kilocalories vs. calories

June 20, 2017

Understanding calories and how our body uses them for energy

As athletes, we often think about calories: getting enough to finish our workouts, and, of course, not getting TOO much…

Most often, we associate calories with food. But scientifically speaking, calories are “units of energy” — one calorie is the amount of energy, or heat, it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). So, a gallon of gasoline? About 31,000,000 calories. (But don’t drink that).

What are kilocalories?

When nutrition labels refer to “calories”, they’re actually referring to kilocalories (1000 calories = 1 kilocalorie). Sometimes “Calories” is capitalized to express the difference between “calories” and (kilo)“Calories” (but that standard isn’t always followed). (So, 1 kilocalorie is the amount of energy it takes to increase the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius)

1 kcal = 1 Calorie = 1,000 calories = 4.184 kilojoules

The same goes for “Calorie” burn during workouts. When the treadmill says you’ve burned 500 calories? It means 500 kilocalories. In some countries, food energy is measured in kilojoules (1 kcal = 4.184 kj)

Using Calories as energy

Our bodies need energy to survive. [Read also: hydration for survival]. The Calories we ingest through food and drinks give us energy to complete everything from basic human functions — like breathing, blood flow and movement — to performing athletic feats like finishing a marathon or racing an Ironman.

Obviously, then, when you’re asking more of your body, we need to account for our body’s increased demand for calories - or energy. Calories is the measure of the potential energy in our food.

Not all food is Equal

1g Carbohydrates = 4 Calories
1g Protein = 4 Calories
1g Fat = 9 Calories

Not all food is equal. A gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories, a gram of protein also has 4 calories and a gram of fat has 9 calories.

A cookie might have 12g of fat, 27g of carbohydrates and 4g of protein, meaning roughly 232 calories (fat calories - 12g x 9cal = 108; carbohydrate calories - 27g x 4cal = 108; protein calories - 4g x 4cal = 16).

So, in GQ-6 3:2:1 Hydration “Green Apple”, there is 115 kcal per serving (32 grams), mostly as carbohydrates (28g) for quick absorption into the body as energy. The protein included (975mg - BCAA Blend) is already broken down into branched chain amino acids (meaning, less “work” for your stomach).

[Read more about BCAAs]

In theory, if we were put a scoop of GQ-6 into a dish and burn it up completely, the reaction would be enough to raise 115kg of water by 1 degree Celsius.

How Calories are Used

Our bodies “burn” these calories through the metabolic process, as enzymes in our digestive system break down the nutrients into usable energy: carbohydrates into glucose and other sugars; fats into glycerol and fatty acids and proteins into amino acids. From there, these nutrients can be delivered by the bloodstream to cells throughout the body for energy, growth and cell repair.

Given how important energy is to performance, GQ-6 product is labeled (in kcals) to most accurately help athletes account for the calories they need and how these calories are burned and used in the body's metabolic process.

Convert kcal / kj 

Here's an easy converter for kilojoules/kilocalories:



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