If you are someone who has tried counting calories and it did not work out as advertised, unknowingly you already know why macros matter. Not all calories are created equal and there are 3 macro types when it comes to calories. Knowing what macros are and how to balance them with your diet and lifestyle is often the difference between success and failure of nutritional goals. Being healthy and not being healthy, losing weight and not losing weight. Both can be true on the same caloric counting regiments. To reach a nutrition or fitness goal with a caloric target alone is like throwing darts at a dart board in the dark. You have the general idea of the direction but will be extremely lucky if you hit the target.
What Are Macros?
The 3 types of macros are simply your dietary Carbohydrates, Fats, and Proteins. The best place to start is to take a look at their job roles in nutrition:
Calories: 4 kcal per gram
Main Job: Quick fuel and fuel replenishment. Also can be used in excess for creating body fat for long periods without food.
Insulin Response: Medium to high
Calories: 9 kcal per gram
Main Job: Slow burning longer lasting fuel source, good for longer periods between eating.
Insulin Response: Little to none.
Role: Building Blocks
Calories: 4 kcal per gram
Main Job: To repair the body that is largely made from proteins.
Insulin Response: Low to Medium (Depending on serving size)
Too Much and Not Enough
How much of each macro is needed depends on time of day, your activity during that day, and what your current body has stored of each macro before each time you eat. That much detail is too much for an introductory post on macros so it will be put aside for future articles. Let’s instead discuss briefly how too little and too much of each can affect us. Knowing this is pivotal to your dietary successes.
Too Much: Short term causes Insulin spikes, creates fat, causes food cravings when blood sugar crashes from insulin spike. Long term, leads to diseases such as heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes.
Not Enough: Can lead to dizziness and headaches, especially if also restricting fats and salts (electrolytes) at the same time.
Too Much: Usually anything above and beyond 30 grams in a meal will result in some protein being converted to glucose and affecting insulin response / levels.
Not Enough: Proper tissue regeneration will not be possible and your body will metabolize existing skeletal muscles to repair themselves, especially after exercise or strenuous activity.
Too Much: On a regular unrestricted diet, too much fat would result in somebody fat storage. It is difficult however, to eat too much fat on a low carb diet since your body would mainly be using fat as fuel in that case.
Not Enough: After meals you will not feel full for long and your body can become very poor at burning fat over time from avoiding it.
Although calorie counting is flawed in itself, there is a reason why people do count calories. The idea behind creating a caloric deficit in your diet is to force your body to burn fat for extra energy needed. Or inversely extra calories if you want to increase muscle mass when working out. What you stand to gain and lose however, will be determined by your macros and not your intentions. You could lose fat or muscle, and you could also gain fat or muscle. If your macros ratios are not right, you won’t get what you want, I can assure you of that.
Macros – Fuels and Building Blocks
When it comes to the basics of nutrition, the macronutrients are where everyone should start. The caloric model is of some importance but it’s oversimplified and has too many flaws and ways to cheat yourself without a deeper understanding at the macro level.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.” – Albert Einstein
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” – Albert Einstein
So your model of nutrition should start from a foundation of the required building blocks for your body type (Proteins) and then regulating your fuel sources based on your lifestyle needs and body composition goals. (Carbohydrates and Fats)
How To Macro
Starting with protein, you will want to consume protein based on your activity level and current body composition needs. This can be anywhere from the recommended daily of 0.36 g of protein per pound up to 1.5 g of protein per pound based on personal goals, current conditioning, activity levels, and amount of muscle you need to currently maintain.
Carbohydrates would then be something you would want to restrict/regulate to an amount that avoids spiking blood sugar too high. You want to fuel yourself while avoiding excess fat storage and insulin spikes that could result in a carb crash in terms of energy. Looking for easily digestible starches and grains only after exercise for refuelling and sometimes before activity for fuel as well. Keep in mind that pre-workout Carbohydrates are more for people with performance based goals and not for those with fat loss goals. When not refueling or pre or post strenious activity, simple starches, grains, and sugars should be avoided and in their place you should be eating carbohydrates that contain a lot of nutrients and fibres such as greens and other cruciferous vegetables.
Fats would fill in any extra fuel needs beyond carbohydrates. Your body is always burning some amount of fat at all times and as long as you are not over doing carbohydrates, the consumed fat will not be stored but used. Fats will also keep you from feeling hungry and will allow you more time between meals without losing muscle. Eating fat can also help your body become more accustom to burning fat. It is important to have a healthy hybrid metabolic engine that is able to burn both fats and carbohydrates.
More information specific to body fat storage and fat loss in my article “How And When We Store and Burn Body Fat” Also information on why unhealthy eating not causing you to get fat is not a blessing but a curse in “Metabolic Syndrome – What Actually Causes Heart Disease and Diabetes” Spoiler alert, the body creating fat is a healthy response to over eating carbohydrates. If you are eating like garbage and not gaining fat you should be more worried about your health than an overweight person. Check out that article to find out why macros matter most for your health as well as your body composition goals.
Tips & Takeaways:
- Learn about macros first and avoid caloric restriction until you understand it better.
- If you want to burn fat, start with teaching your body to burn fat better without restricting any calories (restrict carbs but not calories first), then later restrict calories when you know your body will turn to fat instead of muscle to make up the energy deficit.
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