Counting Macros vs. Counting Calories – What’s the Best Method for Me?

Mar 12, 2024 | Nutrition & Wellness

A woman scanning her yogurt to track the macronutrients on her nutrition app

For the health-conscious or those trying to lose or gain weight, the two most prevalent methods for tracking food are counting macros and counting calories. While both approaches aim to enhance health and fitness goals, they differ significantly in their focus and application. Let’s dive into the distinctions between the two and help you decide which method might be best suited to your individual goals.

What does it mean to count calories?

Counting calories is a method of tracking food intake based on the total energy consumed. For many beginning dieters, this is a good place to start as it is simple and straightforward. A calorie is a unit of energy, and all foods provide a certain number of calories depending on their composition. The principle behind counting calories is straightforward: to lose weight, you must consume fewer calories than you burn, and to gain weight, you must consume more calories than you burn. This approach does not necessarily consider the nutritional quality of the food but focuses primarily on the quantity of energy it provides.

What does it mean to count macros?

Counting macros, short for macronutrients, involves tracking the intake of the three primary macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each macronutrient serves distinct functions in the body and contributes differently to our overall health. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source, proteins are crucial for building and repairing tissues, and fats support cellular function and hormone production. Unlike counting calories, which looks at overall energy intake, counting macros focuses on the balance and distribution of these macronutrients to achieve specific health and fitness goals. You may often find people with specific health goals attempting to track their macros. Bodybuilders with a focus on building muscle will want to maintain a certain level of protein consumption every day, making macro counting more suitable for their goals.

What is the real difference between the two?

Nutritional focus

Counting calories emphasizes the quantity of food consumed while counting macros emphasizes the quality and balance of the diet. Macronutrient tracking ensures that you’re not only eating the right amount of food but also getting the right mix of nutrients to support your body’s needs. If you are only counting calories and not paying attention to your protein intake, you may risk losing lean muscle mass if you lose weight but are not consuming enough protein to maintain your muscle. This is where having an idea of your macronutrient intake relative to your calorie consumption may be a good middle ground to start with if you are new to food tracking, or just used to tracking calories and not macros.

Flexibility versus Specificity

Calorie counting offers simplicity and flexibility, as it does not require detailed tracking of different types of food. However, it may not always lead to a balanced diet if the focus is solely on calorie content. On the other hand, counting macros requires more effort and planning but can lead to a more balanced and nutritionally rich diet.

Goal alignment

If your primary goal is weight management, counting calories can be an effective starting point. However, if you’re looking to achieve specific fitness goals, such as building muscle or improving athletic performance, counting macros may offer a more tailored approach by ensuring you’re getting the right balance of nutrients to support your activities.

Sustainability

Some find counting calories easier to sustain in the long term due to its simplicity. In contrast, others may find counting macros more sustainable as it can be more flexible and forgiving, allowing for a broader range of foods if they fit within the macronutrient targets. Macro counting also promotes muscle maintenance as you lose weight if you focus on getting enough protein in your daily diet.

So, what should I do?

Both counting calories and counting macros can be effective methods for managing dietary intake and achieving health and fitness goals. The choice between the two depends on individual preferences, goals, and lifestyle. Counting calories offers a straightforward approach to weight management while counting macros provides a more detailed framework for optimizing nutrition and physical performance. Ultimately, the most sustainable approach is one that you can consistently adhere to while also meeting your nutritional needs and supporting your overall well-being.

A good place to start is to just start tracking all your food for three days. You have the free ClubSport App included with your membership which includes a nutrition tracker. Simply select the ‘Nutrition’ tile to get started. Or you may already be using a free app like MyFitnessPal or LoseIt. Tracking your nutrient intake will start to bring awareness of the caloric and macronutrient profile of the foods you regularly eat. This means you are weighing and measuring everything you eat and adding it into the app so you have an accurate picture of your caloric and macro intake (eyeballing and estimating don’t help here). Once you get in that habit, you can expand to set a caloric goal and even try to practice protein tracking to start with macro tracking. It will help you learn what works best for you while also teaching you about the foods you eat and what the impact of your diet is on your health and fitness goals.

Whatever method you choose, we can help with your accountability and provide guidance and feedback. To learn more, contact a Personal Trainer or check out the Rev32 All In program in which nutrition tracking plays a significant role.

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