Here's the short answer: Track calories to ensure weight loss, but manage macros to supercharge it. Understanding how each work is critical to weight loss success. That's because tracking calories is simply a means to measure how much energy you eat in a day. Categorizing that energy by food type (e.g., by macronutrient: fat, protein, or carbs) is the second step and can seriously supercharge your weight loss results. That's why we break it all down so you can get the results you crave.
In this article, you’ll learn:
Who Invented the Calorie?A calorie is a unit of energy.
Traditionally, a calorie was measured by burning food and seeing how much energy (in the form of heat) it would generate. One calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water, one degree Celsius[*].
When you know that a calorie is simply a unit of energy, it makes sense to pay attention to how many calories you eat in a day. Especially if you’re trying to lose weight. That’s because if you eat more energy than you use, you gain weight (i.e., your body stores that energy).
How Many Calories Should I Eat Per Day?How many calories you should eat per day depends on:
- Goals for your body
- Activity level, and
- Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
There are a few ways to calculate the number of calories you should eat. One easy way is to start with your BMR, and then estimate any additional calories you may need to account for your fitness goals and activity level. We recommend this BMR calculator[*]. Next, add additional calories to account for your goals and activity level.
Example: If your BMR is estimated at 1,550 calories and you determine you'll burn an additional 500 calories during a workout, then your daily caloric requirement might be close to 2,050 calories. But you’d probably need to add a few hundred more calories to account for an everyday movement like walking around, sitting down and standing up, and other things like just driving to work.
The truth is, it might take some trial and error to figure out exactly how many calories you need per day. Keep track of how many calories you eat in a day and your body weight to see if it goes up or down over a period of two to four weeks. If it stays relatively stable, then you’re probably eating pretty close to the number of calories you need in a day.
What Are Macros?The term ‘macros’ is short for the word macronutrients. And they represent the major sources of calories in our diet. There are three types of macronutrients in the food we eat:
Managing MacrosMany diets recommend a specific macronutrient split (i.e., your caloric intake is split up in a specific way to achieve your health and fitness goals). This means you purposely shift the proportions of macronutrients you eat to support your fitness goals. For example, keto dieters strive to get 75% of their calories from fats, 20% from proteins, and the last 5% from carbs. That means that for someone who aims to eat 2,000 calories per day, they’d aim to eat 1,500 calories of fat, 400 calories of protein, and 100 calories of carbs.
If we convert calories to grams of food (knowing that protein and carbohydrates both have four calories per gram, and fats have nine calories per gram), someone on the keto diet aiming to eat 2,000 calories per day should eat:
- 167 grams of fat (1,500 calories of fat divided by nine calories per gram)
- 100 grams of protein (400 calories of protein divided by four calories per gram), and
- Twenty-five grams of carbs (100 calories of carbs divided by four calories per gram).
Honorary Mention: MicronutrientsMicronutrients are the trace vitamins and minerals found in food. They’re not a major source of calories (hence the name), but provide essential compounds that support healthy metabolic function. Micros include vitamins like A, B, and C. As well as minerals like iron and zinc.
Why Differentiate Between Macros?Not all macronutrients are created equal.
Fats, proteins, and carbs are used differently by your body. So to answer the question of why differentiating between macros is important, we first need to understand how our body uses each of these potential energy sources.
FatOnce scorned by dieticians, it’s now clear why dietary fat is essential for good health and proper metabolic function. Fats play a huge role in the development of your brain and nervous system, can maintain heart health, and help decrease inflammation[*]. But certain fats contribute more to these processes than others. So it’s important to note the three most common types of fats:
- Unsaturated fats (or monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) are considered heart-healthy and are found in avocados, nuts, and olive oil [*].
- Saturated fats are found in many animal products like butter and cheese.
- Trans fats are considered bad fats and found in many processed foods.
ProteinProtein is used by the body to build various tissues, including muscle, hair, and fingernails. When you eat protein, it’s broken down into amino acids, which the body then uses to rebuild or repairs its own tissues. Protein is also used to make enzymes, hormones, and other essential compounds in the body. Eating protein is necessary for human health.
CarbsCarbs are broken down into glucose, which your brain and body can quickly use for energy. From processed foods to vegetables, a wide array of foods contain carbs. But not all carbs are the same when it comes to how useful they are to your body. Eating too many carbs, especially refined, sugary ones, have been linked to most of the modern day diseases that kill Americans, like heart disease, type II diabetes, and cancer [*].
Want to be sure about keto-friendly foods? Download our Master Keto Food List with 100+ keto food mapped out for you!
Summary of BenefitsWe’ve covered a lot in the calories versus macros debate. So let’s review...
Since calories are a measure of energy, calories are king when it comes to weight loss. That’s because eating too many calories—no matter what your macronutrient split—will cause you to gain weight. But tracking macros is also important because managing macros (i.e., where your calories come from), can cause your body to activate unique metabolic pathways (ahem, ketosis) that can help you achieve your fitness goals.
- Reduced food cravings and appetite
- Improved mental clarity
- Fewer blood sugar spikes
- Improved mood
Take-home MessageTracking both calories and macros are important for losing weight. You need to track macros to verify that you’re eating fewer calories than you use in a day. Weight loss won’t happen otherwise. That said, an ideal macro split, say one that supports a keto lifestyle, can support the long-term success of your diet by helping to reduce hunger cravings and activating metabolic pathways that would usually lie dormant.
If you’re considering keto, why not try some of our keto-approved recipes and see if you like them?
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