It Isn't All About Calories In Vs. Calories Out - An Expert's Opinion With Phil Learney

This is fundamentally what people don’t understand.

I still hear people saying that it’s still all about Calories in Vs Calories out which is a VERY dated and unrealistic statement within the realms of a modern diet. A century ago when food was actually what it was this concept held better ground but with the invention of food processing and mass production we have nailed it further into the ground. People still continue to hold sway to it however.

I hope that everyone reading this understands the basic needs and requirements of the human body, if not a brief run down.

Macronutrients and Calories


Protein (Taken from the greek meaning ‘Primary Importance’) is fundamentally what your body is made up of, cells, organs, tissues etc etc. It is also required above baseline levels should we wish to adapt the body physiologically in some way as it’s our basic building block.

Protein yields 4k/cal per gram.


Fats are the signalling messengers in our body and if we talk very simply what keeps our joints healthy and interior walls clean and clear. Without sufficient good quality fats in our diet we would experience huge dysfunction and over time serious nutritional issues.

Low fat diets came about based upon the calorie in vs calories out theory due to the fact they provide a larger calorific value than the other 2 nutrients.

Fat yields 9 k/cal per gram.



Carbohydrates are our main fuel source and are required for the body to function effectively, they are non essential as a nutrient but maintain many systems with a very low amount. The average western diet gets about 70% of its caloric intake from carbohydrates. This is roughly the equivalent of what you would give an Ultra Marathon runner who would also be consuming 7000k/cal plus in most cases just a large % of energy. I encounter people eating 1000k/cal and this percentage. This means they are therefore deficient in both proteins and fats but have an abundance of a basic energy source…..the outcome being an increase in bodyfat, a drop in lean tissue and a VERY broken body. Using this as an example this individual can consume both proteins and fats AT LEAST up do a baseline requirement level in addition to the 1000k/cal without ANY negative impact on their weight. If anything this would increase their metabolic rate significantly.

Despite it being a VERY dated and basic method, determining someones BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) can often be an interesting indicator as to how close to the no go ‘survival’ area of caloric intake. Remember that BMR indicates ONLY what you need to survive.
English BMR Formula
Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.8 x age in year )
Metric BMR Formula
Women: BMR = 655 + ( 9.6 x weight in kilos ) + ( 1.8 x height in cm ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 13.7 x weight in kilos ) + ( 5 x height in cm ) – ( 6.8 x age in years )

So, lets get a real life example.

85kg Man, 180cm tall and 32 years of age.

66+ (13.7 x 85) + (5 x 180) – (6.8 x 32) = 1913k/cal


This means in order JUST to survive this man needs 1913k/cal. If we now assume a baseline of protein:

1.0g/kg of Bodyweight. This is a maintenance level and at the lowest end of its range. For someone looking at physical adaptation I will often go up to 2.2g/kg or beyond. I certainly wouldn’t let anyone I train below 2g/kg.

PROTEIN (85kg x 2.0) 170g / 680 k/cal


I would work between a minimum of 20% of their total caloric intake coming from fats.

43g / 382 k/cal


This then leaves us a prospective 851 k/cal of Carbohydrates to take in based on someones requirement for energy and insulin tolerance/intolerance levels. In an intolerant state this number may go down and the remainder be replaced with fats or proteins to pick up the caloric slack.

213g / 852 k/cal

So this is a BASAL or baseline requirement with macronutrients broken down in a fairly standard way. Now imagine if I ignore any of what I take up at the top.

You could have for roughly 2000k/cal a day (These are based on actual dietary scenarios I have heard believe it or not):

4x 100g Green and Blacks Bars per day.


4x Bottles of Red Wine a day.


6.5 McDonalds Cheeseburgers.

The UK health minister stated this year that to fix the obesity problem we have everyone needs to eat less calories…possibly the dumbest statement in the world.

If you have 3 bars of chocolate a day instead of four, 3 bottles of wine instead of 4 or 5 cheeseburgers instead of 5 that solves the issues we have as a nation and the obesity epidemic…..cmon, really. We are governed by this tosh.

Calories play far less relevance than people say. Calories from a cheap cut of meat are digested differently than a better cut of meat, why, because the meat is what it is meant to be reared in the way they are meant to be reared. I would prefer someone trying to bulk or gain lean muscle ate 2000 k/cal from higher quality produce than 3000 k/cal from something of lesser quality but essentially the same. This is something to seriously consider when looking at food budgets.

We need to look at ‘what’ we eat as opposed to whats in it, calories etc. We need to have suitable levels of protein, fats and lastly carbohydrates in our diet from clean sensible sources. I STILL get asked by people what is a good form of carbohydrate and I will still say the same answer ‘Something unprocessed and what it’s meant to be’ They will always be the best types. Bread will ALWAYS get trumped by something grown in the ground. This is the same for proteins and fats. ‘Sandwich’ meat will NEVER do for you what fresh meat cooked from its fresh state will be. If you shop less frequently than every 3-4 days for new produce your diet ISN’T as good as it should be.

I had one of my overweight clients with a weight issue and poor carbohydrate tolerance tell me fairly recently that he slipped up and had a couple of the dreaded cadbury celebrations, the first thing he said was ‘but I only had two’. The following conversation had very little to do with the fact he said it was barely any calories but the fact it disrupted a hormonal state that in his case was very sensitive and all our efforts where NOT around counting calories for that reason. We needed to regulate and control his insulin and hormones that respond to it accordingly. THAT was the key to his weight loss, not the control or minimal amount of calories he could take in. I wasn’t for a second mad about the calories, if I was that I was bothered about is he had came in and said he had had an extra large stalk of broccoli (98-100 k/cal roughly) as opposed to two 8g sweets (72k/cal) you think my reaction would have been the same, hell no.

When looking at eating strategies I give to people even now compared to 10 years ago people eat SO SO differently it’s scary as it’s not improving and the education people have towards food is NO better. This needs rectified quick otherwise on one hand yes I will continue to get countless amounts of business but honestly I’m much better and more useful when it comes to fine tuning of diets rather than just setting out basic rules and templates. The day I can ask each and everyone of my new clients (and I hope its in my generation) if they understand what a protein, carbohydrate and fat are and they reply with ‘Of course I do’ we as a nation are making progress.

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