Changing your body composition is tricky business. Everyone’s body is unique, and it takes a great deal of knowledge and a fair bit of experimentation to find out what’s going to get you to your goals.
People converse about “calories this” and “calories that” all the time – but what is a calorie?
A calorie is simply a unit of measurement for energy. Just like we in the United States use inches to measure lines on paper, miles to measure roads, and pounds to measure weight, calories are a way of measuring energy.
When you eat anything, it contains calories. From that super scrumptious steak to that light bite of celery and ranch dressing, everything contains calories. Eating a calorie means you’re giving your body one unit of energy to use somewhere in your body.
Depending on your age, height, weight, activity level, and overall health, your body needs a certain number of calories to carry out its day to day processes. The bare minimum number of calories that your body needs to function each day is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Calculating your BMR based on your height, weight, gender, and age will tell you the minimum number of calories your body uses for energy each day.
However, most of us do more than sit in front of the big glowing box in our living rooms all day long. In that case, we’ll need to know our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
To figure out your TDEE, we recommend using the Harris Benedict Formula – a simple but widely accepted formula dating back to 1919. According to the Harris Benedict Formula, a person who lives a sedentary lifestyle (like working a desk job and doing little to no daily exercise) should multiply their BMR by 1.2 to get the TDEE.
Other activity levels should adjust their BMR as follows:
With your TDEE, you now have an estimate of how many calories your body burns each day. Of course, this number varies from person to person and depends on several factors like overall health, heart rate, blood pressure, and body composition (amount of fat versus lean muscle mass).
Depending on your activity level and fitness goals, you’ll either add calories to or subtract calories from your TDEE to figure out exactly how many calories you should be eating each day.
While fad diets come and go, the one thing everyone eventually comes back to is the idea that if you want to lose weight you need to eat fewer calories than you’re burning. This is why a healthy diet and plenty of exercise continues to be the prescribed plan for safe, sustainable weight loss.
But the truth is: It’s not that simple.
Yes, if your goal is to lose weight, you do need to burn more calories than you’re eating (or drinking). And yes, if your goal is to build muscle or gain weight, you need to eat more calories than you’re burning.
However, those calories can’t just come from anywhere. You’re not going to get the same results eating an all-pizza diet while counting calories as you are if you eat a well-balanced diet and pay attention to your macros.
Calorie counting is an easy, one-step system. Determine the number of calories you need to eat per day and simply keep track of your daily intake.
The general guidelines for determining the number of calories you should be consuming in order to lose weight is based on your age, weight, and the average amount of physical activity performed daily.
Tools to Help
Various websites and apps have been created to generate calorie data for users, as well as help keep track of daily food and exercise. A very popular app among dieters is My Fitness Pal, which is free and can be accessed through phones and computers.
Macro-nutrients are made up of three parts; proteins, carbohydrates, and fat. Counting macros is typically split into a 40/40/20 concept – 40% protein, 40% carbs, and 20% fat.
The number of macros a person should be consuming in order to lose weight is calculated based on age, weight and gender. The number of proteins, carbs, and fat allowed per day are converted into grams. To accurately count your macros, it is recommended to use a kitchen scale. It can be done without a scale, although it is not as precise.
Tools to Help
The free app, DailyBurn, is popular among macro-counters. The app, MyMacros+ is also a popular choice for its accuracy and easy-to-use set up, however there is a minimal charge.
The two significant differences between counting calories and counting macros is the counting process and the food being consumed.
Calorie counting is a simple tactic and generally shows positive results. Unfortunately, it can also be misleading. Keeping track of calories, as opposed to what makes up those calories, can be harmful to your body despite the weight loss.
Macro counting is the opposite. You are fully aware of what is being put in your body, and it is generally well-balanced foods, however, it is not nearly as easy as calorie counting since you are keeping track of very precise numbers of nutrients. Say goodbye to eating out with friends and impromptu coffee shop pit stops. Most meals will have to be pre-planned and from your own kitchen.
Counting calories, paired with fresh foods, is the go-to diet for most people. It’s easy and it’s reliable. Counting macros is a great way to feed your body exactly what it needs, however, it is not necessarily feasible for the average person.
If you are looking for a diet that is not time consuming and requires minimal calculations, counting calories might just be the diet for you! Remember though it is not all about cutting calories, you need to create a balanced healthy lifestyle in order to reach weight loss goals – which means combining eating healthy with exercise.
Each macronutrient plays a vital role in your body’s function. Which is why hitting your macros is far more important than staying within your caloric budget – quantity versus quality. Not all calories are created equal. You have to fuel your body, accordingly, depending on your goals. For example, building more muscle requires more carbohydrates because you’ll be burning more glycogen. Although 100 calories of candy is the same as 100 calories of rice (from an caloric energy perspective), they are broken down and used very differently in our bodies. Macro counting lends to a more mindful approach to our daily eating habits and allows you to delve deeper into your body’s needs. Correct management of your macros can help you achieve your physique goals faster than counting calories alone.
For a lot of women this concept can seem scary. I hear women say, “I hit my macronutrients, but I’m over my calorie budget, I feel like I’m doing this wrong.” The truth is, there are a lot of reasons why our caloric and macronutrient needs can sometimes not add up.
If you are using any type of food tracking app, you may find from time to time the macros and calories simply don’t add up. Shouldn’t they just match? Not necessarily. First, food labels are not 100 percent accurate. The USDA allows foods to be rounded to the nearest five or 10 calories, which may not seem like it, would make a huge difference. BUT, when you think about how many different foods you eat throughout the day, this could really add up. This is why your calories and macros may not be equivalent.
Secondly, macro tracking apps aren’t always consistent either. Check for notes like verified, star or check mark for entries input by the app creators or deemed correct by x number of users. In addition, companies are allowed to round up/down the decimal point depending on the amount.
If you are just chugging along, working out consistently, eating healthy but not really tracking what is going into your body, you may not be giving it the fuel it needs to reach your goals. Counting macros gives you an increased awareness of the quality of food you are ingesting and it allows you to find the right balance and will feed your body EXACTLY what it needs to be the best it can be! By finding your unique macro numbers, you will dial in to your body’s requirements based on activity level, age, weight, height and gender. All these factors set out a road map to help you transform your physique.
Carving out your best physique is a science!