Counting Macros vs. Calories: Which Should You Be Tracking?

If you’ve just started jumping into the world of weight loss and body weight management techniques, you may notice everyone is talking about counting calories and macros and how they can use these methods to change their body composition. It can be pretty confusing to figure out the difference between these metrics. Is one better to track than the other when you’re trying to hit your goals?

Don’t fret — we’ve got your back! We’ll walk you through the ins and outs of counting calories and counting macros to understand the difference and figure out which is more helpful for your needs. Finally, we will give you a few other tips to help with weight management, no matter your goals.

What Are Calories?

The word “calorie” is tossed around a lot in the health and wellness world. It is the biggest number listed at the top of any nutritional fact label, but what does it mean?

A calorie is a unit of energy your body uses as fuel. As your body breaks down different foods and drinks, energy is released called calories.

Calories are essential for life. Your body uses calories to carry out every process in the body, from digestion and breathing to pumping your blood. Calories are also used for any physical activity, like walking, swimming, cooking, and even sleeping!

What Does It Mean to Count Calories?

Depending on your age, sex, weight, height, physical activity levels, and weight loss goals, your caloric needs will change. Most nutritional guidelines on packaging use 2,000 calories a day to calculate nutritional facts, but this number is a broad guideline that is not meant for every individual.

In fact, very few people need exactly 2,000 calories. If you’re looking for help, there are different calorie calculators you can use to determine how many calories you need to maintain your current weight.

If you are looking to lose weight, it is often recommended to have a calorie deficit of 10 to 15%. Making slight changes to your calories will allow you to make slow, healthy changes while staying energized.

Remember, consuming too many calories may cause you to gain weight, but eliminating too many calories can leave you feeling unfocused, tired, and unable to function at your best (including at the gym — IYKYK).

When tracking calories, you count each of the calories you consume and aim to hit your target number, depending on if you are actively trying to lose weight, maintain your weight, or gain weight.

What Is the Benefit of Counting Calories?

If you consume too many calories without using that excess energy, those calories may be turned into fat. Don’t be fooled by “fat-free” foods. These have calories, too, and will turn into body fat the same as all other foods.

By counting calories, you can monitor your daily intake and ensure you are consuming the calories you need to hit your health and wellness goals. Counting calories is an easy process. As long as you can know the calorie count of the foods you’re eating — which is usually found on the nutritional label — you can track your calories.

What Is the Downside of Counting Calories?

When counting calories, the nutritional quality of your food choices isn’t taken into account. Regardless of what you consume, you are meeting your goal if you’re within your daily allotment. You could, theoretically, eat junk all day. As long as you don't surpass your daily calorie limits, you are good to go… right?

Not so much. Nutrition isn’t just about how much you eat, but what you’re eating. If you’re not properly fueling your body with the vitamins and nutrients you need to be your best, it’ll be that much harder to crush your fitness goals.

Counting calories can sometimes lead to disordered eating or a hypersensitivity to your calorie intake. Remember, consuming too few calories is not healthy and can lead to adverse health reactions just as much as consuming too many calories can.

What Are Macros?

Macronutrients — or macros, for short — are the most important nutrients for you to consume. These include protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

Protein is important for your cells to build and repair. It also allows your blood to deliver oxygen to other areas of the body.

Fat is a needed part of your healthy diet, too — yep, you read that right. Fat helps protect your organs, absorb certain vitamins, provides energy, and contains fatty acids that the body can’t make on its own. Fat has a bad rep, but this is just one of many examples of how “wellness” messaging can sometimes lead us astray.

Carbohydrates (AKA, carbs) are needed to create energy for your body. When they are digested, they provide your body with glucose which is used for energy in almost all of your cells.

How Do You Count Macros?

In order to count macros, you need to determine your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). This is essentially the number of calories you burn at rest combined with the number of calories you burn while active.

Here is a simple formula to find out your TDEE:

To find out your overall calorie needs without taking your activity levels into consideration, use these formulas:

  • Men: Calories/day = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5
  • Women: Calories/day = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161

Once you have that number, multiply it by your activity level:

  • Little to no exercise: x 1.2
  • Exercise less than three days a week: x 1.375
  • Exercise most days of the week: x 1.55
  • Exercise every day: x 1.725
  • Exercise multiple times a day: x 1.9

Once you have your TDEE, you can break out your goals for each macros. Here is the ratio breakdown for each macro:

  • Carbs: 45 to 65% of your total calories (One gram of carbs equals four calories)
  • Fats: 20 to 35% of your total calories (One gram of fat equals nine calories)
  • Proteins: 10 to 35% of your total calories (One gram of protein equals four calories)

Once you know your macro breakdown, you can use a tracking app or a food journal to track your daily intake.

What Is the Benefit of Counting Macros?

Unlike counting calories, tracking macros focuses on what you are eating, taking into account the nutrients you are consuming. Many foods high in macros are also high in micronutrients, so you may be getting a better balanced diet of nutrient-dense foods.

Flexible dieting is another name for macro counting. As long as you are hitting those macro numbers, you have the flexibility to eat what you want. The keto diet also uses macro tracking to help you meet your goals.

What Is the Downside of Counting Macros?

The biggest downside of counting macros is it can be a bit confusing and time-consuming. Thankfully, there are more and more easy-to-use apps that help take all calculations out of your hands. You no longer need to be a mathematician to track macros like a champ, so you can leave all those calculations in the classroom.

Should You Be Tracking Macros or Calories?

In both tracking methods, you need to understand your caloric needs. However, tracking your macros takes it a step further and invites a much-needed nutritional component to the party.

If you are unsure of how to start reaching your health goals, a dietitian is a great resource to help you on your health and wellness journey.

What Are Other Weight Management Tips?

There is more to weight management than tracking what you eat, whether you choose counting calories or macros. While this is an awesome start (and what you eat is naturally a huge component of weight loss), there are few other tips to keep in mind.

Hydrate

Don’t forget to drink your water! Drinking water helps eliminate empty calories from the other liquids you may consume, like juices, sugary coffee drinks, or soda. It also may help suppress your appetite between your meals and snacks.

Exercise

Whether you weight train, run marathons, or take a walk a few times a day, moving your body is another key component to weight management. Exercise can help you build muscle, which may burn more calories than fat, even at rest.

Don’t Forget To Treat Yourself!

Weight management isn’t all about restricting yourself. Focusing on a well balanced diet that fits within your macros and calories will help you reach your weight loss goals, but cutting all treats out of your diet may not be sustainable long term. When a sweet craving hits, look to our no sugar added, low carb treats to keep you going without wrecking your diet!

Conclusion

There are tons of plans out there to help you on your weight loss journey. Two extremely popular methods are counting calories and counting macros. By focusing on your macros during the day, you are likely to hit your fitness goals while still eating a well balanced meal. Watching your macros will also guide you to eating fewer calories.

If you are ready to start crushing your weight loss goals, MiiRO is here to cheer you on! Try our indulgent chocolates to keep your healthy goals on track, while still enjoying your tasty treats.

Sources:

Fat and Calories: The Difference & Recommended Intake| Cleveland Clinic

Calorie calculator | Mayo Clinic

What Are Macros And Why Should I Be Counting Them? | SCL Health

Physical Activity and Controlling Weight | Kansas State University

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published