It’s common knowledge that weight loss occurs when your body operates in a caloric deficit. This means that you’re burning off more calories than you consume.
On the other hand, weight gain occurs when your body operates in a caloric surplus. This means that you’re consuming more calories than you burn.
So, if weight loss and gain is all about calories in and calories out (plus many more factors, but we'll save that for another blog post)…
Why would you track macros instead of counting calories?
What does it matter – isn’t it all the same?
Not at all!
Simply put, counting calories reflects the quantity of your food. Tracking macronutrients reflects the quality of your food.
What does this mean?
Quantity versus Quality
Think about it differently - if it only matters that you’re consuming less calories than you expend, what’s stopping you from eating all the junk and sugary snacks instead of whole, nutrient-dense foods, fruits and veggies? After all, you stayed within your calorie limit.
Here's the deal - 2,000 calories worth of pizza, ice cream and beer doesn’t equal 2,000 calories of lean meats, healthy carbs, fruits and veggies.
However, if you’re eating less calories than you consume, you could technically lose weight from eating pizza, beer and ice cream.
But this isn’t realistic – and here’s why.
From a numbers standpoint, yes – the quantity of calories is the same.
In terms of macros, no – the quality of these foods aren’t the same. Pizza, ice cream and beer are carb- and fat-heavy. What about protein?
Lean meats, healthy carbs, fruits and veggies have a balanced mix of all three macros – proteins, fats and carbs.
When you count calories, you’re focusing on the quantity of your food. When you track macros and incorporate whole, nutrient-dense and satiating foods into your diet, your focus shifts to the quality of your food. This encourages you to make healthier food choices as you’re pursuing your body composition and healthy lifestyle goals.
Macros & Body Composition Change
Keep in mind that the quality and quantity of your food is important – and neither should be ignored.
Macronutrients are the building blocks of your food. They also reflect the nutrient potential of your food. Any food you eat contains one, two or all three of them. Each macronutrient has a different function, and we need an optimal balance of all of them to function at our best.
Plus, calories and macros are connected. One gram of each macro produces a specific number of calories – and these quantities are important, too.
Protein helps your body build muscle and create essential hormones and enzymes. One gram of protein equals four calories.
Carbs are your body’s primary source of energy. One gram of carbohydrates also equals four calories.
Fats are integral to cellular function and are your body’s stored energy source. One gram of fat equals nine calories.
Tracking macros matters because it ensures you’ll consume enough proteins, carbs and fats while meeting your manipulated caloric intake. The right ratio of macros can encourage body composition change, whether you’re looking to drop weight, lose fat or build lean muscle.
In other words, your optimal macro targets give you the correct amounts of:
Carbs, so you have energy to function.
Fat, so your body and brain can thrive.
Protein, so you can maintain your lean muscle mass while altering your body composition.
Macros Matter, and So Do Calories
Macro targets are different for everyone. They aren’t a one-size-fits-all concept. Your targets are customized to you based on your body, goals, activity level and lifestyle.
One of the convenient things about tracking macros is that, if you know how many grams of protein, fat and carbs you're shooting for, you'll know how many calories you're eating, too. Whether you’re looking to remain in a deficit, surplus or at maintenance, this is crucial for reaching your goals.
A final note - can pizza, beer or ice cream be a part of your nutrition when you’re trying to alter your body comp? Yes, they can – balance is key to healthy, sustainable nutrition habits.
Just keep in mind that food quality and nutrient potential is not only better for your body composition goals, but your health in the long term.