Calories are on the minds of every dieter, trainer and athlete who is careful about what she eats and how it affects her body. When a health and fitness professional recommends calories, it is important to know whether it is calories consumed or net calories. Confusing the two can have drastic implications for your diet.
Calories consumed is the total number of calories that you eat in one day. Often, when nutrition labels, physicians, personal trainers or dieting techniques advise a recommended number of calories for your diet, they are talking about calories consumed. For example, your doctor may recommend that you limit yourself to 1,500 calories per day to encourage weight loss. Calories consumed is often used to dictate a person's diet because, compared to net calories, it is easier to keep track of.
During the day, the amount of caloric energy in your body is in a state of constant flux. When you consume calories, your net calories number goes up, and as you burn them, the number goes down. At the end of the day, there are three possible scenarios: you burned fewer calories than you consumed and have a net gain; you burned more than you consumed and have a net loss; or the two balanced each other out.
Net calories is at the crux of weight management. The balance of calories consumed to calories burned is what determines whether you maintain, gain or lose weight. If you are looking to lose weight, you want to create a net loss of calories. MedlinePlus recommends consuming 500 fewer calories per day to lose one pound per week, or 1,000 calories per day to lose 2 pounds per week. You can also cut calories and increase your net calorie loss through regular exercise.
You can use your net calories and your calories consumed to create a recommended caloric intake. For example, if your body requires 2,000 calories per day to maintain weight and you want to drop a few pounds, use a net loss of calories to determine your new recommended intake. Dropping 500 calories per day would mean that your recommended caloric intake would equal 1,500 calories and support your weight-loss goal.