wrote on January 21st, 2010
  26. Sorry guys, I mean 1g/pound of bodyweight for my protein!

    Phil wrote on January 21st, 2010
  27. How much is 100-150 grams of carbs I am realy confussed. How do I know how many calories I should eat in a day, I want to loose 10 pounds, I am 130lbs now (female) I workout lots weights and cardio, people say I look good. I just have a goal that I want to get to and 10 pounds good on my legs arms and butt. I have tried everything my weight does not want to budge. I am really frustrated please help, I am reading the primal blueprints book but getting more frustrated and confussed. Please Help!

    Carrie wrote on February 13th, 2010
    • These are all from

      3 cups cooked, instant oatmeal = 128g of carbohydrate.

      2 large, white baked potatoes = 97g.

      3 cups cooked, white rice is about 130g.

      3 cups cooked, white spaghetti = 129g.

      4 large apples = 117g.

      8 cups of cooked broccoli = 105g

      I just recently got turned on to MDA and its basic premise is similar to another format I saw a while ago that requires some counting. Basically, you take your (realistic) goal weight and multiply by 10 for base calories. (This assumes 1 hour of exercise per week.) For each additional hour, you add 1 to your base calorie calculation, so two hours total would be target weight X11, three hours X12, etc.

      From that calorie calculation you break it down to 1g of protein, 0.5g fat per pound of target body weight and the balance in carbohydrate. In some cases this will be in excess of 150g of carbs upper limit recommended on the carb curve here.

      I’ve been a “counter,” but slowly weening myself off. Plus, sites like fitday is basically “counting” and recommended by more than one person on the MDA Forum. It is a great way to “learn” food.

      As I’m new to all of this, I’m considering a “hybrid” of the two for now. Basically, 1g protein/lb, 0.5g fat/lb, and 50g carb total + approx 50-100g carb per hour of exercise (about 3.5 per week for me.)

      Great stuff on this site!

      Charlie Golf wrote on April 12th, 2010
    • I’m going to give you recommendations from two different low-carb books. One will require that you get the book, but you can find it secondhand. (I’ve seen it at Half-Price Books for a dollar in their clearance section. Goodwill might sometimes carry it too.)

      Carb intake: If you want to know what your body can tolerate, and you want to kick off fat-burning, do your carb intake Atkins-style. Start out at 20g a day for two weeks. That’s 20g digestible carbohydrate, anything that would affect your blood sugar. Fiber is a gimme because you can’t digest it.

      Then, after that 2-week period of 20g a day, increase your carb intake by 5g once a week. So in week 3 you would be eating 25g a day; in week 4 you would be eating 30g a day, and so on. Keep that up til you get to a point that you are no longer losing weight, then hold your carb intake at that level.

      You don’t *need* the Atkins book to pull this off, but for maximum efficiency and minimum grief I would at least visit their website and see what they say about recommended carb foods for each phase of the diet. You’re going to find they emphasize non-starchy veggies and (later) nuts and low-sugar fruits over anything tubery or grainy. Grains should be the very last thing you re-introduce.

      Protein intake: The book Protein Power has a couple formulas and a bunch of charts that help you establish a ballpark number for your bodyfat level, calculate your lean mass, and then determine your daily protein needs for that lean mass based on your typical daily activity level. If you get the book for no other reason, get it for that one. A lot of the formulas I’ve seen online for recommended protein intake depend on total weight and you’re not trying to maintain fatty tissue integrity with your protein intake–only your lean mass.

      Under this system I would treat beef and dairy fat and coconut oil as free foods, minimize your polyunsaturated oil intake as much as possible and when you do eat PUFAs, try to make them omega-3s as much as possible. Fish is healthy. Soybean oil is not. Et cetera.

      I don’t know how much I would worry about calories. Play with it–use FitDay or similar, and see what works for you. It’s impossible for anyone to tell you you must eat X number of calories a day because we’re not right there with you seeing the results.

      Have fun. I miss being 130. :(

      Dana wrote on April 1st, 2011
  28. “Carbs are not used as structural components in the body”

    I am new to PB and I am liking what I am reading. One problem I had with this post is in the above statement. I just finished my biochemistry course and carbohydrates are used all the time for various structures in the body. For example, polysaccharides (carbs) are often found in conjunction with proteins and lipids in/on cell membranes and play roles in cell communication. Any thoughts Mark?

    Fry wrote on April 14th, 2010
    • I’m not Mark, but your body is capable of making the sugars it needs. (The nutritional definition of “essential” is “anything your body needs to live and function that it cannot make for itself.” There is no essential carbohydrate.) If you eat way more carb than your body needs for whatever structures, etc., then it has to be burned as fuel or stored as fat because it’s too dangerous to just leave floating around in the body.

      Dana wrote on April 1st, 2011
      • The same can be said for most fats, aside from the essential lipids (the fat-soluble vitamins and the n3 and n6 polyunsaturated fats). Beyond needing a small amount of very specific fats, our body is capable of synthesizing its own lipids (saturated fat, n9 fatty acids, and cholesterol, to name a few). The argument that there is no essential carbohydrate doesn’t imply our body has no use for them–indeed, the very fact we can turn carbs into fat but NOT vice versa has stronger implications for the versatility of carbohydrates in the diet.

        Brian wrote on January 28th, 2013
  29. I came across this site today and will be incorporating these things into my eating plan. I’ve actually lowered my sugar intake over the last 4 weeks significantly and I’ve kept my carbs down to 120 to 150g per day. I put my workouts on a calendar and will start in earnest tomorrow (Monday) alternating low impact cardio, weight lifting and high impact cardio.

    I want to know how to figure out my caloric range. I’m 36, 199lbs, 5’3′, and primarly a endomorph but it easy to put on muscle.

    Mark thank you in advance for any info regarding my caloric intake.

    Melinda wrote on April 18th, 2010
  30. Excellent post. This is perfect for my sister who is 2 years older then me. We had a loud argument about a month ago over the fact that a calorie is a calorie. I said it was NOT while she kept on claiming that it is.

    This article is about to be e-mailed to her :)

    Todd wrote on April 19th, 2010

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