What is a calorie?
A calorie is the amount of energy (or heat) required to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram (or 1 liter) of water by 1 degree Centigrade. A calorie is simply a measure of heat energy. When food is burned, it releases a certain amount of heat (energy), depending on the type of food. The more calories that are in a food, the more energy will be released when it is burned. The word “calorie” is used interchangeably to describe the amount of energy in food and the amount of energy stored in the body as adipose tissue (body fat) and glycogen (stored carbohydrate). For example, a glazed doughnut contains about 210 calories and a 25-minute jog on the treadmill burns off about 210 calories.
Does calories matter?
Yes, ABSOLUTELY! Nothing can refute the law of energy balance:
To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume each day.
To gain weight, you must consume more calories than you burn each day.
This means that to lose weight (or fat), you must burn more calories that you eat each day, regardless whether that caloric deficit comes from diet or exercise. However, the BEST result should come from a combination of a good diet and lots of exercise. That is UNDENIABLY the MOST EFFECTIVE and EFFICIENT METHOD to ensure that you lose that fat and have lean muscle to show-off underneath!
To gain weight (if you intend to bulk up), your caloric surplus can come only from your diet. However, if your an average person trying to gain mass, make sure your excess calories come from healthy, wholesome and nutritious foods. Gorging yourself with anything that you can get your hands on will only ensure you gain an equal amount of fat with muscle. Always aim to gain as much lean mass with MINIMAL fat gain. Muscle doesn't look good under all that fat, dude!
Do I need to count calories?
Well, this depends...
If you're a professional fitness model, bodybuilder or fitness competitor, then counting calories would be crucial to take out any guess work and ensure that you reach your goals for the show or competition.
If you're an average Joe just like me, it is probably not necessary and suitable to maintain throughout your life, UNLESS you're an absolute beginner and have NO idea what good nutrition is all about. Whatever it is, I would STILL recommend that at some point in your life, you SHOULD learn to count the calories in the foods that you eat and even track your caloric intake for about a week to a month. I've done it before, and so should you. This would really OPEN YOUR EYES to how much food you're eating on a daily basis. In fact, you'd be SHOCKED at how many calories some of your favorite foods can contain! You can start out by using FREE online tools such as Calorie Counter Database or NutritionData.
Calorie Counting VS Caloric Awareness!
Counting calories your entire life is not necessary. If you think that it suits you, then do it. If not, I'd still recommend that you try it at least ONCE! Why? Because when you learn to count calories, you also learn CALORIC AWARENESS! From developing caloric awareness, basically:
1. You will instinctively know what type of foods have higher and lower calories, and what foods to consume to reach your goals.
2. You will learn what foods to eat and still maintain your caloric deficit or surplus.
3. You will learn how to eat and still maintain your daily caloric intake.
If you're not going to counting calories most of the time, then caloric awareness is an pertinent skill to know what foods to eat and avoid, depending on your goals. It is quite difficult to gain fat when eating natural, wholesome and nutritious foods, as it is naturally lower in calories than all the processed or manufactured foods. Don't believe me? GO COUNT THE CALORIES!
If you're overweight and have some fat to lose, I find that just by cleaning up your diet and adding exercise in the form of weight-training and cardio, you can automatically create a caloric deficit from clean foods and calorie burn from the extra activity. If you're stalling in your progress, just change up your training routine or adjust your caloric intake. GOOD LUCK! =)