Nutrition Q&A

Nutrition Q&A: Count Calories or Macros for Weight Loss?

We start with calories when trying to determine an individual’s needs. The goal is to determine the number of calories that someone needs in order to reach their goals. That will help determine the target “macro” counts.

5/21/21 Nutrition Q&A

Question from Elton

When it comes to losing weight, is it more important to count calories or to count macros?

Answer

I’m delighted that this question came up because the concept of macro versus calorie counting can be confusing. A calorie is a measure of the amount of energy in our food. Simply put, if we eat more calories than we utilize, we store energy by gaining weight. If we eat fewer calories than we utilize, we lose weight due to an energy deficit. For instance, if your maintenance intake is 2,500 calories per day and you consume 4,000 calories per day, you will gain weight regardless of what kinds of foods you are consuming. It doesn’t matter whether those 4,000 calories come from pizza and ice cream or grilled chicken and carrot sticks – if the energy intake exceeds output, the body will store energy (body fat).

Counting macros is essentially another, more specific way of counting calories that considers the type of food that you are consuming. Macros are counted in grams per day, sometimes in grams per meal. “Macros” are short for macronutrients which are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Each macronutrient serves a different function in our bodies, and we need all of them to function optimally.

Carbohydrates contain four calories per gram. These are the sugars and starches that make up the bulk of energy for all living things. The body converts carbohydrates into glucose, causing a rise in blood sugar and the subsequent release of the anabolic hormone insulin. Insulin aids in building muscle, but it can also cause fat to accumulate if it isn’t managed properly.

Proteins also contain four calories per gram and are “the building blocks of life.” They are the amino acid structures that rebuild and repair the body. Protein intake also stimulates the release of glucagon, a “fat-burning” hormone. It is believed that excess protein is less likely to be stored as fat than excess carbohydrates or fats.

Fats are the most energy dense of the macronutrients providing nine calories per gram – more than twice the amount of carbohydrates and proteins. Fats are essential for the health and maintenance of many bodily processes including immunity and hormone production. They are also an important energy source.

Counting macros means that we are paying particular attention to the ratios of the above versus counting calories alone. This is important because optimal function and metabolism depend not only on how much we are consuming (calories) but on what we are consuming (macros).

We start with calories when trying to determine an individual’s needs. The goal is to determine the number of calories that someone needs in order to reach their goals. That will help determine the target “macro” counts. For example, if eating at a caloric deficit of 15% below maintenance levels puts you at 2,200 calories per day as your goal, your total macros should add up to 2,200 calories. That might look something like this:

Protein: 165g (660 calories representing 30% of total intake)

Carbs: 225g (900 calories representing 41% of total intake)

Fats: 70g (630 calories representing 29% of total intake)

The bottom line is that counting macros gives you more information than counting calories alone. It allows you to fine-tune your nutrition by balancing your intake quantities and ratios in order to support your goals.


Coach Gillian Ward is Barbell Logic’s Director of Nutrition. She has spent a lifetime as a high-performing athlete, coach, and fitness and nutrition educator. If you have a question for Coach Gillian that you’d like to see answered in future issues of the Friday Five Newsletter, please fill out the form below.

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