Calories VS Macros – What Matters Most?
Calories verses macronutrients…When we start tracking our food, what matters most? Counting calories has long been one of the go-to ways for losing weight; it’s simple, calories in – calories out. So where do macronutrients come into play and why are they just as important as overall calories? Let’s dive into it!
Everything we eat and drink (except water) contain calories. Calories are comprised of three macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fat.
● Protein contain four calories per gram.
● Fat contains nine calories per gram.
● Carbohydrates contain four calories per gram.
The majority of foods contain a combination of all 3 macronutrients and each macronutrient has a different function within our bodies. Regardless of your body composition goals, it’s important to find an optimal ratio of carbs, fats and protein according to your age, gender, weight, height and activity level. There’s no perfect macro split, as this in some ways will depend on personal preference. However, finding that optimal balance for you in particular, is crucial to getting your body functioning to the best of its ability and will help you reach the fitness goals you’ve been striving for.
So… “Why are macronutrients that important? “Can’t I just focus on my calories?”
Absolutely you can. Fat loss is dictated by being in a calorie deficit, regardless of your specific food choices. That said, not all calories are equal. Let me explain. As we discussed before, carbs and protein contain 4 calories per gram while fats contain 9 calories per gram. Although 100 calories of candy is the same as 100 calories of pasta (from an energy/caloric perspective), they are broken down and used very differently in our bodies; not to mention pasta will be far more satiating due to its higher protein and fiber content, compared to a candy bar (not that you can’t have a candy bar, of course!) Tracking your macros is helpful for a lot of women because it tends to aid in a more mindful approach to our daily eating habits and allows you to delve deeper into your body’s specific needs.
WHY CALORIES AND MACROS DON’T ALWAYS MATCH/ADD UP IN TRACKING APPS
Quite often I’ll hear women say “I hit my macros, but MyFitnessPal is showing I’m over my calories – what am I doing wrong? Which is more important?” If you are using a food tracking app, like MFP you’ve probably experienced a time when the macros and calories don’t add up. i.e. you’ve hit your macros yet your total calories for the day are off. Shouldn’t they just match? Not necessarily. The truth is, there are a lot of reasons why our caloric and macronutrient needs can sometimes not add up in tracking apps.
First, food labels are not 100 percent accurate to begin with. WHAT?! Ugh, I know! To add more confusion to the mix, the USDA allows foods to be rounded to the nearest five or 10 calories, which may not seem like it would make a huge difference. BUT, when you think about how many different foods you eat throughout the day, this could really add up. This is why your calories and macros may not be be equivalent. Secondly, food tracking apps aren’t always consistent either. In apps like MFP, where individuals can add foods manually may input incorrect nutrition information; likewise, companies are allowed to round up or down the decimal point depending on the amounts. My suggestion to combat this is to look for the verified foods by selecting items with a check mark next to the food item, or scanning the barcodes yourself on the package to ensure you’re entering in the correct food item. Here are just some examples of rounding rules from the FDA guidelines.
Alcohol is another major reason for incorrect nutrition information and overall inconsistencies. Alcohol contains seven calories per gram. Macro tracking apps do not convert these calories to macros (which you should track as carbs or fats; I’ll show you how right here!) If you have a five ounce glass of wine, it could say 100 calories and register zero for all 3 macronutrients; that 100 calories has to come from somewhere!
At the end of the day, these discrepancies won’t be 100% avoidable. So just know that if you’re hitting your macros, you are in turn, hitting your calorie goal as well.
HOW MACROS CAN CHANGE OUR BODY COMPOSITION
If you’re going through the motions of working out consistently, “eating healthy” but you’re not tracking what’s actually going in your body, you may not be giving it the fuel it needs to reach your body composition goals. Counting macros gives you an increased awareness of the quality of food you are ingesting and it allows you to find the right balance for your body. Tracking your macros also forces you to take an in depth look at the food you are consuming, ensures you are getting the proper balance of protein, carbs and fat, and gives you the right balance of fuel to kick some major butt during your workouts!