We need to stop saying that losing weight or gaining muscle is simply about calories in vs calories out.
Because that deficit or surplus we create, and the results we get from it, can be DRAMATICALLY impacted by the make up of our foods – by the macros.
Before you start arguing against this, take a second to be open and read the argument.
Also, start to think about it this way…
Yes, do you need to eat less than you expend to lose weight?
Do you need to eat more than you expend to gain?
But saying that calories should be the focus over macros is like saying, “SURE! You have no idea what you are doing, but you can go deadlift heavy weight. I mean if you can pick it up, it must be fine, right? Who cares about form!”
You would NEVER say that!
Because you know that while you may be able to lift it, it’s a sure-fired way to end up injured and NOT getting the results you want, even if you might see immediate benefits just from doing some sort of work out.
Saying that someone only needs to pay attention to calories is the same thing!
Maybe you’ll see some immediate results, but you’re basically setting yourself up for failure.
That’s why MACROS should be your primary focus.
And through focusing on macros, you’ll find so many other pieces of the puzzle, including your caloric intake, fall into place.
There are 3 reasons I think macros matter more than focusing on only the calories in vs. calories out…
And all 3 reasons relate back to the fact that a calorie isn’t really simply just a calorie…from how our body uses it to how we feel eating it.
A calorie isn’t simply a calorie because…
- Consuming the “right” foods requires more energy.
- A calorie deficit leads to weight loss, macros lead to lasting body recomposition.
- Macros can help you avoid weight loss plateaus and help you avoid dramatic weight rebounding after dieting.
Now let me break down why these 3 things matter and just all of the reasons why you should make your primary focus on macros over just your calorie intake.
#1: Foods have different thermic effects and require different amounts of energy to be used by the body.
Have you ever heard that celery is “negative” calories?
It’s because celery requires more energy to break down and use than it contains.
Now I’m not telling you to just go eat a ton of celery, but the point is…
Different foods require different amounts of energy to be processed and used by our body!
The more energy that is required to break down and use the foods we eat, the fewer net calories you are really going to end up truly consuming from those foods.
On average people use about 10% of their daily energy expenditure processing food BUT this number can dramatically differ based on the ratio of each macronutrient you consume.
Because each macro has a different thermic effect! (1)
Protein actually has the highest thermic effect at about 20-30% (meaning about 20-30% of the calories are used to digest the food).
While carbs have a thermic effect of about 5-10% and fats 0-3%.
You can see why adjusting the macronutrient breakdown you consume could now dramatically impact how many calories you should be consuming overall.
Researchers have even proposed we change protein from 4 calories per gram to 3.2 calories per gram because the thermic effect is so great. (Carbs are 4 calories per gram and fats 9 calories per gram.) (2)
Not to mention, studies of higher protein diets have even shown that when people consumed a hypercaloric diet, aka not only did they NOT eat in a deficit but they actually ate in a SURPLUS, they did not gain body fat.
So eating higher protein kept them from gaining weight even when eating 800 calories more than the lower protein group! (3)
Still think a calorie is just a calorie!?
This could mean if you ate higher protein, you may need to create what seems to be a “smaller” deficit and get better results than if you cut calories lower!
Plus, when you adjust our macro break downs, we also often dial in the QUALITY of our foods.
I know it’s become popular to see meals that “fit your macros” that aren’t so healthy, BUT what you often aren’t seeing is the veggie and protein meals being eaten to allow those people to then fit those treat meals in.
There is a balance going on there (that social media doesn’t always show). And this balance is key to getting lasting results with something that can become a lifestyle.
So by focusing on macros, often the quality of the foods you consume, in order to hit those ratios, also changes.
(Again why I think macros should be the first thing you focus on as other things will fall in line with them.)
The point is…the quality of your food ALSO matters!
Because whole, natural foods have a higher thermic effect than processed foods! (4)
Even something as simple as a more natural bread and a more natural cheese over more processed bread and cheese can make a difference (as shown by the study linked out in the (4) reference).
