While calorie counting has been around since the dawn of dieting, the awareness of “macros,” or macronutrients, has dramatically increased in recent years. With the explosion of the expression “If It Fits Your Macros” (and the subsequent websites, social media pages, and FB groups that inevitably followed) the public has become more interested in “hitting macros” in pursuit of building muscle and consistent fat loss.
For more seasoned dieters, the question eventually asked is “Which is better, counting calories or macros?” The truth is that neither one can exist without the other and both do matter in terms of fat loss and muscle gains.
Both terms are merely ways to count food, however they analyze that food in two different ways.
Calories are the total overall amount of energy in a food. In the dieting world, people are trained to eat LOW CALORIE, which means low energy. By doing so, the dieter is not focused on the quality of their food choices, but rather how much food they’re eating.
Our unhealthy obsession with reducing cals is what led to the 90s low-fat craze (fat = double the cals of protein/carbs). Dieters started reaching for processed, high sodium/high sugar/low nutrient food options simply because the fat (and subsequently, caloric level of the food) was low, not realizing that a higher calorie, more nutrient dense, whole food option could be a better choice.
For instance, the food industry started selling “100 Calorie Snack Packs” which were usually some processed bar, or cookie or cracker product. However an ounce or two of whole, unsalted nuts would be a far more satiating food choice (keeping you fuller, longer) even though containing a few calories more. In many ways, the diet industry continues to push the low-cal agenda, sending dieters down the rabbit hole.
Macros (or Macronutrients) are just a way of looking at the breakdown of those calories. In EM2WL we focus on the three macros – Protein,Fat, Carbs (with carb emphasis on fiber). When you concentrate on the macros of your food choices, the quality of your food will inherently be better. It also makes it harder to overeat and still hit your macro totals.
The key is to balance both the calorie amount AND the macro breakdown for your goals. If you are hitting your calorie amount, but your macros are all over the place, the quality of your food suffers. And if you concentrate on hitting your macros but can’t hit your calorie total, then your body is not getting enough energy to do its job.
Both are important and both matter to your overall goals. Focus on using both of them to increase your quality of food, and ensure you are eating enough food as well.