Why We Count Macros, not Calories

When it comes to fitness and fat loss, we all have that moment of realization: that aha-moment where we realize we are ready to strive to be the best version of ourselves.

For me, it started in earnest after Josh was born. I decided I was going to be one of those mummies that got their figure back. I began to look for every diet and detox and after a quick Google search provided with everything I needed to know about revealing my very own set of abs: the age-old art of counting calories. Basically, if you consume X amount of calories depending on your age, weight, height, and activity level, you will see Y results.

Great! I felt like I had just found the Holy Grail of post-baby body hotness. Using an online calorie calculator, I found my recommended daily calorie intake was 1,200 to lose 1 lb a week. The encouraging part about counting calories is that it is easy. You just keep track of your daily caloric intake and apps like MyFitnessPal make it easy to do that throughout the day and all exercise gets adding meaning you can eat even more if you want.

For the most part, I was hitting my 1,200 calories every day, but I still wasn’t seeing the results that I had hoped. I didn’t get it… I ate a big bowl of cereal for breakfast and a glass of orange juice or some toasted bagels but I made up for it going light on my lunch and dinner with soup or a salad (and I ordered the light beer or only had a small glass of wine after dinner!)

In my own naivety, I thought I was being health conscious. But the reason why my abs weren’t coming in was that counting calories is only half the battle. This method encourages you to keep track of calories and disregards where they are actually coming from.

Let’s use my cereal of choice for example:

A quick look at the nutrition label for my cereal shows you that while I was eating only 121 calories for breakfast, I was also consuming 24.6 g of carbs, 1.5g of fats, and 1.8g of protein.

Or those bagels

48g of carbs, 1.5g of fats, 10g protein and that is not including the jam or butter I was adding.

I was still eating a really high sugar diet which was spiking my insulin and causing me to have sugar spikes throughout the day.

Are all calories created equal? Are some better than others? Is fat loss really just about calories in calories out?

Here’s the simple truth: not all calories are created equal. On a very basic level, if you’re assessing your diet and weight, it is calories in versus calories out, assuming you’re eating a healthy diet, more or less.

That said, there is more nuance to this.

The Difference Between Calories

We know calories from sugar are not good. Most of you know know that those calories from sugar—specifically from fructose—are metabolized differently than the other portion of the sugar molecule or glucose. But if you didn’t already know, glucose is very easily absorbed into our cells without a problem. However, fructose must go through your liver to be converted. Here it can end up as a triglyceride. So let’s say you had 2,000 calories in your diet. Let’s say 60 % of those calories were “bad” carbohydrates—breads, sugars, cereals grains and stuff like that…

That carb intake is going to have a very different metabolic effect on your body than 60% carbohydrate intake made up of vegetables, fruits and maybe some non-glutinous grains.

Although the caloric intake is the same, the effects are drastically different. With this thinking in mind, let’s consider the impact of drinking a glass of apple juice versus eating a whole apple. In the former circumstance, the amount of fructose you’re consuming is not being mitigated by fibre. However, if you are having a whole apple, fibre will slow down the fructose release that’s going to go into the liver.

If you’re drinking a lot of fruit juice or getting your carbs in the form of breads, etc., you’re continually giving yourself very quick spikes in blood sugar. As a result, you’re going to get very quick spiking insulin. That’s a big problem because anything that’s going to raise your insulin levels over time, is going to continue to put you at risk for diabetes, for becoming overweight. This is because insulin is the main storage hormone in your body. Pretty much all of the other hormones—think epinephrine or adrenalin, even glucagon—mobilize stored energy reserves and break them down for immediate use. So, you don’t want to have too high levels of insulin all the time, because essentially you’re telling your body, store this, store this and store this… especially fat.

That’s why exercise is awesome, because exercise mitigates your insulin response. It actually increases glucagon, because you’re also in a fasted state, which means that glucagon is up, insulin is down. For this reason, sugar is the probably the most problematic of all the calories; four calories from one gram of sugar, ultimately is not the same as four calories from one gram of protein. So one gram of protein, one gram of carbohydrates both yields four calories, but those calories are pretty different.

