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Why you need to track macronutrients and not calories

Posted by Dayne Hudson in Weight Loss

Estimated reading time: 5mins

Why you need to track macronutrients and not calories | Bulk Nutrients

Tracking macronutrients and not calories for weight loss

The first issue with just tracking calories is that it doesn't necessarily set you up for a decent level of satiety.

Weight loss is likely to be more successful the fuller you feel.

If you're not full, you might overindulge, and when you do that, you can gain weight!

So why does tracking macronutrients help this?

Because it prioritises the intake of dietary protein, which should be the macronutrient you consume the most of during a weight loss diet (more on why in a moment).

Protein and weight loss

Recent recommendations are to consume 2.3-3.1 grams of protein per kilogram of fat-free mass when fat loss is the goal.

So, if you know you have to consume 1500 calories, but don't know where to start with your macros, well, start with protein!

So, if you're 85 kilograms and 15% body fat, it means you have 72.25 kilograms worth of fat-free mass.

So, multiply that by 2.3 and you get 166 grams of protein. So, you need to eat 166 grams of protein per day.

But how many calories is that?

Well, because protein has 4 calories per gram, we multiply 166 by 4 and get 664 calories.

That means three things:

  1. We need to eat 166 grams of protein per day (for scientific reasons we'll get to in a moment)
  2. That's 664 calories, a significant portion of our daily calorie intake, which means:
  3. It leaves us with 836 calories (1500 calorie daily limit minus our protein calories, 664) to split between carbohydrates and fat.

Now working out our carbohydrates and fat too are beyond the scope of this article, but the point is, protein is the priority for a fat loss diet, and here are the reasons why:

Why dietary protein is critical for a fat loss diet

Protein is prioritised because:

  1. It keeps us full better than carbs and fat, so we're less likely to overeat (this is a huge reason).
  2. It's low in calories (just 4 calories per gram as we touched on)
  3. Our bodies burn about 30% of all calories from protein just digesting it
  4. It gives us great dietary satisfaction and helps maintain dietary progress
  5. When weight loss subjects are overfed by 800 calories from protein, they still lose weight! This is due to thermogenesis; the heat generated by the body to digest it which burns so many calories (related to point 3)
Dietary protein must be prioritised on a weight loss diet.
Dietary protein must be prioritised on a weight loss diet.

So, protein will keep us fuller, which prevents overeating as we touched on! 

But what also has to be addressed is proteins ability to support and preserve our muscle growth and recovery. 

Resistance training is a great way to build muscle mass, giving your body a "fit" and "strong" look, that is amplified by a reduction in body fat. 

If you're not doing it already, we'd definitely recommend you give it a try! Resistance training obviously also burns calories, which works towards a calorie deficit in a weight loss diet.

And protein supports all of this.

Many people lose weight simply by tracking calories but don't protect their muscle mass by consuming enough dietary protein.

This puts them at risk of developing the "skinny fat" look -- a loss of body fat but with muscle loss too.

Whilst we acknowledge resistance training might not be for everyone, for your best-looking physique in terms of muscle mass to fat ratio, it's the best option for us all.

Tracking macronutrients for a great balance of micronutrients

The danger of just tracking calories means we can prioritise certain macronutrients, without getting enough essential vitamins and minerals, or the other macronutrients at all. For example:

  • Consuming carbohydrates only: You're not getting enough protein (important for the reasons outlined above)
  • Consuming protein only: You're not getting enough fibre from carbohydrates, critical for health
  • Consuming fat only: means you're missing out on the bodies main energy source, carbohydrates (for workouts and functioning) 

By focusing on tracking all three macronutrients, we're also probably more likely to get a better balance of micronutrients in our diet, as opposed to simply eating anything that makes up our daily calorie amount.

Prioritising macronutrients in conjunction with resistance training will ensure you end up looking your best.
Prioritising macronutrients in conjunction with resistance training will ensure you end up looking your best.

The bottom line is that tracking macronutrient is better than tracking calories when it comes to losing weight. It takes into account the importance of protein as the cornerstone of a successful weight loss diet. Because protein keeps us fuller, it should be prioritised. 

Moreover, it supports our muscle growth and recovery, critical after the exercise we do in order to lose weight in the first place. 

Also, tracking macronutrients might mean we get a more balanced diet in micronutrients, as opposed to eating anything that makes up our daily calorie amount. Lastly, it can help us preserve muscle when we diet, which can prevent us from developing a "skinny fat" look.

References:

  1. Anderson JW, Baird P, Davis RH Jr, Ferreri S, Knudtson M, Koraym A, Waters V, Williams CL. Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutr Rev. 2009 Apr;67(4):188-205. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x. PMID: 19335713.  
  2. Cintineo HP, Arent MA, Antonio J, Arent SM. Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training. Front Nutr. 2018;5:83. Published 2018 Sep 11. doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00083 
  3. Helms ER, Zinn C, Rowlands DS, Brown SR. A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2014 Apr;24(2):127-38. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2013-0054. Epub 2013 Oct 2. PMID: 24092765.  
  4. Jéquier E. Carbohydrates as a source of energy. Am J Clin Nutr. 1994 Mar;59(3 Suppl):682S-685S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/59.3.682S. PMID: 8116550. 
  5. Leaf A, Antonio J. The Effects of Overfeeding on Body Composition: The Role of Macronutrient Composition - A Narrative Review. Int J Exerc Sci. 2017;10(8):1275-1296. Published 2017 Dec 1. 
  6. Osilla EV, Safadi AO, Sharma S. Calories. [Updated 2021 Aug 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499909/ 
  7. Paddon-Jones D, Westman E, Mattes RD, Wolfe RR, Astrup A, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1558S-1561S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558S. PMID: 18469287. 
  8. Pesta DH, Samuel VT. A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2014;11(1):53. Published 2014 Nov 19. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-11-53 
  9. Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Lemmens SG, Westerterp KR. Dietary protein - its role in satiety, energetics, weight loss and health. Br J Nutr. 2012 Aug;108 Suppl 2:S105-12. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512002589. PMID: 23107521. 
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