Everyone knows what calories are. Chances are at some point in your life, you’ve looked at the nutritional label on a food product to see how many calories you were eating.
Calories provide the body with the energy it needs to survive. The number of calories you consume is directly proportional to the amount of weight you gain or lose. Counting calories is a good way to lose or gain weight. However if your goal is a lean, muscular, ripped physique, just counting calories may not be the most efficient way to go.
Calories are actually made up of macronutrients. Each macro contains a certain number of calories per gram:
- 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
- 1 gram of carbs = 4 calories
- 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
- 1 gram of alcohol = 7 calories
Today we are just going to focus on the three main macronutrients, protein, fat and carbs, and leave alcohol for another time. Macronutrients are nutrients that we need lots of and that are our primary source of fuel. This group includes protein, carbohydrates and fats. Every food you eat contains these three macronutrients, in varying proportions. Some foods are much higher in carbohydrates, for example, and contain almost no useful protein.
Carbohydrates are easily broken down and metabolized and as therefore a perfect source of fuel. In fact, once it’s converted into the usable form glucose, carbohydrates are used by literally every cell in your body for energy. Glucose is of particular usefulness to your brain, central nervous system, kidneys, heart and muscles. The glucose that isn’t immediately stored is converted into glycogen and tucked away into your liver and muscles for later.
Fats, although they are often viewed pretty negatively, are also extremely important to your body as a source of fuel. Since they are more calorie dense than carbohydrates and require a little more effort to break down, fats tend to be used more for longer-duration activities although they do get burn throughout the day in an ever-fluctuating ratio with carbs. In addition to providing energy, however, fats are also necessary for the creation of several hormones and the proper absorption of numerous vitamins.
Finally, we reach everybody’s favorite: Protein. Because protein are made out of amino acids – commonly called the “building blocks of life” – they aren’t generally used for energy. Instead, the complex structure of protein is pulled apart and their individual amino acids are reorganized to build whatever your body needs at the time. This could include cells, muscle, hormones and countless other substances. Although it isn’t your body’s first fuel choice, protein can be used for energy and does contain the same amount of calories are carbohydrates.
Calorie Counting> Macros Counting > Micros > Meal Timing > Supplements
#1 Calorie Counting
Calorie counting is an easy, one-step system. Determine the number of calories you need to eat per day and simply keep track of your daily intake.
The general guidelines for determining the number of calories you should be consuming in order to lose weight is based on your age, weight, and the average amount of physical activity performed daily, we called it “Magic Number“. Contact me for further assist about your “Magic Number”, I’ll give guidelines on:
- How to calculate energy balance for weight loss or gain,
- How to adjust for activity,
- How to make adjustments to calorie intake if things don’t proceed as planned.
#2 Macros Counting (Carbohydrates, Protein, Fats)
You may have heard it said that while energy balance determines whether weight is gained or lost, macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) determine whether that change is fat or muscle mass.
Though that is a gross oversimplification, macros play an important role and need consideration. Simply put, get them right and you’ll reach your physique goals quicker and more painlessly than if you ignore them.
#3 Micronutrient Considerations & Water
The topic of micronutrition may sound boring but you can’t afford to ignore it. Long-term micronutrient deficiencies will impact your health and torpedo your training efforts. Fortunately it’s doesn’t have to be complicated. By observing a few simple rules of thumb regarding your daily nutritional intake you can safeguard against deficiencies.
#4 Nutrient Timing & Meal Frequency, Calorie & Macro Cycling
Industry thinking used to be as simple as, eat big, lift big, get big.
The pendulum then swung too far to the right of moderation towards excessive attention to detail. The new standard became ‘eat many small meals throughout the day’, sometimes known as a typical bodybuilder diet.
Unfortunately I now think it has swung too far in the other direction, where we have the (only slightly less annoying) myth that ‘meal frequency and timing doesn’t matter’, or even that ‘calories don’t count as long you eat within an 8 hour window’ – a natural consequence of people jumping on the intermittent fasting bandwagon without understanding (or caring about) the science.
As is the case with most of these things, the truth is somewhere in the middle. We’ll discuss where this happy line of moderation may lie for you, as well as the hypotheticals for those wanting to be more pedantic.
Supplements are the smallest part of the puzzle. However, they can be useful so we’ll cover them in two sections: 1. General health, 2. Physique & performance.
The two significant differences between counting calories and counting macros is the counting process and the food being consumed.
Calorie counting is a simple tactic and generally shows positive results. Unfortunately, it can also be misleading. Keeping track of calories, as opposed to what makes up those calories, can be harmful to your body despite the weight loss.
Macro counting is the opposite. You are fully aware of what is being put in your body, and it is generally well-balanced foods, however, it is not nearly as easy as calorie counting since you are keeping track of very precise numbers of nutrients. Say goodbye to eating out with friends and impromptu coffee shop pit stops. Most meals will have to be pre-planned and from your own kitchen.
Counting calories, paired with fresh foods, is the go-to diet for most people. It’s easy and it’s reliable. Counting macros is a great way to feed your body exactly what it needs, however, it is not necessarily feasible for the average person.
If you are looking for a diet that is not time consuming and requires minimal calculations, counting calories might just be the diet for you! Remember though it is not all about cutting calories, you need to create a balanced healthy lifestyle in order to reach weight loss goals – which means combining eating healthy with exercise.