Protein calories are not really creating a huge a spike in insulin. The sugar calories are and as a result of that, that’s going to lead to a whole cascade of events in your body, which is not going to be a good thing. A study performed by the University of California San Francisco confirmed that not all calories are created equal, and that sugar is in fact tremendously harmful. In the study, 43 obese children with different metabolic disorders were fed a sugar-restricted diet for nine days that maintained their level of caloric intake. The results after nine days were astonishing: although their average weight didn’t change, insulin levels dropped by one third, and levels of diastolic blood pressure, fasting blood glucose and “bad” LDL-cholesterol similarly decreased. (1)

I can’t think of a clearer example than that.

The Difference Between Calories Getting the Right Calories

I hope that makes sense for you. I don’t want you to be scared off by fruit or smoothies. That said, I don’t recommend juicing fruit because you get rid of the fibre, which then leads it to essentially becoming a sugary fruit juice. Even if it’s raw, it still ends up becoming like Coca Cola. Sure, there’s a nutrition benefit to the raw fruit juice, but there’s also a lot of sugar that is not buffered by fibre anymore.

Insulin is a hormone that slows down the fat-burning process. Simply put, the more carbs we eat, the more insulin we release. In order to synthesize the body’s fat-burning hormones, you need a balance of protein, fat, and carbs in your meals.

These three are what we call the MACRONUTRIENTS!

Calories are energy and are important to keep in mind, but counting macros ensures that you’re getting enough of each group to meet your goals.

Now let’s talk macros.

There are three major macronutrients that the human body needs in order to function properly:
– Carbohydrates (4 calories/gram)
– Protein (4 calories/gram)
– Fats (9 calories/gram)

These nutrients provide our body with calories or energy and are crucial for our growth and metabolism. After looking back at that nutritional label of the bagels and some simple math we see that:
24.6 g of carbs, 1.5g of fats, and 1.8g of protein.= 121 calories!

Another substance that provides us with calories is alcohol. Each gram of alcohol gives us 7 calories, so keep track of those mojitos at Happy Hour!

Let’s apply this knowledge.

In order to maintain my weight, I try to stick to 40% of calories from carbs, 40% from protein, and 20% from fat. And with carb cycling for fatloss I amend these some day of the week with 40% fat, 40% protein and 20% carbs.

MACROS

Let’s look at it for those of you still clinging to the calorie intake of 1,200, that would mean that I would have to consume 480 calories or 120 g of protein, 480 calories or 120 g of carbs, and 240 calories or 27 g of fat. Those two bagels at breakfast alone used up 90% of my carb intake while barely helping me with my protein intake! No wonder my health was at risk.

[Related Article: What is Carb Cycling and What does it mean for fat loss in your 40s?]

At the end of the day, if you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight but you will not change your Body Shape especially over 40 until you  track and meet your recommended macronutrient breakdown.

For example, you can off-balance fat burning hormones by not consuming enough fat. You can lose muscle by not consuming enough protein if you’re calorie deficient. And you can also grow tired while training if you decrease your carbohydrates. Balance is key!

To begin, you need to find out how many calories you need per day to meet your goals and the macronutrient breakdown without those daily calories. Then, I suggest using a tracker, like “My Net Diary”, to tracking down every calorie and macronutrient you eat.

There is no magical supplement or vitamin that can balance out a bad diet or negative mentality. In order to make a change, you must make sure your foundations are strong. Consuming clean foods, ignoring calories, fasting, and supplements will never replace a strong foundation. Also, keep in mind that my macro breakdown will be different from yours! Don’t make your fitness journey about weight loss, but about learning to Eat the Right Thing at the Right Time for the Right reason and watch how it affect your Body.

Watch the full video below to get all the juicy info!

Lisa Barwise

Author Lisa Barwise

Hi, I'm Lisa. I consider myself a Wellness Alchemist, the catalyst in the transformation of Strong Women around the world. Strong of mind, body and character.

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