Is Counting Calories or Macros Better? 11 Questions Answered

Is Counting Calories or Macros Better? 11 Questions Answered

You may be wondering, what’s all this fuss about calories and macros? Which one do I count and how much of these do I really need?

In this article, 11 questions commonly asked by beginners about calories and macros are answered.

1. Is counting calories or macros better?

Counting calories is a good way to monitor your food intake. However, tracking only the amount of calories you take and not looking at the quality of the food you eat may lead to problems. A better way would be to count the macros, namely: fat, protein, and carbohydrate content of your food. However, the best way would be to use BOTH methods to give you ideal results.

2. What exactly are calories and what’s with the fuss about them?

Medical News Today defines calories as the energy people get from the food and drink they consume, and the energy they use in physical activity. We need all calories, because we all use energy all the time every day, even when we’re just lying around, seeming to do nothing.  

However, different kinds of people need different daily amounts of calorie intake. The key factors that determine your ideal daily calorie intake are age, overall general health, physical activity demands, sex, weight, height, and body type.

3. What is the calorie content of common kinds of food?

Some kinds of food contain more calories compared to other kinds of food. The table below shows the calorie content of common foods as well as the not-so-healthy-but-convenient take-outs based on the USDA food data central :

4. Do I also need to track the calories in my drink?

You may be surprised to learn that there could be more calories in your popular bottled Frappuccino coffee drink than a serving of McDonald’s Big Mac. 

When served as is, brewed coffees usually have an average of 5 calories, but when milk, cream, and other flavors are added, they can have a calorie content of as much as 280 calories. So YES, you do have to be mindful not only of what you eat but what you drink as well. 

5. What are maintenance calories and why do I need to know about them?

Maintenance calories are the number of calories you use daily to maintain your body weight with no gains or losses in muscle tissue and/or fat. This number is also known as your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). 

According to the U.S Department of Health, adult males generally require 2,000-3,000 calories daily to control weight while adult females need around 1,600-2,400. 

This is just a rough estimate. A calorie calculator can help you determine a more specific number based on your specific key factors. It is important to know your maintenance calorie count because this will be your basis for the number of calories that you need to lose weight fast.

6. How do I know how many calories I need?

You can determine how many calories you need on a daily basis based on your maintenance calories. To lose weight, get ninety percent (90%) of your maintenance calorie count to create what is called a calorie deficit. Basically, you are providing your body fewer calories than it requires so that it will be forced to use the stored fat. 

However, an article from Healthline, an online medical health resource, states that:

Women should not consume fewer than 1,200 calories per day, and men no fewer than 1,500 calories.

7. How are calories different from macros and why is there a lot of talk about it too?

Since calorie is a unit of energy, it does not distinguish where this energy is coming from, which can lead to some problems if you’re only tracking your calorie intake.  

For instance, you want to implement a 1,500-calorie-daily-diet. If you’re tracking only the AMOUNT of calories, you can have three slices of meat lover’s pizza for the day and be done with it. Another option, however, would be to eat a variety of healthy foods such as granola, chicken soup, bread, oranges, steak, and mashed potatoes to meet your calorie intake requirements. This is where macros come in.

The term "Macros" is short for macronutrients.  We are more familiar with their three classifications: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. 

Each macronutrient plays an important role in our body functions.

Carbohydrates. This is our body’s preferred source of fuel. Our body cells, including the brain and muscles, need carbohydrates to function well. It is much easier for our bodies to convert carbohydrates into energy compared to fats or proteins. Our bodies consume carbohydrates by converting them into sugars. 

Protein. This macronutrient provides the body with amino acids, the body’s preferred building blocks for muscle as well as the brain, nerves, blood, skin, and hair. Protein also helps to distribute oxygen and other important nutrients in the body. 

Fat. Despite a lot of people trying to avoid it in their diets, fat plays an important role in the way our body functions. Fat is necessary for the protection of our vital organs, as well as proper cell function, and insulation. It also provides our body with an energy source when deprived of calories from carbohydrates. 

The bottom line is: your body needs ALL three macronutrients to function well.

8. How do I figure out my macros, now that I know how many calories I need?

Your daily macros requirement can be determined depending on your goal, whether to lose fat and become leaner, to increase muscle mass and bulk, or to maintain your current status.

A macro calculator can help you determine the number of macronutrients that your body needs daily depending on your age, gender, daily activity level, and fitness goal.

9. Is there really such a thing as zero-calorie food or drink?

Plain water has zero calories. While some drinks may have almost-zero to no calories, all kinds of food contain calories. However, there are many kinds of food that have very few calories but are packed with nutrients, such as apples, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, tomato, and mushrooms.

10. Why is it important to weigh the food I eat?

It is important to use a food scale and weigh the food that you’ll be eating to reach your nutrition goals because, most of the time, we underestimate serving sizes, especially in calorie-dense foods such as salad dressings, oils, nuts, and nut-based kinds of butter.

It may seem tedious at first, but using digital scales and weighing your food gives you accurate data so you can closely track your calories and macros.

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11. Why is it important to track the food portions I eat?

It is important to weigh the food that you’ll be eating to reach your weight goals. When you track you the portions of the food you eat, you’ll be able to stick to your desired macro portions without feeling deprived. Meal prep containers can help by providing compartments so you can put proteins in the large partition, carbs in the medium partition and fats in the small partition.

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To sum it up, it is important to count BOTH the calories and macros in the food that we eat.  However, we have to go beyond the calorie count and be aware that some kinds of food can be calorie-packed but nutrient deficient. We aim not for just the correct figures, but the quality of the food we eat as well.