So, I’m pretty sure the most frequently asked question I get is “What is the difference between counting macronutrients and calories?” I’ve addressed this topic several times on my Facebook page, but thanks to your recommendations, I am writing a full post about it!
What is the difference between counting macronutrients and calories?
The short answer is, there isn’t really a *difference* when it comes to the total amount of energy you are eating. But, before you get all confused, let me try to break it down here…
Calories are units of energy that our bodies use to function. All foods have calories and that is why we eat food so that we can get energy that our bodies can use to function. So where do macronutrients come into play here? Macronutrients are what make up the caloric content of a food. Every food is comprised of the 3 macronutrients: Fat, Carbohydrate and Protein. Not every food has an equal amount of each macro, which is why you see things like “Good sources of carbs: Fruit, Bread, Oatmeal” Because some foods are richer in one macronutrient over another…
Each macronutrient has a caloric value per gram. Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, Protein has 4 calories per gram and Fat has 9 calories per gram. So, when you see a food wrapper and it tells you how many calories are in the whole thing, those calories are coming from fat, carbs and protein since all food is made up of those 3 macronutrients. The caloric content of the food is simply calculated by multiplying the number of grams of each macronutrient by the caloric content per gram and adding them all up. Let’s take this Yogurt Nutrition Label for instance: source We can see that the whole yogurt container has 102 calories. How did we get this number? 1.1g fat , so we take 9 calories per gram x 1.1= 9.9 calories from fat 19.1g carbs, so we take 4 calories per gram x 19.1= 76.4 calories from carbs 4.4g protein, so we take 4 calories per gram x 4.4= 17.6 calories from protein Now, add these all up (9.9+76.4+17.6)= about 103 calories, which is basically the amount on the calorie label. *NOTE: Some food labels subtract the calories from fiber in the total calorie amount, so if something has 3g fiber… the total calorie content listed will be about 12 calories less than if you did the math yourself. Don’t be fooled- fiber should still count and while its caloric content per gram is slightly less (about 3 cals per gram), it’s still counted as a carb when tracking macros.*
So, it’s not like the calorie total of food comes from nowhere. It comes from the combination of fat, carbs and protein that make up the food. Since our bodies metabolize each macronutrient differently, it’s more important to get the right balance of each macronutrient if you want to feel and perform your best. Sure, you can just count to a caloric total of say, 2000 calories a day and each whatever combination of macros to get to 2000 calories, OR you can still count to a total of 2000 calories a day, but count WHERE the calories are coming from by tracking the amount of each macro you eat to get to 2000 calories. So you would eat say 225g carbs, 175g protein and 45g fat, which still equates to 2000 calories (225×4) + (175×4) + (45×9)= about 2000 calories.
Both mean you are eating the same amount of calories per day, but one means you may not be getting a good balance and therefore not feeling too great, while the other means you will be feeling more balanced and energized. For example, if you end up just trying to hit 2000 calories. You could be eating 2000 calories of low fat, high protein and low carb foods and you will then probably feel very lethargic and irritable. So, this is why I recommend hitting macronutrient targets per day over just trying to hit a calorie target per day. Both ways will still control the amount of calories you are eating, but by counting macros you are ensuring a much better balance of the 3 macros, which will not only help you feel better, but also will help you physique wise since your body will utilize the macronutrients for difference purposes.
Hopefully, this helped clear some confusion up. If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to contact me. If you think you are ready to try a macronutrient controlled diet, that is exactly what I do with my nutrition coaching, so drop me a note and we can see if it is the right step for you
Hi! I'm Carrie. I'm a student, online trainer and personal trainer, but enough of the boring stuff. I have an absolute passion for fitness, but it hasn't always been that way. I struggled with body image and tried my fair share of fad diets and short term fitness trends. The fitness world is confusing, overwhelming and down right silly at times. I am here to help girls focus on the important stuff and learn how to get a lean and toned body without endless hours of cardio and low calorie diets. Don't be shy and say "hi!" to me! I'm usually sweet, unless you steal a scoop of my protein powder ;)