What is Energy?

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What is Energy

What is Energy

As a dietitian, patients are continuously complaining day in and day out about how they do not have enough energy to eat their breakfast or whatever meal or snack it may be.  But of course, since I am just a “youngen” I would not understand what it is like (you know).  In my defense I ask “where do you think you get your energy from?”  Normally I get lots of questionable and quizzical looks when I ask this but then I say “well from the food you eat of course!” Yes, sometimes it is a long and hard battle trying to explain to patients that they get energy from the foods they do not have enough energy to eat, but encouragement and patience is key!  When you see those patients finally able to enjoy their meals, up walking around, and enjoying company, it is such a rewarding feeling.

So what is energy?  Energy is simply defined as the strength your body requires to continue both mental and physical activity.  When you go to the doctors, dietitians, read the label on your foods/drinks, or possibly even the gym you hear (and see) people talking about energy in terms of calories (kilocalories/kcal) but why?  Calories are used to describe the amount of heat energy that is required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.

So let’s take a look into your daily diet, there are four main groups of ‘energy foods’.

  • Carbohydrates, which provide the body with 4kcal/gram of energy
  • Proteins, which provide the body with 4kcal/gram of energy
  • Alcohol, which provides the body with 7kcal/gram of energy
  • Fats, which provide the body with 9kcal/gram of energy

Granted many patients do have the pleasure to get to discuss alcohol with me and if they do, I’m not exactly their best friend afterwards.  However, alcohol does contain calories (aka energy) so we have to give it its two seconds of fame right?!

Since I am a dietitian, my friends and family like to take advantage of this and are always asking me “would it be okay if I eat some triple chocolate peanut butter brownies, maybe a hot fudge sundae with all the toppings, or oh what about chocolate turtle cheesecake?”  No matter the question, I respond “why not? as long as you eat in moderation, do not eat it every day, and exercise!”  There is nothing wrong with treating yourself every now and then; it’s how you incorporate these “treats” into your diet that is important.  But do not forget that exercise is an important part in controlling your weight as well.  Once I suggest that exercise is important, everyone starts asking “Well, where do I burn the most fat from when I walk?  Will it take care of these muffin tops I have going on?  What about if I do circuit training then hop on the treadmill or elliptical?”  So, let’s take a look at exercising.  When exercising energy is burned based on the three main intensity levels.  The body sees exercise as either low intensity, medium intensity, or high intensity and burns various forms of energy in different amounts based on the intensity level (this also depends on what exercise you are doing and how long you are doing it for).

  • Low intensity exercise: during this stage your body will primarily use stored fat as its main source of energy, which is made into energy in the presence of oxygen.
  • Medium intensity exercise: during this stage your body increases the use of muscle glycogen (which is the main form of stored carbohydrates) and plasma glucose (aka blood sugar concentration).  When the intensity increases the body has to change its primary energy source (to glycogen and glucose) due to the amount of provided energy from fat being insufficient.
  • High intensity exercise: during this stage your body will primarily use muscle glycogen.  During high intensity exercise the amount of energy once again changes but only last for a short period of time.

So where is all this energy stored? What a fabulous question.

  • Carbohydrates are stored in the form of glycogen in the muscles and liver.
  • Proteins are stored in the muscles, but are not a primary source of energy during most exercise.
  • Fats are stored around the abdomen and underneath the skin .
  • Alcohol, as you know is not a large energy contributor in the thoughts of exercise but it does provide energy that is stored as fuel.

No matter what exercise or intensity level you are doing, you are always going to be burning calories.  But, in order to lose a few pounds you have to look at the calories you take in versus the calories you burn “out” through daily activity and exercise.  Having a diet that is full of healthy high energy foods along with daily exercise should help you get to the level you are looking for or stay at the level you are currently on (or want to get too and then stay on!).  You have to know what you are comfortable with.

I have had patients in the past who are out there at the age 80 and up still going to the pool at least once a day (most twice) to swim laps and then still go to the gym or community center to exercise on top of that. Plus all their little outings they take with their friends and family throughout the week.  I don’t know about you, but I hope I am blessed enough to be that fit and energetic when I am 80 years old!

There are however, pesky little culprits out there that drain us of our energy.  Want to know more about what culprits may be causing you to be so tired and out of energy? Keep an eye open for my next blog “Where is my energy going”.  I will fill you in on some of the top energy stealing culprits out there.

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