So even just based on this little bit…You can see that a calorie is NOT simply a calorie!
#2: Calorie deficits can lead to weight loss, but macros lead to lasting and SUSTAINABLE body recomposition.
Most of us may say we want to “lose weight” but we don’t just want to lose weight truly…we want to lose FAT.
If you simply cut calories, you may lose weight. But that weight lost on the scale is more than likely not just going to be fat – it’s going to be muscle as well.
And while some muscle loss is to be expected when you lose weight, especially when if you have 50+ pounds to lose, or you cutting for a shoot or competition, you can minimize the amount of lean body mass lost by dialing in your macro ratios (specifically increasing your protein)! (5)
By focusing on protein, you can not only minimize muscle loss, BUT even GAIN muscle while in a deficit.
No way, right!?
Most of us have been told it isn’t possible to lose fat and gain muscle at once.
We’ve been told we need to pick one or the other.
And it’s because most of us have been told weight loss is simply about calories in vs. calories out.
Sure if you just count calories, it will be near impossible to do both.
But that’s why focusing on macros FIRST is key because then you CAN lose fat and gain muscle by including higher protein macro break downs! (6)
And not only can a diet higher in protein help you retain, and even gain, lean muscle while losing fat, but it can help increase adherence and even potentially improve your diet’s effectiveness.
Most of us want to lose weight and KEEP the weight off.
And part of doing that is finding something that doesn’t make us feel like we are starving all of the time.
A diet that keeps us feeling full and satisfied is going to be easier to stick with long term. And a diet higher in protein does just that!
(And I’m not just talking animal protein here…even vegans and vegetarians can increase their protein intake to improve their results!)
Not to mention, by focusing on macros in general, you’ll also often dial in the quality of your foods as I mentioned before.
Those more whole, natural foods will also help you fuel your body better to stay fuller feeling for longer!
If we give our body the nutrition it needs, guess what will happen?
It’s going to run better and function more optimally, which will only help us reach our goals more easily!
Also, by focusing on macros, you can make sure you get the carbs and fat you need to keep your hormones at optimal levels.
And by focusing on protein you can also keep yourself feeling fuller for longer while keeping your metabolism “healthy.” (7)
Many of us have heard that crash dieting can “hurt” our metabolism.
And while yes, extreme calorie deprivation will slow our metabolic rate, along with weight loss in general, this isn’t a permanent thing necessarily.
If you weigh less, and have less muscle, your body needs to use less energy.
Plus, when your body thinks it is “starving” it’s going to do all it can to conserve energy.
Both things result in a slowed metabolic rate.
And this is why balancing those macros can be so important over just counting calories.
When you focus on protein, you can prevent muscle mass loss to keep your metabolic rate higher AS you lose weight.
The higher protein, and macro focus, not only helps make the weight loss process easier, BUT it will also help you KEEP the weight off.
Because then as you start to adjust your calories to more of a maintenance mode range, you have the lean muscle mass on to keep you burning more calories even at rest.
You’ve set yourself up for long term success.
If you’d just focused on calories instead of macros to lose weight, when you actually hit your goal weight, you may find it is much more difficult to MAINTAIN your weight loss results!
It isn’t as simple as now just eating more because you want to MAINTAIN.
The idea that calories matter most may help us lose weight or gain it…BUT it most leads to a cycle where we are constantly yo-yoing between those two things over maintaining the results we’ve gotten.
Because it doesn’t truly teach us how to find that balance nor set us up with an ideal body composition to maintain progress!
#3: Macros can help you avoid weight loss plateaus and help you avoid dramatic weight rebounding after dieting.
Your weight loss has slowed.
So what do you do?
Either A. You give up. Or B. You try cutting calories even lower.
However, simply creating a bigger calorie deficit doesn’t always work.
And it can actually even BACKFIRE.
Ever feel like you’re barely eating anything, and are in a huge calorie deficit only to have the scale actually GO UP?
YUP…It can happen.
And this is due to many of the factors I’ve mentioned earlier.
