Why Counting Macros Will Help You Lose Weight (And The Pitfalls To Avoid)
November 23, 2023
Counting macros is a great way to lose weight. When you choose your macro targets for fat loss, It can help you feel fuller during a diet, retain more muscle during weight loss, and have more energy during your workouts.
It is a good way to manage your treats as well. If you are simply counting calories, you could fall into the trap of eating sweets and other nutritionally devoid foods just because they fit into your diet. If you are up to the task, you are likely better off counting macros for fat loss. This is because it will force you to think twice about highly palatable sweets and savory treats that can take up a lot of your calorie daily allotment without making you feel very full.
Your macronutrient consumption can be very important for getting the most out of your training, ensuring you get energy from the right sources at the right time can help you feel better when you are working hard.
Looking at the macros in a food item can’t tell you whether it is a good choice.
“My breakfast was 20g protein, 30g carb, and 5g fat” might sound like a good breakfast from the perspective of macronutrients.
But what if my breakfast was a scoop of protein with 30g of sugar, mixed together with a teaspoon of olive oil.
Obviously, this is not only disgusting but unhealthy. An extreme example I agree, but it does well to illustrate my point.
I'll go through why counting macros is a super reliable way to control your weight, and then talk about some of the pitfalls that you don't want to experience... Your body needs more than just calories and macros, so the better you can feed your body the better it will perform!
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Does Counting Macros Work?
If you are new to hearing about macros and counting macros, then I can understand if you are a bit skeptical. The diet industry has eroded our trust after decades of promoting the newest fad. However, counting your macronutrients is a legitimate method of managing your body weight. It is derived from basic principles of nutrition and is essentially a variation on counting calories.
Counting your macros is not a fad, and it will absolutely work to control your weight. Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain, controlling the macros that you are consuming can get you there. Some people may find that they are able to achieve more predictable weight loss than others, but it usually comes down to a person's ability to track their food accurately and adhere to their diet.
It works for the exact same reason that counting calories can help you lose or gain weight. The concept is energy in vs. energy out (also known as Energy Balance)
Calories come from each of the macronutrients in various amounts. There are roughly 4 calories in each gram of protein, 4 calories in each gram of carbohydrates, and 9 calories in each gram of fat.
However, fiber can make things a bit tricky. Fiber is a class of carbohydrates, but some types of fiber have 4 calories per gram, and others have 0, so a reasonable rule of thumb is to count fiber as 2 calories per gram instead of 4. Sugar alcohols can also have different caloric contributions, and there is no rule of thumb for how to treat them. Luckily sugar alcohols are seldom used, and you can google their caloric contribution if you are curious. I will link a study of the caloric content of common sugar substitutes in case you are interested.
So when you are counting your macros, you are really still counting your calories. But since they are directly related to one another, it’s convenient that you can pay attention to a target for 3 separate nutrients, and meet your calorie goal as a result of that.
It’s kind of like buy 3 get 1 free!
If you already understand energy balance, you can go ahead and skip this section.
Consider a car. How do we fuel it?
Well, we fill the car up with gasoline. The car takes small amounts of gasoline and burns it to make the engine turn over.
What is important is that the car takes its fuel, and turns it into energy that it can use.
It has a certain amount of gas in the tank, and it will not extract the energy from the fuel until it needs it. Once that fuel runs out, the car will die.
In the same way, we fuel our bodies with food. We extract energy from our food after it is consumed. After a while, if that energy isn’t used, we put it into our own “gas tank” (our fat stores) for future use. This is how you gain fat.
If you don’t put in enough food to sustain your activities, your body will start to get some energy from your fat stores. This is how you lose fat.
Everything your body does requires energy, including involuntary organ functions like your heart beating.
In the same way that a car shuts off when it runs out of gas, so too will your body if you don’t have enough energy to sustain your life!
Why Count Macros Instead of Calories
Macro tracking is most popular with people who do resistance training. Most often the main motivator is protein.
When dieting, it is always possible that you will lose some muscle during the process. The harder you diet and the leaner you get, the more muscle you will lose.
People who have spent hundreds or even thousands of hours in the gym to build muscle are very interested in keeping as much muscle as possible. After all, a lot of hard work went into acquiring it.
Studies have been discussing for years how much protein is optimal for preserving muscle mass during a diet and most conclusions tend to hover close to 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight. Not quite as high as some of the rumors you will hear around at the gym.
