Updated: Mar 21
Changing the composition of your body is not an easy process and it is entirely different for everyone. Everyone’s body is unique and it takes a bit of experimentation and a great deal of knowledge to find out what will get you to your goals.
You might be at a cross-roads with your nutrition wondering - do I count macros or do I count calories? It is a great question and it all depends on what you are trying to achieve. With calorie counting, you have a set number of calories to eat each day based on your height, weight, age, activity level, and goals. With macro counting, you dive deeper by having those calories divided between three main macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Ok, first. What is a calorie?
A calorie is simply a unit of measurement for energy. When you eat food, it contains calories. Fruits, vegetables, and meats all contain calories. Eating these calories provides your body with energy to put to use somewhere.
Factors such as your height, weight, age, gender, activity level, determine what amount of calories your body needs to carry out its daily processes. Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the bare minimumnumber of calories that your body needs to function on a day to day basis. This means that even if you spent the entire day reading in bed you’ll still be burning calories just to live – and that number will be your BMR.
For most of us, we often do a bit more than just lay in bed and read. In that case, we’ll need to know our Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). One formula that is very easy to use is the Harris Benedict Formula. This formula will calculate your TDEE. By factoring in how active of a person you are, you simply multiple the Harris Benedict Formula to your BMR number. This will give you your TDEE.
Even though you have determined your TDEE; the number will vary from person to person depending on overall health, body composition (how much fat your body is holding), and what your fitness goals are - calories will need to be subtract or added to/from your TDEE.
One historic rule of thumb that people come back to is that to lose weight you simply just need to eat less calories than what you are burning. This "rule" is not always that simple. Yes, if you want to lose weight you need to burn more calories than what you are consuming AND if you want to build muscle or gain weight you need to eat more calories than you are burning. HOWEVER, one main aspect that most overlook is that calories can’t just come from anywhere. You’re not going to get the same results eating an all chicken wing diet while counting calories as you would while eating a well-balanced diet and paying attention to your macros.
What are macros?
There are three different macronutrients – carbs, protein, and fat. Your body uses each macronutrient differently.
Carbs are the body’s preferred source of energy. When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose. Glucose (blood sugar) is the main source of energy for your body's tissues, cells, and organs. Glucose can either be used immediately or stored in the liver and muscles for later use.
For every gram of carbs you eat it is 4 calories. Because your body loves to use carbs for energy, excess carbs are stored as body fat in case your body needs more energy later. Since it is safe to say that most of us do not want to store fat, if we eat just the right amount of carbs in order for our bodies to burn it as fuel - we wont store any excess.
Every cell in the human body contains protein. The basic structure of protein is a chain of amino acids.. Protein is needed in your diet to repair cells and to create new ones. When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into a variety of amino acids that can be used for anything from the function, repair, structure, and regulation of your body.
As with carbs, for every gram of protein you eat it is 4 calories. The body can’t store protein for later use like it can store carbs. The important thing to know about protein is that it is the only essential macronutrient. While you can get energy for you body from carbs, protein, or fat for energy, your body specifically needs protein to form amino acids and all the cells within your body. It is crucial to get enough protein in your diet than any other macro.
I know, fat...the "bad guy" of the group. Wrong! Consuming fat will not make you fat. When you ingest fats your body puts it to work in a multitude of ways.
Did you know fat can be used as energy if you’re lacking in carbs? Fats form cholesterol and fatty acids which serve as helpers within your body to ensure that the proteins are doing their job.
For every gram of fat you eat it is 9 calories – making fat the most calorie-dense macro. Eating healthy fats like avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and animal products can also help you feel satiated longer. So adding the correct amount of fats to your diet can help keep you on track towards your goals.
So, which is it calories or macros?
It is a fact that our bodies need precise amounts of each type of macronutrient in order to fuel our workouts, repair muscle damage, grow stronger, and shed fat. While you could get all your daily calories from any one of these macronutrients, it's important that you maintain a balance of carbs, protein, and fat to make sure your body is fully equipped to make the transformation you want it to.
Instead of focusing on how many total calories you’re eating, it’s best to look at the content/quality of what you’re eating. This will help to build a better you.