You are on page 1of 2





j  is the amount of energy obtained from food that is available through cellular

Like other forms of energy, food energy is expressed in calories or joules. The calorie is a very
small measure of energy so the food calorie (kilocalorie, kcal), 1000 calories, is more often used
and is what food packaging usually refers to when showing calorific value. 1 kcal is equal to
4.184 kilojoules (kJ). The kilojoule is the unit officially recommended by the World Health
Organization[1] and other international organizations. In some countries only the kilojoule is used
on food packaging, while in others the calorie is the most common unit.

Carbohydrates, fiber, fats, proteins, organic acids, polyols, and ethanol all release energy during
respiration ² this is often called 'food energy'.[2] When the food (providing fuel) reacts with
oxygen in the cells of living things energy is released. A small amount of energy is available
through anaerobic respiration. Fats and ethanol have the greatest amount of food energy per mass,
9 and 7 kcal/g (38 and 30 kJ/g) respectively. Proteins and most carbohydrates have about 4
kcal/g (17 kJ/g). Carbohydrates that are not easily absorbed, such as fiber or lactose in lactose-
intolerant individuals, contribute less food energy. Polyols (including sugar alcohols) and
organic acids have less than 4 kcal/g.

Each food item has a specific metabolizable energy intake (MEI). Normally this value is
obtained by multiplying the total amount of energy associated with a food item by 85%, which is
the typical amount of energy actually obtained by a human after respiration has been completed.

The human body uses the energy released by respiration for a wide range of purposes: about
twenty percent of the energy is used for brain metabolism, and much of the rest is used for the
basal metabolic requirements of other organs and tissues. In cold environments, metabolism may
increase simply to produce heat to maintain body temperature. Among the diverse uses for
energy, one is the production of mechanical energy by skeletal muscle in order to maintain
posture and produce motion.

The conversion efficiency of energy from respiration into mechanical (physical) power depends
on the type of food and on the type of physical energy usage (e.g. which muscles are used,
whether the muscle is used aerobically or anaerobically). In general, the efficiency of muscles is
rather low: only 18 to 26 percent of the energy available from respiration is converted into
mechanical energy.[13] This low efficiency is the result of about 40% efficiency of generating
ATP from food energy, losses in converting energy from ATP into mechanical work inside the
muscle, and mechanical losses inside the body. The latter two losses are dependent on the type of
exercise and the type of muscle fibers being used (fast-twitch or slow-twitch). For an overall
efficiency of 20 percent, one watt of mechanical power is equivalent to 4.3 kcal per hour. For
example, a manufacturer of rowing equipment shows calories released from 'burning' food as
four times the actual mechanical work, plus 300 kcal per hour,[14] which amounts to about 20
percent efficiency at 250 watts of mechanical output. It can take up to 20 hours of little physical
output (e.g. walking) to "burn off" 4000 kcal[15] (i.e. fuel) more than a body would otherwise

The differing energy density of foods (fat, alcohols, carbohydrates and proteins) lies in their
varying proportions of oxidizable carbon atoms. Release of energy from food follows transfer of
electrons from carbon and hydrogen to carbon dioxide and water.[16]

Swings in body temperature ± either hotter or cooler ± increase the metabolic rate, thus burning
more energy. Prolonged exposure to extremely warm or very cold environments increases the
basal metabolic rate (BMR). People who live in these types of settings often have BMRs that are
5±20% higher than those in other climates. Physical activity also significantly increases body
temperature, which in turn uses more energy from respiration.[1