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Hidden Calories

You've been exercising like a fiend, eating all the right things, and taking every fat burner known to man. Yet, you just can't lose that fat. What is going on?

Before you blame your genes, glands, or other mysterious source, look first at the hidden calories in your diet. We'll talk about those and then show you exactly what steps to take to correct the problem.

  1. Why calories matter
  2. What are hidden calories?
  3. Hidden calorie sources
  4. The glycemic calories
  5. Steps to take


  1. Why calories matter

It takes 3500 calories to form a pound of fat. Think of those calorie lists you've seen. For example, one "shake" from a fast food outlet is 800 calories. Most calorie guides hold that an active 150 pound man needs around 2,000 calories a day.

Have you ever run on one of those treadmills that does the calorie burn calculations? You're going to run quite a while to burn off  that shake you gulped down in just a few minutes. Add in the other sources of hidden calories, and you are looking at more exercise than you have time (or joint endurance) to do.

To lose fat in a sensible and practical manner, you must reduce the calories coming in. You cannot exercise away a high degree of excess caloric intake and have any reasonable semblance of a balanced life. Yes, exercise helps--but it can't work miracles. The "miracle" is in controlling how many calories you consume.

Other factors:

  • Your basal metabolism (which you can manipulate via intense exercise, but not via aerobics)
  • Your genetics (this is a limiting factor only if you make it one--as an excuse)
  • Your hormonal profile (which you can manipulate via intense exercise and proper diet)
  • The glycemic effect of what you eat.

Don't make the mistake of focusing on the glycemic effect. Like exercise, it provides only a partial answer (and glycemic management isn't as effective as exercise for fat loss purposes). The big factor is controlling your overall caloric intake. Which is one reason Bill Phillips says, "Great bodies are made in the kitchen, not in they gym."


  1. What are hidden calories?

If you are following the bodybuilder's insulin management diet of 6 small meals a day (eating per schedule, not "when hungry"), you probably have fewer hidden calories than most people do. Yet, you may be surprised just how many of those little buggers still creep in. These are the calories that are "outside" your diet. Off your radar. The little snacks or extra portions that seem inconsequential at the time. They add up.

If you find yourself eating to satisfy hunger, you can bet you have hidden calories turning into fat. Correct that problem, and you still may have hidden calories.

Unplanned food consumption always results in hidden calories, unless you track what you just ate and subtract it from your next meal. Uncontrolled portion size always results in hidden calories.

Remember, calories you haven't planned for are "hidden." They are like the soldiers in the Trojan Horse--they sneak in and do you damage. At some point, you are going to be very aware of their effects.


  1. Hidden calorie sources

Many people start off on an exercise program "to lose weight." They mean to say they want to lose fat. There is a big difference, but that's another topic. So, they do their exercise and then add in a "health drink" (this may be a protein shake or whatever). Or, they decide they need more fruit, so out come the apples, bananas, and other calorie sources--not bad in themselves, but they are easily overdone. Ditto for protein--it is simply not true that you need to consume massive quantities of protein just because you are exercising. You probably need more protein in that case, but not in the quantities stated in the muscle magazines.

Here's a quick list of hidden calorie sources:

  • Unplanned snacks.
  • Supplemental shakes (protein or MRP) taken in addition to regular food, instead of in place of it. Ditto, food bars.
  • Extra helpings ("I'll have just one more--it won't hurt.").
  • Large portions (this is true of food, shakes, bars, and such supplements as creatine).
  • Any food eaten "because I'm exercising" or "because I worked up an appetite."
  • Liquid calories.


  1. The glycemic calories

Worse than just adding calories is adding highly glycemic calories. These are the ones your body rapidly absorbs sugar from. When that happens, your insulin spikes up to convert that sugar to fat. Take a wild guess as to what happens to your body composition (lean mass vs. fat) when you do this repeatedly.

You should become very familiar with the glycemic index, so you avoid highly glycemic foods unless your cells are glycogen-depleted. Your cells are in this state only after intense exercise or after sustained fasting (such as overnight, when you sleep). So, have that glass of orange juice only in the AM.

Here are some highly glycemic foods:

  • Root vegetables (e.g., carrots, potatoes).
  • Sweet fruits (e.g., bananas, pineapple).
  • Dried fruits (e.g. prunes, apricots).
  • All fruit juices (you are essentially bypassing a portion of your digestive tract).
  • All "engineered" foods--corn (after 5,000 years of cultivation for sweetness) is the classic example.
  • Air-popped popcorn.

Do note, however, that when you're talking about root vegetables you aren't talking about very many calories anyhow. Trading a 250 calorie low-glycemic handful of nuts in place of a 40 calorie carrot is misusing the glycemic scale


  1. Steps to take

Getting out from under the cloud of hidden calories isn't especially hard, once you make up your mind to do so. Here is a fool-proof plan to put you on the road to recovery--and the body you deserve:

  • Keep a food diary. This is something people really hate to do. After you do it for a few days, you'll see why. But, it works. It follows the same measurement principles that Deming used to turn Toyota around from being a trash car company to producing the highest quality cars in the world. Do you want a quality body, or not?

    Record what you eat, when you eat it, and how much of it you eat. What this reveals may shock you, but it will also show you exactly where your problem is.
  • Look at your food diary. You will see where you are picking up extra food. You will also see the quality of what you eat.
  • If you are eating because you're hungry, make a decision that you won't do that for 6 days. That's all--just 6 days of misery. What you'll find is your body adjusts in about 3 days. When the 6 days are up, you are no longer fighting this problem. When hunger does hit, just tell yourself it's only 3 hours between meals and you can wait. Drink a glass of water or have some green tea to settle your stomach.
  • Are you eating your post-workout protein-carb combo as a seventh meal? Shame on you! Go back and do the calorie math.
  • Look at your portion size. Make a habit of cutting fruits in half. Store one half in a container for later. For example, eat half an apple rather than the whole thing.

Please note: Poisons like fat blockers and left-hand sugars are not the answer. These are not sustainable, and they do cause problems in the body. The answer is simply not letting food control you. We've just covered how to do that. Now, go forth and conquer!

Here's another calorie site:


Article Authorship

The articles on this site are authoritative, because:

  • Every contributor is an expert in his or her field.
  • The articles comply with the accepted principles of the bodybuilder literature.
  • The articles comply with the teachings of such luminaries as 8-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney.

 Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.

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