T Nation

calorie not a calorie?

I need some help and I know that the fellow members of the T-Nation can help. I was talking to the head trainer of my gym today (the kind that puts everyone on the same training program) and we were discussing diets. He told me that low carb diets only work because people that go on them end up restricting total calories so much that they lost weight. “After all”, he said, “a calorie is just a calorie.” I agreed with him that the average person probably does restrict calories too much when dieting, but told him that low carb diets do work for losing body fat WITHOUT restricting calories. I discussed the thermic effect of food, insulin effects of carbs and several other pieces of information that I?ve read in t-mag. Of course he countered saying that there is ample research to support “a calorie is just a calorie” and that I should get my research straight. So the first thing that I did was log on to t-mag and look up several articles that are related to this topic. I have found footnotes siting research studies, but I don?t know where to look to find the abstracts or bodies. Can anyone help me in my efforts to educate a ?trainer?? It may not be worth the effort, but I figure I will learn something along the way.


John Berardi discusses this in one of his Appeitite for Construction articles. Can’t remember if it’s only in the paper version or if on the web site as well. Guess you should search the site, and buy a subscription to T-mag!!!

Thanks. I did search the site, I must have missed it the first time if it is online. I’ll look again. I do have a subscription to the print edition as well, so I’ll check the back issues, I don’t remember seeing that either.

At the end of every article, you’ll see references citing each and every source. Use these to locate the journal, book etc. Most of these will be found in a university library, if they can’t be found online.

What you’re doing is commendable. The trainer you spoke to has gotten away for far too long without knowing the facts. If he expects to earn a living he needs to be educated. You can help open his eyes, but chances are he won’t like this one bit, but don’t let that deter you.

It’s not in any of the print issues.

The article is entitled “Lean Eatin”. It has two parts and it’s a must print and read.

CGB - I have seen the references listed, but I just didn’t know where to go looking for the info. Do you know of a site online maybe? Otherwise it sounds like a trip to the local university campus may be in order.

machine - I’ve read Lean Eatin, awesome article! That is where most of my arguments on the subject came from. I just need to show him some scientific research to back it up. I know that if I were him, I would want to see something like that before I changed my beliefs on something.

Do a search on PubMed


You’ll get abstracts this way. For the full article most journals require private subscription or proxy server access (available through your university or workplace depending on where you work)

From Lonnie Lowery’s “Temporal Nutrition, Part II”

“For those clinging to the old mantra that “a calorie is a calorie,” all I can say is, show me an overfeeding study in which individuals became equally fat on high-protein versus high-refined-carbohydrate overfeeding. And while you’re at it, also explain how to account for the energetic cost of the urea cycle (removing all those little nitrogens), the higher satiety value of protein and the insulin-antagonizing effects of (protein-induced) glucagon. Huh? Huh?!”

If you can find some ammo for your case, great. Otherwise, since he’s claiming to be the “all knowledgeable one”, have him show you a study that supports his case.

You could also use logic to prove your point. Anyone who thinks a calorie is a calorie, a carb is a carb, a fat is a fat, a protein is a protein is brain-washed and only a slap in the face, many slaps, can correct the person.

Do this: Have him eat pizza & burgers for every meal and you eat the same amount of calories per day but clean foods for 6 months. Exercise the same. Who will look better in 6 months? Duh!

How are fat people fat? A lot of them don’t eat that many calories. They just eat crap and don’t exercise.

Cory - Here’s a biochemistry example: Fructose and Sucrose bypass the most regulated enzyme in the glycolytic cycle. This is why a diet high in sugar is bad. Bypass this regulated enzyme, hexokinase, and it leads to more energy than necessary being produced at any one given time, which will wind up as fat deposited because insulin has nowhere else to place it besides adipose tissue. This is why slow digesting, low GI carbs are best for every meal, except post-workout. They have to go through this regulated step, taking longer to digest, which leads to less of an insulin spike. This means these carbs are spread out over a longer period of time, in which we can utilize the energy instead of just storing it as fat due to an incredibly high insulin spike.

Make sense? There are articles on here that go over other things and this example.

Here’s JB’s take on CALORIES in his Appetite for Construction.

Calorie is a Calorie! (And Elves Live in my Pants)

Thanks all for the ideas. PubMed is exactly what I was looking for. Wow! There’s so much info to choose from (wringing hands). Abstracts should be fine to convince him of the truth. After all, he obviously isn’t looking at any scientific research to formulate his opinion.

corey, abstracts should be enough, but they can oftentimes be difficult to use if you’re not well-studied in the topics discussed. They leave out the background and discussion that helps you to really understand the paper. Best of luck and let us know how it turns out.

Here’s a simple “thought experiment” you might try on your trainer. Give two people the exact same number of calories to eat every day. One of them gets nothing but raw celery to consume for calories, and the other gets the exact same number of calories from nothing but refined sugar. Will their bodies respond exactly the same? It should be obvious that they won’t. (If it isn’t obvious to your trainer, then he is hopeless.) So, if they don’t respond the same, then a calorie is not calorie. It’s that simple.

Understanding how the calories differ is a much more complex matter.

CGB - I know what you mean. I’ve run across some abstracts that support what I’m trying to convey, but they leave more questions in my head than answers so I don’t use them. I’m putting together a document with the abstracts and my 2 cent layman’s translation of each one. I plan on giving it to Mr. Trainer and letting him chew on it for awhile. I’ll post a link to it on this topic if anyone wants to see it when I’m done.

Yorik - I thought of the exact same question to pose. Except that I thought of it after I had left the gym. I think I’ll try it on him after he chews on the research document.

corey, post the link, if you don’t mind. Would love to read it.

yorik, great idea. Instead let’s subsitute dog poop for celery.