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What's the deal with counting macros?

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You may have heard of people "counting macros," but what exactly does that mean?

Unless you consider yourself a serious athlete or bodybuilder, there's a good chance you don't know much about macros. Even if you've heard of them, do you know why they're so important?

Counting your macros is an essential component of almost all competitive athletes' training programs, so how can doing so yourself help you reach your fitness goals?

The definition of a macro

For starters, you'll need to understand that the term "macro" is short for "macronutrient." Macronutrients, according to dictionary.com, are "any of the nutritional components of the diet that are required in relatively large amounts: protein, carbohydrate, fat, and the macrominerals."

Macrominerals are found in the foods we eat and the liquids we drink. If you do not get enough of them in your regular meals, they can be supplemented with a multi-vitamin. The other three macros, however, can be a little trickier to tabulate. Why? Because when added up, they equal a total number of calories, and this total number of calories can absolutely make-or-break your fitness regimen.

Carbohydrates, fats and proteins

Almost everyone has heard of carbs, fats and proteins. But what exactly are they, and how do they make up your daily caloric intake?

In short, these macronutrients - a.k.a, the most important nutrients your body digests - are the primary fuel sources your body needs to survive. Every gram of carbohydrate and protein equals four total calories, while every gram of fat equals nine total calories. This is important to recognize when counting calories because a food that is higher in fat is obviously going to yield more calories than foods higher in carbs or proteins.

What the numbers mean

There are two ways to look at these numbers when counting calories and macros.

The first way of thinking is the easy way: If we eat fewer calories than we burn on a daily basis, we enter what is known as a calorie deficit, and keeping our bodies in such a state (without going to extreme measures) for prolonged periods of time will result in weight loss. The same goes for gaining weight - if we eat more calories than we burn, we gain weight.

Yes, this is true. If your body enters a calorie deficit, you will lose weight. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. But will that weight be healthy weight?

The second, and more effective, way to count calories comes by also counting your macros.

Look, if you need to consume 1,800 calories every day to lose weight, could you eat 450 grams of carbs and nothing else? In theory, yes. Would it be healthy? Absolutely not.

Why we need a healthy balance of all the macros

None of the three major macros work in the same way. If they did, they wouldn't be such a hot topic of discussion. All three need to be balanced in a way that allows the body to function at the highest optimal level.

  • Carbohydrates: Generally, carbs make up the majority of one's caloric intake. This is because they are the most efficient source of energy that the body can use. When carbs are ingested, they are broken down into sugars, which then get stored for energy use either now or later. Now, different carbs do work in different ways, and you'll want to consume carbs that digest slower (otherwise known as "complex" carbohydrates) the majority of the time, but just knowing that carbs are vital is an important step in the right direction.
  • Fats: Fats are just as necessary as carbs, but since they contain so many extra calories, people tend to prefer meeting their goals with carbs and proteins instead. Still, fats get a bad rap, mostly due to word association. There are good fats and bad fats, just as there are good carbs and bad carbs, and the good fats provide people with a wide range of benefits that can help improve the way they look and feel.
  • Protein: Proteins break down into amino acids, and amino acids are the building blocks of muscle. This makes them an essential component of any fitness enthusiast's diet. Protein fibers are also stored for energy when the body goes into starvation, so their significance cannot be overlooked.


In the end, you can break these up however you want in order to reach your total calorie limit. Just know that consuming a healthy combination of the three will yield the best overall results.

Calculating how many calories you need on a daily basis

Now that you know why each macro is crucial to your dieting success, you need to find out just how many calories you can eat per day.

Certain apps, such as My Fitness Pal, will run you through a series of questions and give you a rough estimate based on the answers you provide. The more accurate way to do this, however, is to calculate your total daily energy expenditure, otherwise known as TDEE.

To calculate your TDEE, you'll need to figure out how many calories you burn each day just by simply living (sitting a work, making dinner, sleeping, ect.), and the equation to do so can be found here. You'll then need to account for the number of calories you burn when exercising, which can be estimated based on your BMR and the amount of time and energy you expend at the gym. The equation for that can also be found here. If that all sounds too complicated, you can estimate your TDEE by visiting this link.

Understanding how macros work is a great way to help transform yourself into the person you want to become. For more information on how you can build a better you, be sure to check out all of the Sinclair Cares articles.

Be sure to speak with your doctor before starting any new fitness or nutrition regimen.

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