Ask the Dietitian: What’s More Important for Weight Loss — Calories or Macros?

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Ask the Dietitian: What’s More Important for Weight Loss — Calories or Macros?

The short and sweet answer: Calories and macronutrients both matter, so let me explain.

It’s almost impossible these days to go a day without hearing about a new dieting fad or weight-loss trend. Most of that craze centers on slashing calories — an approach that works for many but leaves out a key aspect of nutrition: macronutrients. Lucky for you, MyFitnessPal allows you to track your calories and macronutrients.

Rather than solely focusing on a calorie count, the macronutrient approach optimizes your diet by determining the percentage of calories you should get from protein, carbohydrates and fat each day. Whether you are interested in cutting body fat or boosting muscle mass, macronutrient breakdowns can be catered to meet your goals.

WHAT MACRONUTRIENTS ARE AND WHY THEY MATTER

Carbohydrates, protein and fat make up our essential macronutrients. They provide the vast majority of our bodies energy in the form of calories, keeping us fueled throughout the day. One important aspect of the macronutrient approach is that it acknowledges not all calories are created equal: 100 calories of candy and 100 calories of broccoli technically provide the same “energy” to your body but are processed very differently. Think about eating 500 calories of ice cream and 500 calories of spinach; these two choices are reflected identically in the counting calories approach but contribute very differently within a macronutrient breakdown.

Metabolically speaking, foods high in protein and fiber keep us feeling full longer, leading to reduced calorie intake. Conversely, foods with high glycemic indexes, such as white bread and cookies, spike our blood sugar for a short time, providing quick energy but leaving us with a “sugar crash” soon after. The speed that carbohydrates hit our system affects subsequent overeating and weight gain. This means it’s much more valuable to choose whole grain carbohydrates that are slowly digested (and often contain fiber!) rather than processed grains.

THE CASE FOR FOCUSING ON MACRONUTRIENTS

So, calories don’t tell the entire weight-loss story. But, it’s important to remember that you can’t have macronutrients without calories. Each gram of fat provides nine calories, while protein and carbohydrates provide four calories per gram. Remember that you’re not eating macronutrients just for calories because every macronutrient has a purpose:

  • Fats work to slow digestion, provide essential fat-soluble vitamins and have protective anti-inflammatory properties (omega-3s!).
  • Protein provides the building blocks for muscle and cell tissue, while also satisfying hunger and improving satiety.
  • Carbohydrates provide a quickly accessible form of energy and fiber, which can leave you feeling full longer and slow the absorption of other nutrients (like sugar).

Depending on your age, weight and activity level, your body requires a certain amount of calories to maintain its weight. A diet that is 30% protein might work great for someone on a 1,200 calorie diet (90 g protein) — but not so great for an athlete on a 4,000 calorie diet (which would be 300 g protein if calculating at 30% macros… aka too much). The solution? First calculate the grams of protein you need based on your weight and fitness goals. (Rule of thumb: don’t go over one gram of protein per pound of body weight.) Then, translate that into a macronutrient breakdown.

Focusing on macros promotes a more balanced diet by forcing us to take a hard look at the foods we are eating. The bottom line is to view your diet from a broader perspective that considers the nutritional benefits of different options and not only their calorie count!

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  • Amaan Rashid

    Hi Kristina,, how will i get to know that what percentage of carbs, fat and protein i need daily, if i want to lose weight and also gain muscle at same time.