Which One Should You Count? Calories vs Macros
Changing your body composition is not exactly easy. What works for me may not work for you, and our bodies are extremely complex. However, rest assured that by trial and error you can find the road that will get you to your goals.
You may have researched and come across counting macros vs calories, wondering which one you should try.
Calories are a measure of energy.
You use the calories that you consume to keep your body operating- from your heart beating and breathing to simply sitting on the couch, vacuuming, or mowing the lawn.
We each require a different amount of calories needed to function and differs upon activity level, gender, age, and other factors. Any excess calories you eat will be stored as fat, and consistently eating more than you burn will cause weight gain over time.
Why should you count calories?
When it comes to losing, gaining, or maintaining weight, calories matter. You have likely read that when you want to lose weight, you need to expend more calories than you consume- putting your body into a caloric deficit. If you want to gain weight, you need to consume more calories than you expend. Bottom line: when you count calories, it can help you stay on track.
How many calories should you consume per day?
To determine how many calories you need, you have to consider factors like gender, activity level, age, and weight. If you are trying to lose weight, you could try eating less calories than your body burns off. If you are trying to gain muscle, eat more calories than you burn off.
You can estimate how many calories your body burns off, given your specific factors, by heading over to this TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) calculator. You can enter your information, and the calculator will give you an estimate for your maintenance calories. Further, if you are looking to lose weight or gain weight, you can scroll down and find the weight loss and weight gain suggested calories.
You can download many free popular calorie counting apps to help you get started tracking your calories, including My Fitness Pal, which I prefer.
All calories matter.
If you are counting calories, you will still need to consider the nutrition profile of the food item. For example, if you think a 300 calorie donut and a 300 calorie chicken salad are the "same" due to the fact they each have 300 calories, you are mistaken. When you take a closer look at the nutrition label, you will see the difference. One being the sugar content! Consider avoiding processed foods and primarily choose whole foods, like lean protein, colorful vegetables, and whole grains.
Tips to help.
- Don't purchase junk food. If it's not in your pantry, you're less likely to eat it.
- Incorporate exercise into your weight loss regime for improved and lasting health benefits.
- Always read the nutrition label, looking for added sugars, sodium, cholesterol, and carbohydrate amounts.
- Use portion control techniques. Buy a food scale or use a measuring cup. Try arranging your plate with 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 protein, and 1/4 low glycemic starch.
Calories: the bottom line.
Calories in vs calories out is not the only thing to look at when counting calories. The nutritional profile of the food also matters. To achieve your personal goal, it may not be the best option for sustainable change.
There are 3 macronutrients: Carbohydrate, Fat, and Protein. Macros counting is popular amongst gym goers trying to add muscle mass or shed body fat, but anyone can try it and see results. By experimenting with different ratios of macros, you can achieve your physique goals.
Carbs are the body's primary and preferred source of energy, including sugars, starches, and fibers. Most carbs are broken down during digestion further to glucose, aka blood sugar. Your body will use it as quick energy or will store it as glycogen (stored glucose) in your muscles and liver, which have a limited storage capacity.
Any excess carbs are stored as body fat for future energy. This is why many consider a low carb diet to lose weight.
Carbs account for 4 calories per gram and are found in starches (grains & vegetables), beans, fruits, etc.
Let's get this out of the way-- eating fat will not make you fat. Your body utilizes fat in many ways, and there is a difference in good fats vs bad fats.
Fat can also be used as an energy source if carbs aren't available. Your body needs fat for energy and bodily functions, such as nutrient absorption, hormone production, and more. The keto diet is higher fat, little carb, and is attractive for many as a weight loss diet option.
Fats account for 9 calories per gram and are found in oils, avocado, meat, fish, nuts, etc.
Protein is made up of various amino acids. Your body is also made up of these amino acids. Your body digests protein, breaking it down into various amino acids that help repair muscle tissue and form cells.
The body does not store protein, like carbs, for later energy; however, it can break down protein into storable substance (gluconeogenesis). If you want to build muscle, you should consume adequate protein.
Protein accounts for 4 calories per gram, and daily recommendations vary upon goals, health, etc.
How to count macros.
1. Define your calorie needs by utilizing the TDEE calculator mentioned earlier. Again, you can enter your stats and scroll down to find the weight maintenance, weight loss, and weight gain suggested calories.
2. Determine the macronutrient ratio that fits your goal and experiment to find what works for you. Suggestions are listed on the TDEE calculator below your stats.
3. Utilize My Fitness Pal or similar to log the foods (macros/cals) you eat. You can set your own macros goals. You can hit just under or over your daily goal and be on track.
Bringing it all together.
All 3 macros are made up of calories, and your body uses each macro in different ways. Typically you want to choose a macronutrient breakdown that is tailored toward your body composition goal. It can take experimenting to find the right balance of healthy carbs, proteins, and fats. It may seem overwhelming at first, but once you get the hang of it it will become much easier.
Instead of focusing on calorie total only, consider the nutrient profile of the foods you are consuming and finding the right macro balance to guide you to your goal.
*If you have ever been diagnosed with an eating disorder or struggled with eating patterns, considering consulting with a dietician about the best way to plan your diet.
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