Let’s present a scenario: You download a tracking app. Then you enter your weight, height, age, sex, activity level and adjust the settings for “weight loss” so the app calculates your needs as such. You begin tracking your food—and see a large drop in your scale weight during the first weeks as you restrict calories. Thinking you can hack the system a bit, you quickly figure out which foods are low in calories to maximize the amount of food you eat in the day. So far, so good!
But, then… After a few more weeks, your progress seems to halt, you’re struggling through workouts and you aren’t even sleeping well.
Sounds familiar? If you’ve ever tracked calories, I bet you know exactly how this feels…
The truth is that tracking calories only works to an extent because there are other factors at play that deserve your attention. Good news, though! There is another way: In comparison to counting calories, tracking macros is a whole-body approach that can help you look, feel and perform your best.
Here are the deets on why you should track macros versus calories.
1. TRACKING MACROS REGULATES BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS AND CRAVINGS
We know from extensive, extensive research that the macronutrient most responsible for affecting blood sugar levels is the carbohydrate group. Because blood sugar levels play directly into your cravings, keeping blood sugar steady is kind of a big deal.
If you’re tracking calories with no regard for what macros make up those calories, you may be including meals or snacks that are very carb heavy or even eating carbs alone. Who hasn’t sat down for a lazy dinner of sugary cereal? Meals and snacks like this send blood sugar levels to a sharp spike and then a sharp drop, which will leave you feeling pretty crappy and craving all the ice cream, cookies, chips, and crackers. Not celery and carrots. This happens because the body is really smart. It knows that carbohydrates are the macro that will get blood sugar levels back up the fastest and fat is the macro that provides the most calories per volume, hence the cravings for very carb and fat heavy foods. (See how this is a vicious cycle?!)
Tracking macros helps you create meals and snacks that are more balanced with protein, fat and carbs—aka “PFC balanced”—which will keep blood sugar levels steady all day long and prevent cravings.
2. TRACKING CALORIES ONLY INFLUENCES BODY WEIGHT
“Calories” refer to the overall energy a food contributes. Manipulating calorie intake influences only one thing – body weight, whether that’s gain, loss or maintenance.
“Macros” refer to the composition of a food or where the calories in the food originate. Manipulating macro intake influences many things:
>> lean muscle gain
>> body fat gain
>> lean muscle loss
>> body fat loss
>> feelings of hunger and fullness
>> blood sugar balance and stability
>> hormone balance
>> sleep quality and duration
>> stable, consistent energy
>> energy for high intensity activity
>> cravings for sweet, salty, or crunchy foods
>> so much more!
This is ultimately what makes counting calories different than counting macros: If your goal is WEIGHT loss, then tracking total calories may work for you for a certain amount of time. But, if your goal is fat loss, lean muscle gain, steady blood sugar, etc., tracking macros is the superior approach.
3. TRACKING MACROS INFLUENCES BODY COMPOSITION
As a Registered Dietitian who also loves her time in the gym, the most common request I get from potential clients and clients alike is that they want to look like they work out. Basically they want to show off the muscle mass they’ve been working really hard in the gym to build. Who can blame ‘em?!
In order for this to happen, we need to create a *slight* calorie deficit so the body will turn to stored fat mass to burn that as fuel. But, how do we control if the body decides to use fat mass or muscle mass for that fuel?
Enter: macro tracking. The body wants to protect lean muscle mass whenever possible. To do that, you must be eating enough protein every day. Eating enough protein while in a calorie deficit essentially tells your body to “hold on to” lean, strong muscle while pulling from stored body fat to make up for energy demands. “Enough” protein depends on your current body composition and size, as well as the type of physical activity that you engage in.
So, when you’re eating enough protein AND in a calorie deficit, the body gets the message loud and clear that it needs to look to body FAT stores for fuel, which is how you begin to lose fat, maintain and gain lean muscle, and change body composition overall. 💪
4. TRACKING MACROS HELPS YOU FUEL YOUR WORKOUTS
Eating the macronutrients in a certain combination before a workout can absolutely impact how you perform—for better or worse.
Eating a high fat or high protein meal or snack close to a workout is going to leave you dragging and probably with a stomach ache because fats and proteins take a long time to digest. Carbs, on the other hand, will provide the energy and go you need to power through a tough workout.
This is because carbohydrates are the body’s preferred and quickest form of fuel, which is why they are important pre-workout. Eating carbohydrate-containing foods paired with a little bit of protein is ideal. The carbohydrate gives your body the quick fuel it needs for your workout, while the protein helps prevent the blood sugar spike and drop that can happen when we eat carbs alone.
Here’s the bottom line: Depending on your overall goals, tracking calories may work for you. But, the downside is that it typically only works for a finite amount of time because your metabolism adjusts and you need to keep lowering calories in order to see the same results on the scale. Tracking macros, however, ensures that you’re eating to support your metabolism, hormones and activity levels, while still yielding fat loss — if that’s your goal!
With macros, you’re in the driver’s seat. Curious to learn more about getting your own fully customized macro targets? This is exactly why I created my Personalized Macro Calculation service. Learn more below!