Calories, Fat Loss, Muscle Building and the Healthy Menu Choices Act 2017

As part of the Healthy Menu Choices Act. As of January 1, 2017, all food-service chains with 20 or more locations in Ontario must post the number of calories in the food and drink items they sell.

How is this information relevant to you? How will this information help you decide what to eat?

Calories are a measure of energy used to quantify our energy within our body. This is important because by understanding how much calories we consume and spend, we can set up our bodies to either lose weight or gain weight.

As a fitness professional, I am a strong advocate for healthy weight-loss and weight gain. I want my clients to be in the best shape of their lives and to do it in a safe and healthy manner. Losing weight can often be an unhealthy process if done incorrectly resulting in nutritional deficiencies, eating disorders and rapid muscle degradation. Issues with gaining weight are more prominent and obvious, increased body fat, blood pressure, increased risk of cardiovascular disease etc. My point is that we should be focused on reducing body fat and/or building muscle so that we can live full lives and be strong enough to do so.

In this article, I will be focusing on how awareness of calories can help you build muscle or lose fat.

To lose body fat, we need to know what it is and why it's there. Body fat is a storage site for extra energy our body isn't using. When the body is short on energy from food, body fats release its energy stores to meet the demands of the body.

All living organisms use energy to fuel all its processes and functions.

Imagine all the activities and bodily processes in a full 24 hours. Let's say all those functions are represented by the orange bar: ENERGY USED. Now think about all the food you consumed in the past 24 hours. This is represented by the green bar: ENERGY GAIN from food.

Calories is energy used in the body. For the rest of the article, I use the word energy interchangeably for calories.

1. Weight Gain (ENERGY GAIN>ENERGY USED): If you eat more energy than your body uses, your body will save extra energy as body fat. If you are exercising at an adequate intensity to stimulate improvements in the muscle, some excess energy will be allocated to synthesizing more muscle proteins for growth and recovery (dependent on the individual). In a muscle building phase, accumulating some body fat is normal but should be minimized.

Training Status-Definition Monthly Gain (% of total BW)

Novice-Less than 2 years of consistent training-1.0-1.5%

Intermediate-2-4 years of consistent training-0.5-1.0%

Advanced-More than 4 years of consistent training-0.25-0.50%

Table 1.0: Realistic Rates of Muscle Gain and minimizing Fat Gain based on training age (Alan Aragon Research Reviews, November 2008)

2. No change (ENERGY GAIN=ENERGY USED): Since you used all the energy you ate, your body CAN'T save any energy and put it into body fat because there is no energy to store.

3. Exercise-based Weight Loss: (ENERGY USED>ENERGY GAIN) Energy used is higher than energy consumed via exercise. Your body had to pull from body fat stores for energy to fuel all your activities. Hardest Way to lose fat…explained below

4. Diet-Induced Weight Loss (ENERGY GAIN<ENERGY USED) : You used the same amount of energy but ate less. Energy from food was lower than your daily energy usage so your body had to use fat energy to meet the body's energy needs.

Diet-induced weight loss is much easier because by eating smaller portions you cut 200-400 calories immediately versus completing 60 minutes of boring cardio to burn the same amount. That being said, if your diet is low on food, cardio is a good way to increase your calorie deficit. The best way is to combine both methods in a strategic manner. Do not rush the process or you will find that you will plateau sooner and the plateau will be harder to break.

Status-Monthly Decrease (% of Total BW)

25%+ for Males, 30%+ for Females-4-6%

20-25% for Males, 25-30% for Females-3-4%

15-20% for Males, 20-25% for Females-2-3%

10-15% for Males, 15-20% for Females-1-2%

5-10% for Males, 10-15% for Females-0.5-1%

Table 2.0: Body Fat Percentage and Corresponding Rate of Fat Loss while Preserving Muscle Mass (Alan Aragon Research Reviews, November 2008)

If you don't know what your body fat percentage is: or visit your trainer's office to help you do an assessment.

To determine what your calorie intake should be:


3 Tips for Success

  1. Keep a food diary so you can be accountable for your food intake. I recommend MyFitnessPal. It's a great free app for tracking food. It has 99% of all foods in their database including ethnic foods and foods at many chain restaurants. A benefit of the Canada Health Act is that you will also be able to see calorie count of food on the menu. Beware of tricks where they only label calories of HALF a serving... so what is listed on the menu could actually be double.
  2. Over time, take pictures of yourself so you can see the difference. Especially for people who have just started weight-training, they will find that their weight has not decreased at all but they have lost significant body fat. This is because muscle is being built meanwhile fat is being lost resulting in a net weight change of 0. If this is the case, be proud, it's the best possible scenario.
  3. If progress has halted, try reducing/increasing (depending on your goal) calories by 5-10% of your current daily food intake or adding a cardio session (for fat loss) and continue to monitor progress.

Finally, understand that this is not a linear process. There will be many up's and down's but follow the trend and you will see it will go where you want it too IF you are consistent.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at:


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