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Should You Count Your Calories or Macros?

It seems like ‘tracking macros’ is all the rage in the fitness industry lately, and for good reason. Tracking food consumption will keep your nutrition spot on and help you reach your fitness goals faster. But should you track your macros or should you just focus on your calorie intake? First, let’s talk about the difference beginning with the simpler of the two, counting calories. Determine the number of calories you need to eat per day and keep track of your daily intake. Boom. Done. Tracking your macros isn’t quite that easy. Now, instead of focusing on a set number of calories, you must also meet your carbohydrate, protein, and fat goals. (Remember, each gram of carbohydrate and protein contains 4 calories while each gram of fat contains 9 calories. Review Macronutrients 101 to learn more about macros).

For example, if your calorie goal is 1,850 calories, your macros may look like this:

  • 50g fat

  • 150g protein

  • 200g carbs

All of this equates to 1,850 calories (50x9 + 150x4 + 200x4). Instead of simply tracking calories to meet your goal, you must also make sure that your fat-carb-protein ratios pan out.

So what determines whether you should count calories or macros? It basically comes down to one thing and one thing only, and that is your goal.

  • Is your goal primarily to lose weight?

  • Is your goal to alter your body composition?

If your primary goal is to lose weight, you should count your calories. Losing weight comes down to calories in versus calories out. If you’re consuming more calories than you’re burning, you will gain weight. If you’re consuming less calories than you’re burning, you will lose weight. It’s that simple. Recall that your body burns calories just by living; this is called your basal metabolic rate. BMR is the total number of calories that your body needs to perform basic, life-sustaining functions.

If your primary goal is to alter your body composition, you should track your macros. Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats all have distinct functions and purposes they serve the body, and for this reason, if you’re trying to build muscle, you need to focus on the ratio of each that you’re consuming. Very simply stated, you need carbohydrates to fuel your workouts and you need protein to build muscle. Without protein, your body will not be able to build body tissue and your muscles will not recover. That’s why it’s vital to intake adequate protein if you’re trying to change your body composition. Bodybuilders and physique competitors are extreme examples of people who need to track their macros in order to reach their goal physique, but it’s a useful tool for those of us whose goals aren’t quite that extreme as well.

Another important factor in deciding which method is right for you is dependent on the type of exercise you’re doing. If you’re trying to build muscle, you’re likely lifting heavy weights, focusing on progressive overload, making adequate protein, carbs, and fat necessary for optimal performance and results. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re likely engaging in more high-intensity exercise like cardiovascular exercise in which macros won’t play as big of a role in.

If you’re at a plateau in your fitness journey, I highly recommend to start tracking your food consumption! Read the blog post The Pros and Cons of Tracking Your Macros to learn more.

Are you new to tracking? Start small! Start by simply hitting your calorie goal. Once you’re comfortable with that, try to hit your macro percentages. Instead of aiming for exact grams of each, aim to meet the correct percentages of each first. Start by setting a goal of 50% carbohydrates, 25% protein, and 25% fat for example instead of exact grams of each. Slowly you will become confident and it’ll become much easier for you. Do what you can. Progress, not perfection, right?


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