When it comes to any physique related goal, the biggest factor that influences your weight will be how many calories you are consuming to how many calories you are expending each day. But with a quick search on Google, you may be confused about whether you need to be tracking calories only, or macros. Is there a difference or are they the same thing? Throughout this article, I’ll go over which one may be better to do, but also how similar they really are (hint: they’re practically the same).
What is Calorie Tracking?
Calorie tracking involves keeping an eye on how many calories you consume on a daily, weekly, basis. This involves using a notebook or calorie tracking app to add in each food/drink you consume that has a calorie throughout the day (preferably using a food scale for accuracy as most people underreport their portion sizes). The goal is to focus on reaching a range of calories (or direct target) that helps you reach your weight-related goal of weight loss, maintenance, or weight gain. For example, if your estimated TDEE (total calories burned each day) is at 2400 calories and your goal is maintaining your current weight; you would need to try to consume around 2400 calories each day. The focus on calorie tracking is calories alone, with no focus on nutrient goals.
What is Macro Tracking?
Macro tracking is the same thing as calorie tracking, but with more emphasis on the macro-nutrients you consume each day. So essentially, if you are tracking your macros- you are tracking your calories.
Macro-nutrients are protein, carbs, and fats. When tracking your macros, you are focusing on keeping your calories in a target range depending on your weight goal as well as consuming enough protein (.8-1g per lb of bodyweight or goal bodyweight if overweight). Carb and fat ratios are about preference, but as a coach, I like to see fat ratios around 30-40% and carbohydrates around 35-45%. Trial and error is the best way to help you understand what carb and fat ratio works best for your body as well as adherence. But the majority of the time, when increasing/decreasing calories it will come from carbs while protein and fats will stay around the same. This is because carbs are 4 calories per gram compared to fats, which are 9 calories per gram. Carbs are much easier to adjust calories compared to fats.
Should you Track Calories or Macros?
If you are new to all of this:
Tracking calories will be easiest. I would start here and focus on a calorie range to hit each day. For example, if your goal is weight loss you will need to eat in a calorie deficit (below your TDEE). Let’s say you Google the Mifflin St. Joer equation and estimate your total calories burned each day at 2400 calories (TDEE). For a moderate calorie deficit, consuming 2100-2200 calories each day is a good start. Stay here for 2-3 weeks until you feel like you’ve got calorie tracking down.
If you have tracking calories before or want a more flexible approach to reaching your goals:
Tracking calories, protein, and fiber may be best. This is especially important if you have a body composition goal and you resistance train. Although getting enough carbs and fats is important, and primarily about preference, they do not impact weight changes like protein and overall calories. This is why this option is not only more balanced but can also help you reach your physique related goals. To do this, you would track your calories, while ensuring you get enough protein and fiber throughout the day. For women, at least 25g is recommended for fiber and at least 35g for men. With this approach, your focus will be on paying attention to calories, protein and fiber while allowing carbs and fats to fall naturally each day (of course, within healthy ranges that feel best for you).
If you have been tracking calories and protein (and fiber) for a while and want to focus on improving your performance/physique:
This is less important, in my opinion, if you have lifestyle goals. But overall, if you are focusing on strength in the gym and getting enough fats in your diet for hormonal balance- paying attention to your carb and fat ratios matter. I would like to state that if tracking calories, protein, carbs, and fats (and fiber) makes it extremely hard to adhere to your ratios or follow macros (added stress) that it may be time to go back to the earlier step of just tracking calories, protein and fiber. Tracking your carbs and fat ratios can be beneficial, especially since having a healthy amount of each is important for overall health, but being strict on your targets is unnecessary in my opinion.
Is calorie tracking or macro tracking better?
Some prefer to track all macros and calories, while others find it much easier to track protein and calories. It truly depends on your experience, goals, and preference. If I see a client struggling to track macros and calories, I have them switch their focus on calories and protein above all. In my experience, this has created a more balanced approach as they no longer feel stressed to create a perfect ratio of macros and calories with each meal.
If you are a beginner to all of this, I would definitely consider tracking calories only at the beginning and then transition into calories, protein, and fiber. Although weight-related goals rely primarily on overall calories, protein and fiber are important variables to overall health. I believe that finding that healthy medium between overall macro tracking and just calories is ideal for most.
Above all, whatever method allows you to enjoy the process, remain consistent and maintain your results is BEST. I hope you enjoyed this and start reaching your goals in a more sustainable way starting today!
Health & Mindset Coach
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