All my life, I heard about how important calorie counting was to lose weight. Calories, calories! Never drop below 1200 calories because your body will go into starvation mode, but you have to cut a lot of calories to lose weight. Burn more calories by exercising!
I never heard about macros. Never. Ever.
Today, we know better. The logic is changing. You should change your mindset and NEVER focus on calories ever again. Here's why:
What is a calorie, anyway?
A calorie is the amount of heat needed to heat one gram of water by one degree celsius. It's science. Calories in the foods we eat create the energy we need to function. Calories can be burned and they can be stored. Consume too many calories and your body will store the excess. Consume too few calories and your body will not function as it should.
So, wait - I thought we shouldn't count calories anymore!
Correct. You shouldn't. You need to know that calories provide energy...but, what is way more important (and what you should keep track of) is how your body responds to the energy it's given, and that's where the scary term "macronutrients" comes into play.
What is a macronutrient, anyway?
Everything you eat is some combination of the three macronutrients...protein, carbohydrates, and fats. That's it. (There is also alcohol, but I will save that for another post.) These macronutrients have a certain number of calories per gram.
Protein = 4 calories per gram
Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram
Fat = 9 calories per gram
To understand what this means, when you consume 30 grams of protein (like a protein shake), you are consuming 120 calories (30 grams protein x 4 calories per gram = 120 calories of protein). You are also consuming some fat and probably some carbs in that protein shake as well.
Stay with me here, people. Get up, stretch, walk around, take a mental break if you need it, but let all that sink in. I'll wait.
Okay, welcome back!
So, why is counting macronutrients more important than counting calories?
When you are trying to change your body composition, either by reducing your body fat percentage or increasing muscle, macros matter. You will not suddenly wake up one day, look in the mirror, and wonder how you added on muscle, Working out with heavy weights will definitely make you STRONGER, no question, but seeing those new muscles WILL NOT HAPPEN, unless you change your body composition.
In fact, you can increase strength and lose muscle mass at the same time. How does that happen??? When you don't give your body adequate protein for muscle building and repair, your body still needs energy to keep up with your heavy lifting. So, if you don't fuel with enough protein, you can still get stronger, but you will not build muscle, and will actually lose muscle because your body has to use the reduced supply of protein you gave it for energy.
Think of it this way: your body was built to survive - not to show off a glorified six pack. Above all else, your body will do what it needs to do to be resilient and function regardless of whether you know what you're doing. It will take energy from wherever it can get it to do all the jobs it needs to do.
But, I digress. Let's get back on track, shall we?
Every food you eat, either an apple or a Twinkie, consists of protein, carbs, and/or fats. And, each macronutrient has a job...a bodily function.
Protein aids in muscle growth and repair, as well as cartilage, bones, skin, and blood.
Carbohydrates give us energy.
Fat is also used for energy, and is important to our brain and nerves, skin, hormones, and transporting vitamins - don't fear the fat people - your body needs it to survive!!!!
THIS is why macros are so important. They each serve an important function in the proper regulation of how your body works. Too little protein and you can't build lean muscle mass, too little carbs and you will not have energy, too little fat, and you will run into all sort of biological functions.
Take the example above: Two tootsie rolls are 70 calories and so is one egg. But, when you break it down, looking at the MACROS of each item, it looks like this:
Tootsie Rolls: 2
Protein: .45 grams
Carbs: 13 grams (13 x4 = 52 calories)
Fat: 2 grams (2 x 9 = 18 calories)
Protein: 6 grams (6 x 4 = 24 calories)
Carbs: .50 grams (.5 x 4 = 2 calories)
Fat: 5 grams (5 x 9 = 45 calories)
Ok, so I was off by one calorie. The point is, tootsie rolls have practically zero protein and contains nothing but simple carbs (sugar), and a tiny bit of fat. This means that you will not feel as though you've eaten anything at all. Protein and fat are satiating, sugar is not. The tootsie roll isn't "bad" for you, but how many of us limit ourselves to two? And, how many of us consider a few tootsie rolls a meal or meaningful nutrients when considering how we fuel our bodies?
On the other hand, the egg is mainly protein and fat. This means that eating one egg will help you feel more satisfied compared to the two tootsie rolls.
So, how much of each macronutrient do we need?
Ahhh, that is the real question, isn't it. Our bodies are tricky little creatures and each person needs to find the right combination of macronutrients to perform his or her best. This question also depends on your goals. Are you looking to reduce body fat percentage, simply maintain, or are you looking to bulk up? A different combination is needed depending on your goals.
There are some general guidelines you can follow, but to narrow it more quickly and get a customized combination just for you, I highly recommend hiring a nutritionist or an RD (Registered Dietician).
If you aren't ready for that, here are some VERY general guidelines you can follow. Track your intake for a week and see what happens. If there are ZERO changes, then play around with your carb and fat numbers and track for another week. Like I said, our bodies are tricky and it takes time, and a whole mess of patience, to zero in on the right combination for you. If, like me, you are not a patient person, then hire someone to help you and let him or her take the lead.
The below guidelines are taken straight from the "Thinner, Leaner, Stronger" book by Michael Matthews.
To lose 0.5 - 1 pound per week and still preserve most of your muscle, start with these numbers:
1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day
1 gram of carbs per pound of body weight per day
0.2 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day
For a 140 pound woman, it would look like this:
170 grams of protein per day
140 grams of carbs per day
30 grams of fat per day
This comes to about 1,510 calories per day.
If you are looking to add muscle, get ready to see the scale increase. You MUST be in a calorie surplus to add muscle. To keep from gaining to much body FAT while on a bulk, look for 0.25 - 0.5 pounds per week. If you see much more than that, you may be consuming too many calories. Michael Matthews recommends starting with the following numbers:
1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day
2 grams of carbs per pound of body weight per day
0.4 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day
For a 110 pound woman, it would look like this:
110 grams of protein per day
220 grams of carbs per day
45 grams of fat per day
This comes to about 1,725 calories per day.
As you can see, a bulking phase is NOT an excuse to consume all the food things. It's really only about a 200 calorie difference. That's not a whole heck of a lot! It's not some free-for-all reason to hit up the Golden Corral buffet every night!
Again, this only provides a starting point. We are very unique individuals with very different needs. Start here, track your food, and make adjustments on a weekly basis.
TRACK AND WEIGH EVERY SINGLE THING.
This is a scientific process (but not one that lasts forever) and needs to be treated as such. Grabbing a few bites off your kids plate WILL make a difference. You can't make the necessary adjustments if you are not committed to the process.
And, like I said, if you want to see results quicker, hire someone to help you. In my honest opinion, it's hard enough to meal prep, weigh everything down to the gram, and meet your numbers everyday. If you can take the guesswork out of the equation and just do as your told by a PROFESSIONAL FOOD EXPERT PERSON, then why not do that??!!