As an athlete and even just as a human, calories might just be the number one thing we need to look at nutritionally. Calories are the basis for what our bodies need to produce energy. This gives us the energy to walk, talk, sit, stand, and really to do everything in our life. A calorie is defined as a pre-SI (International system of units) metric system of units. It was first defined as a system of heat energy in 1824 and later became a unit to measure food energy. This is later defined as what kind of energy it takes to heat up 1 gram of water. In basic terms how much of something does our body need to produce enough heat to produce sustaining energy.
We all need calories to just get by. We all have an idea of calories. Some foods are good for us and others aren’t so much, but caloric intake is just that. It may take more energy to burn the amount of calories in that burger, simply because there are more of them. So when people talk about good calories and bad calories, it is really just saying what else is right or wrong with the food. Maybe the potato chips have more saturated fat (oil), than the baked potato and that is only because “fat” was added to a “product” for taste and consistency. So calories are calories, it’s all the other stuff we should be afraid of.
Speaking from a sports perspective, we need calories and in many cases lots of them. This is why that athlete that stops training put on weight. Simply because they stopped burning calories they at some point needed to just “feel normal” while training. Caloric intake should change with training periods. If you aren’t working out as much, then you don’t need the 3000 calorie diet. Even if your mind and stomach still want those calories. The worst thing to do is to live a sedentary lifestyle and not know how many calories are coming in verses how many you burn off.
As athletes I’d like to focus more on how we sometimes aren’t eating enough. As cyclist we can burn a crazy amount of calories in a few hours of riding. For myself, if I ride in the middle of heart rate zone 3, around 160 BPM, I burn around 960 calories per hour. Multiplying that for the Saturday morning training ride at 3 hours is near 3000 calories. Giving and taking some other elements, like I don’t stay in zone 3, and I do eat and drink while riding. So let call it 2500 calories. That is still way more that the daily FDA basis all food is scaled on for serving size. We burn more calories than we think. The more a person weighs the more potential for burning calories is there, but for the average 150 pound woman, 280 calories are burned on a short walk, 140 calories are burnt doing office work, and 200 are burnt mowing the yard. Think of this in general because of other relative variables, like what kind of office work, how big is your yard, and what is a short walk? It is nearly impossible to say 100 percent how many you burn, but the good news is we know how many and of what we take in.
As I have said previously eating calories is essential for the human body, and even more essential for an athlete. If we do not get enough calories, it can lead to heart problems, digestive problems, or anemia. Signs of all of these are fatigue, shortness of breath, irregular heart beats, cognitive problems, dizziness, diarrhea, and dehydration. Never have any of those things been good for a person that is training. That is how important calorie intake is for really everyone, but for athletes especially. One of the best calorie counters ever is Lance Armstrong. During tour times, Lance knows exactly how much, with in 100+/-, calories he is taking in verses what he should be burning. I’m not asking you to be Lance, but I am imploring you to look into some basic calorie counting, it will make a difference in your training. Even start looking at how and when the calories are consumed. In conclusion, it will not hurt you to take an effort to know these things. You may loose some weight or win a race. It will hurt you to not know. You may put on pounds, bonk during a race, or worse.
The Lead Pack Cycling Group/USA cycling