When not dieting, people who count their macros are aiming to get enough protein to support optimal muscle growth and eat enough calories to either maintain or increase their body weight.
In both cases, setting an upper limit on fats can help you eat more volume of food while staying within your calorie limit (This may help you feel full).
Since fat has more than twice the caloric content of the other two macronutrients, foods that are high in fat are much more calorie-dense.
These are all great reasons to count your macros, but there are things you need to consider in order to actually eat healthily while following a macro-based diet.
After all, there are a lot more nutrients than protein, fat, and carbs.
The Per Day Obsession
People tend to place too much emphasis on the concept of “How much (insert nutrient) do I need to eat per day”.
Macro tracking sometimes leads to people focusing on hitting their macros right on the mark, at the expense of all other healthy diet practices.
The thing is, your body doesn’t operate on 24 deadlines. If you are 10g short on your fat goal for the day when 9pm rolls around, do not eat 2 tsp of oil to hit your macros. It will not help you achieve anything.
Your body has various methods of stockpiling important nutrients, and your body won't get rid of these stores at midnight.
The macro targets that you are trying to satisfy were not developed in a laboratory, they are just a guideline. Provided your calories are close to your target amount, you will see the weight changes you are looking for.
Nutrition labels can contain significant errors. So don’t stress yourself out about achieving perfect numbers. Legally speaking, the calories in a food item can be up to 120% of the value reported on the Nutrition Label.
It is likely your tracking is not as accurate as you would like it to be. But this doesn’t mean you should give up. It helps to try to be as accurate as you can.
Keeping track of your nutrients is currently the best solution we have. And it works despite the fact that there are some inaccuracies!
The Monotonous Diet
People often default to choosing foods that are high in only one of the 3 macronutrients. Things like basic carb foods, lean meats, and high-fat foods.
This can make the task of hitting your macros rather easy. If you are low on protein, a large serving of lean meat will help you. If you are low on fat, a handful of nuts will do…
You get the idea.
It is very difficult to figure out how to pair normal foods together to hit specific macro targets, so people end up using foods that are only high in a single macronutrient.
This is what leads to people eating boring plates of chicken, rice, and steamed broccoli multiple times per day. Sometimes even forgetting vegetables as they don’t contribute many macronutrients.
A monotonous diet can make hitting your macro targets easy, but it is very unlikely to contain all of the other nutrients that are important for your health.
This is NOT healthy eating.
A healthy diet has many more dimensions. It is important to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, get enough fiber, watch your saturated fat intake, etc...
Obsessing over macronutrient targets could easily be argued to be disordered eating. Especially when it becomes the sole focus of someone’s nutritional habits.
While not a clinical diagnosis, Orthorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder that involves an obsession with healthy eating. This obsession is advanced enough that it has an overall negative effect on the well being of the person experiencing it.
The entire purpose of following a macronutrient-based diet is to improve upon the calorie counting method. Ideally, your goal was to become healthier.
Don’t forget why you started counting your macros in the first place.
What’s the fix?
Eat your vegetables
Eat a variety of foods
Develop healthy eating patterns, and don’t sacrifice them for the sake of meeting macronutrient goals.
If you can’t maintain healthy choices while hitting your macro targets, then it is time to change your approach.
One of the main reasons we developed Prospre was to help people create meal plans that hit their macro goals using normal foods. We instantly make you a varied diet that hits your macros and suits your tastes.
We know that you want to hit your macros. We also know that it can be really hard to pay attention to too many nutrients at once. So we wanted to create something that does it all for you.
Counting your macros can be a great experience. Rooted in the idea of not labeling foods as off-limits, while trying to improve upon traditional calorie counting is a great aspiration.
For those who are interested in doing whatever they can to improve their fitness, it is almost a rite of passage. Your first step into trying to understand nutrition at a deeper level.
I encourage people to count their macros, but I make sure to warn them that it is not the silver bullet of nutrition.
Hitting your macros on the nose does not indicate that you’ve eaten a full day of healthy food. So don’t trick yourself into thinking that these 3 nutrients are the end-all-be-all.
Focusing on all aspects of healthy eating will serve you best on your fitness journey!
I'm a strength-sport enthusiast with a passion for nutrition. I'm also one of the co-founders of Prospre. I started weight training at 13 and from my time competing in bodybuilding, powerlifting, and weightlifting, I've developed a few different perspectives on fitness and nutrition. I like to write about cool things I have learned about nutrition, and easy things you can do to improve your eating habits.
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