Calories And Macros: What’s The Deal?
25 May, 2021
So, you’re trying to lose weight?
You’re not alone! This is one of the most common goals that we hear when people first step foot in the gym. Losing weight relies upon one thing: a calorie deficit. Essentially, as long as your body is burning more calories than it is consuming, you will lose weight.
Losing weight means lowering your body mass and making your body smaller, but it doesn’t actually change your body composition necessarily. So, if your goal is simply to lose weight then it’s actually pretty simply. All you need to do is burn more calories than you consume week in week out over a period of time.
If however, you want to change your body composition to create a more muscular physique then you need to burn fat and build muscle. This involves training to build muscle, and then eating a more macro aware diet in order to shred fat. An adjustment in body composition is actually what most people want to achieve, but they mistakenly label it as wanting to lose weight. Or, in some cases, people want to do both.
In this article we’re diving into the difference between calories and macros and why they are both important to achieve your ideal body.
What are calories?
Scientifically speaking, a calorie is “the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 °C”. But what does that actually mean?
It means that calories are a measure of energy that tells you how much energy is in a certain food. This in turn tells us how much energy is needed to burn off certain foods.
Before we go any further, it’s important to note that calories are only a rough guide to how much energy is burned when you eat a particular type of food. Calories are only a rough guide because the food in your hand will undoubtedly vary from the food that you’re basing calories off of.
For example, although a banana has roughly 100 calories, in reality that can vary from 50-150 depending on the shape and size. When you pop that into a tracking app, you’re not necessarily going to take into account these changes and you’ll track 100 calories for the banana no matter what size.
Why count calories?
Understanding calories is essential to understanding nutrition. Each body has a basal metabolic rate or BMR, which is the base number of calories your body will burn each day just from being alive. You need to eat these calories in order to stay healthy, and you will probably be surprised at how high that number is.
Eating in a calorie deficit (i.e. less than your BMR) will enable you to lose weight, and eating in a calorie surplus (i.e. more than your BMR) will enable you to put on weight. In this sense, counting calories can be very helpful to allow you to understand whether you are going to be putting on, or losing weight.
- Counting calories is helpful if you want to lose weight
- It enables you to know how much you should eat to achieve your goals
- Can become obsessive
- Isn’t always accurate
What are macros?
Macros on the other hand refer to the breakdown of carbs, fats and proteins in your diet. Macro stands for Macronutrient, and refers to the three main macro categories of nutrients that we all eat the most.
Before we move on, it is crucial to understand that calories are still the number one factor affecting weight loss and gain. However, macros fall within that and refer to the nutrients within those categories. Because each macronutrient has a different thermic effect, changing the balance of macros can change how quickly or slowly your body burns calories (aka your metabolism).
Metabolism can be affected by a number of things including natural genetics, exercise frequency and style and diet. Where diet is concerned, eating more protein will help to boost your metabolism, burn fat and build muscle as it has the highest thermic effect of all macronutrients at 30%. For reference, carbs come in at 6% and fat at 4%.
Why Track Macros?
Tracking macros can speed up weight loss, but it’s important to know that a calorie deficit is key. Without it you won’t see a change on the scale however you might see a change in the mirror. With the addition of weight training to build muscle and macro tracking to lose fat – you can change your body composition, boost your metabolism and hit your goals faster without going into a calorie deficit.
People track macros to have a better understanding of the foods that they are consuming and a better knowledge of how their body burns each macronutrient.
Whilst in theory you could only eat mcdonalds and still lose weight if you were in a calorie deficit, over time your body composition would change. This means that while you might shrink in size and weigh less, you will be ‘made up’ of more fat which may actually look worse overall.
In a nutshell, that is why macros matter. A calorie deficit will ensure you lose weight, but macro tracking will help you adjust your body composition. Often, the image people have of their ‘dream body’ in their heads relies more on the latter than the former.
- Helps people better understand their nutrition
- Can enable people to grow muscle and lose fat
- Some people find it easier than tracking calories
- If you only track macros and not calories you won’t lose weight, they work together
- People believe that they can adjust macros and not be in a calorie deficit and still lose weight and it’s false. This can hinder people’s progress.