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Where do calories come from?

Let’s start by using a definition. What is a calorie?

A calorie is a unit of measure for how much energy is in a given amount of food.

We can’t make our own food like plants do, so we must get our energy to survive from food.

Where does the energy in food come from?

The energy, or calories, in food comes from the three macronutrients (or macros).

Excerpt from Taylor’s Beginner’s Guide to Nutrition

Caloric content of food describes how much energy you will be consuming, but it doesn’t give the entire picture.  Macro content of food describes where the energy is coming from and how that food will be broken down and subsequently used by your body.

The three macronutrients are different types of molecules that our body can use for different purposes. More importantly, your body must break these marconutrients down from their original form to actually use them.

  • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories,
  • 1 gram of carbs = 4 calories,
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories

When you eat food, your body breaks protein down into amino acids, carbohydrates down into mono- or disaccharides, and fats into tri-, di-, or monoglycerides.

These simpler units can then be used for various purposes in the body.

Carbohydrates provide your body with an immediate source of energy. They participate in a process called glycolysis, which ends up providing our body with the energy that it needs!

The body produces and uses energy from a special molecule, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is one of the major products of glycolysis.

Amino acids and fatty acids have many functions that I don’t have time to discuss.

So far, we have established that calories come from macronutrients because of the energy that they provide. When you count or track your macros, you are already accounting for the calories in the food.


Should you start counting your macros?

Counting macros isn’t for everyone. But it is a good way to understand what and how much you are putting in your body.

Determining the total energy (calorie) intake that you specifically need is necessary if you’re going to start tracking.

Why should you track in the first place? As a nutrition coach, I see many people struggling with their health because they’re either not eating enough or eating too little.

“What gets tracked gets improved.” This paper demonstrates just how powerful tracking your diet can be. Simply paying attention and becoming mindful of how you eat will improve your health.

It’s 2020, so we’re going to go ahead and accept the fact that weight loss is the result of a caloric deficit, and weight gain is the result of a caloric surplus.

If you’re just absolutely astounded as to why you’re not making progress with your weight, it’s because your energy intake isn’t appropriate. It’s not hormones. It’s not your immune system. It’s not your body type. It’s your energy intake.

If you’re tracking and STILL not seeing results, it’s because you’re impatient or you are not tracking correctly.

Counting or tracking macros is not very difficult, given the amount of technology at our fingertips. The most difficult part is determining what your energy needs actually are. The second most difficult part is accurately assessing how many calories are in the food that you’re eating.


While I don’t recommend counting calories and macros for the rest of your life, I suggest doing it for a few months to see how much or how little you are consuming.

So, in short, calories come from food (obvious answer, right?). Food is made up of molecules called maronutrients, and these give rise to the energy density of food!

If you’re interested in learning more, I have a Nutrition Guide coming out soon that will be completely free. It goes over the basics of nutrition and how to be successful for the long-term.

After all, we know that physical activity alone isn’t enough to reach our goals.

Educate yourself on nutrition, put what you learn into practice, and wait for the results to show up!


Really take charge of your nutrition

Are you struggling figuring out where to start on your health journey? Are you working out but not seeing results? Confused on what’s fact and what’s fiction amidst all the (mis)information?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are already a great fit for my nutrition programming.

My clients learn the science behind nutrition and the habits they need to implement to see results and get healthy.

Sign up for a free nutrition consult with me to see if my coaching is a good fit for you. It’s a quick 20-30 minute call to meet and discuss your needs!

I am now offering discounts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I realize this an uncertain and stressful time. Sabotaging your health is not the answer! I can give you coaching that will keep you healthy and sane during this time.

Book a free call here. My website has more information about what you receive as one of my clients and what my coaching style is.

Thanks for reading! Want to see a certain topic on my blog? Send me an email or comment below!


Further reading and references:

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