It’s a phrase you’ve heard before, but what does it mean? EMPTY CALORIES explained!

what are empty calories

Written by Russ Howe PTI, and most recently updated 1 day ago.

3 min read

“Don’t eat that, bro – it’s just empty calories!”

I’m sure you’ve heard this expression before, but what the f**k does it mean?

Oh, and if these calories really are empty does that mean you can eat as much as you want without gaining weight?

That would be super cool…

but it’s not true.

When people refer to certain foods containing empty calories they are usually referring to high sugar content.

These foods do a really poor job of curbing appetite, making it easy to over-eat.

A bottle of Coca-Cola is an easy example. Despite the fact that it contains 210 calories and 53 grams of carbs, it’ll not fill you up. A bowl of oats, meanwhile, contains about the same number of calories yet feels 100x more filling. This is because oats have a better macronutrient breakdown (protein, fat, slow-release carbs and fast-release carbs), whereas the fizzy drink was just sugar in a bottle.

Of course, I’m not saying you can’t enjoy so-called empty calorie foods (I have them myself!), just don’t be a d**k.

what are empty calories

How To Enjoy “Empty Calorie” Foods Without Losing Your Gym Results

Some people will tell you that sugary carbohydrates are the root cause of all evil, and that you must give up your favorite treats if you want to build a leaner, more toned body.

This is nonsense!

The ultimate factor which decides whether you gain weight or lose weight is calories, not individual macronutrients. In fact you can expect the same level of fat loss with a diet that’s high in carbs, moderate in carbs, or low in carbs (providing total calories and protein are controlled). (1, 2)

The best diet really is the one you can stick to.

what are empty calories

Instead, the biggest issue with these so-called empty calorie foods is that they won’t fill you up, which makes it harder to stay within your calorie target.

(2000 calories of foods which keep you full feels totally different from 2000 calories of foods which never satisfy your hunger!)

I’m a big fan of flexible dieting, though, so I believe there’s nothing wrong with grabbing these foods from time to time.

In order to maximize results, I tell my clients to follow “the 80/2 rule”. This means they make sure the bulk of their food choices are healthy, nutrient dense options which will help them to hit their daily targets (especially protein), and as long as they do that then there’s no harm in enjoying a treat which serves no real purpose other than to bump your calories up and taste nice.

I’ve found that doing it this way (rather than banning the outright) is great for diet sustainability, because we enjoy these foods even though we know they aren’t productive, and we really don’t need to beat ourselves up for it!

This is a technique many readers will recognize from my Shred System diet plan, and it’s an approach which works for the vast majority of people.


  1. Howell S., et al. “Calories in, calories out” and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab (2017).
  2. Surwit R. S., et al. Metabolic and Behavioral Effects of a High-Sucrose Diet During Weight Loss. Am J Clin Nutr (1997).

Website members are killing these training programs, and you can start today!

Classic Size

An old school 12-week program which uses dropsets, rest pause sets, and classic linear periodization to help you pack on serious muscle mass.

Beach Bum

This 8-week program will have you lifting heavy and building legs to die for, just in time for beach season!

Become War

Get ready to carve an action hero physique, with my modernized version of Sly’s insane Rambo II training regimen!

RPE 20

Use the Rest Pause technique to add slabs of lean muscle to your fame over the next 10-weeks.

Get More From Russ!


I’m Russ. I’ve been a personal trainer since 2002, and I own

My job is to simplify fitness for my readers.

I send out free fitness tips to over 100,000 men and women every week, all in the same no-nonsense style as the article you’ve just read, so if you enjoyed reading it be sure to jump on my email list below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Up

russ howe pti programs

Get all of my detailed workout plans and easy-to-use nutrition plans by joining up below.

Click here to join.

Newest Programs

  • Chisel
  • MuscleMania workout program Russ Howe PTI
  • train to success
  • russ howe pti full-body blitz

Click here to see all programs.

Newest Blogs