You may have heard of counting macros – aka “flexible dieting” or IIFYM – but what exactly are macronutrients and how does counting them differ from plain old calorie counting?
There are 3 macronutrients – carbs, fat and protein. The term “macro” meaning large is because we need these 3 nutrients in large quantities to function and they are considered larger chemical compounds. Macronutrients are the nutrients in food which provide our body with energy (aka calories). Because each macro plays a unique role in the body but are all essential for function, I would say they are all equally important.
Carbs are your body’s main source of fuel. They provide us with energy and that is essential for brain and body functions. Carbs often get a bad rep for causing weight gain, however it is important to remember that no one specific food or macronutrient causes weight gain. Eating excess calories (of any macro or food) causes weight gain. When someone says they cut carbs and lost weight, it is usually due to the fact they stopped eating calorie dense high carb foods (potato chips, french fries, bread, etc.) and therefore lowered their caloric intake which equals weight loss.
Every 1g of carbs = approximately 4 calories.
Carbs are found in foods such as oatmeal, potatoes, grains, beans, breads and fruit.
Fats are a rich source of energy for the body and provide essential fatty acids the body cannot make itself. Fat is needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A,D,E and K. Good hormone health is dependent on fats as well as brain health.
Fats are the most calorie dense macronutrient- 1g of fat = approximately 9 calories.
Fats are found in nuts, seeds, oils, full fat dairy, eggs, avocado and non-lean meats.
Protein breaks down into amino acids and is required to build and maintain muscle. Protein also plays an important role in producing hormones and enzymes needed for the body to function.
Every 1g of protein = approximately 4 calories (same as carbohydrates).
Foods that are high in protein include meats, fish and seafood, dairy, protein powders, and soy products.
Counting Macros vs. Calories
Counting macros vs. calories can both support your goal of weight loss, however counting macros ensures essential nutrients are a part of your daily intake. You could eat a calorie deficit worth of cookies and still lose weight, however this is not the best choice for your body to function optimally. When in a calorie deficit for weight loss, controlling the inevitable hunger is key. Intaking a set amount of protein, fat and carbs can help keep your meals balanced and satisfying.
If counting all three macronutrients seems overwhelming, a good place to start is tracking just protein. Carbs and fats can interchange based on personal preference (some people prefer a higher fat vs. carb ratio and vice versa). Your desired carb/fat ratio may change depending on your current life season- when I was working out extensively I preferred a higher carb vs. fat. In my postpartum/breastfeeding journey so far, I am preferring a higher fat vs. carb intake. Protein always stays at 1g per body weight in lbs. If your goal is weight loss, you can set your protein grams to 1g per goal body weight in lbs.
Whether or not you track macros or calories, the important thing to remember is you cannot lose weight without a calorie deficit. Counting macros is a tool I like to ensure I can be the most successful in that calorie deficit by staying nourished and satiated + maintaining muscle mass.
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