Your body simply is no longer burning as many calories at rest because not only have you lost muscle mass, which burns more calories at rest, but your body even “gears down” in response to the decrease in energy coming in.
You will tend not to fidget as much. Or be as active. Your workouts may even suffer.
Basically, you’re expending less so even as you increase your calorie deficit, aka cut your calories lower, that deficit may not be as big as you actually think and your body may be rebelling against further restriction.
So what happens?
The scale goes up?
And with more and more restriction often we mess with our hormone levels more and more.
This then makes our bodies scream at us to eat more, which often leads to the horrible yo-yo dieting cycle.
So how can you avoid all of this?
Guess what I’m going to say you should focus on instead?
If instead of cutting your calories LOWER when you hit that plateau, you simply adjusted your macro ratios, you may “kickstart” your progress again.
Our bodies adapt to what we give them.
So if we slightly adjust our energy sources, we can often avoid that adaptation and keep our results progressing.
And we don’t need to cut calories lower to do this, which can help us preserve that lean muscle mass and keep our hormones at optimal levels.
Even if you’re focusing on protein, you may adjust carbs or fats up or down to help ensure your body is functioning optimally.
Simply adding 5% to one macro, without any calorie change, can kickstart your progress, help you avoid weight loss plateaus, AND keep your metabolism “healthy” while preserving your lean muscle mass.
And you can include these variations in ratios each week or even over the course of weeks, depending on how complicated you want to make things or even on how experienced you are with macronutrients and tracking.
With Macro Cycling, I have clients adjust every 2 weeks to not only keep things “fresh” mentally, but also help them avoid plateaus and keep their bodies functioning optimally (while also not overcomplicating things with multiple ratios in a single week).
They point is, by focusing on macros over simply counting calories, you can see better and faster results and even more easily avoid those weight loss plateaus.
Now…let’s just say, you did hit that plateau and did instead decide to cut calories further instead of focusing on your macros.
Let’s even say you saw some progress on the scale after you cut calories lower.
The question is…what will end up being the cost of this even more extreme deficit?
The cost of this deficit may be more lean muscle mass lost as your body uses anything it can to fuel your activity.
So while you may see the scale continue to go down, it won’t be only body fat you’re losing.
And this reduction in lean muscle mass can result in an even lowered metabolic rate as well as hormone levels that are all out of “whack.”
Our body can begin to believe it is “starving” and it will scream at us to eat…and even actually OVEReat.
So then what happens?
We gain back all of the weight we lost and, unfortunately, often even more.
And not only do we regain the weight, but our body composition may even end up worse off than where it started!
Yup…we may end up with even more fat mass and even less muscle mass than BEFORE we dieted.
How is that possible?
Well, when we lost weight, especially because we didn’t focus on macros to maximize lean muscle mass retention, we also lost muscle.
We catabolized our muscle tissue potentially even more by eating too little.
So then when we overeat and the scale goes back up, it isn’t going up because we’re gaining muscle….
Nope…We’re just regain fat.
That muscle mass we lost during the diet is gone.
So our body composition may end up worse than where we started.
This yo-yo dieting cycle is what also leads to us feeling like our metabolism is “damaged.”
Because we have less lean muscle mass, we’re going to burn fewer calories at rest.
And it does take some time for hormone levels to normalize and our body to realize it no longer has to try to conserve energy.
All of this can make the process of trying to lose weight again even more difficult!
It can be why it seems like each time you start a new diet the process of losing gets more and more difficult!
It’s again why you can’t just focus on calories in vs. calories out!
So…to sum things up….
A calorie isn’t simply a calorie. And the calorie intake you need can be DRAMATICALLY impacted by the macro ratio you use.
It’s why if you focus on macros first, the calorie deficit or surplus you need will be created in a way that will lead to not only BETTER, but LASTING RESULTS!
Want to learn more about dialing in your macros to get results?
P.S. If you’re a trainer looking to learn more about not only nutrition, but even programming and assessments, check out my Strong Smart Cert! Click here to learn more and fill out an application!