Revealed: The Difference Between Macros and Calories

by Jeannie Versagli, RD, LDN

Macronutrients are “nutrients” needed in large amounts. We know them as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. By providing the appropriate amounts of macros, you are assured that you will receive all your essential macronutrients for optimal health. Like most things dietary, there is no “one-size-fits-all” when determining the percentage of each macro you should aim to consume. There are multiple variables that dictate this calculation including but not limited to body weight, height, activity level/type, and goals. Further adjustments will also depend on your desired goal weight. An important aspect of focusing on macros versus calorie counting is that not all calories are created equal. 100 calories of candy and 100 calories of broccoli technically provide the same “energy” to your body but are processed very differently. The candy gives you what we call empty calories because it holds no real nutritional value. The candy does not prove any fiber, vitamins, or minerals, just sugar, whereas the broccoli provides vitamins, minerals, and fiber that the body requires to function properly. Another variable to be factored in is the timing of when you consume your macros. This is especially important in regard to energy, refueling and muscle building. Energy is needed during exercise and throughout the day to adequately fuel the body. Proteins assist in the repair and building of muscle and maintaining healthy hair, skin, and nails. Research shows that evenly distributing protein intake throughout the day allows protein to be consistently available to build muscles and repair cells.

It is important to monitor your macros because taking in too much of one macro can result in weight gain. How may you ask? If individuals are taking in large amounts of protein and the body is not able to utilize all the protein for muscle building and repairs, the remaining protein is converted into fat for storage. Clients are surprised when I inform them that too much protein in their diet could be a reason that their body fat is not decreasing. Therefore, it is important to know that more protein doesn’t equal more muscle gains. In fact, the consumption of too much may be detrimental to body composition goals.

Recommended Macronutrient Intake
(as % of total calories consumed)

A pier chart of recommended Macronutrient intake:

Carbs: 45-65%
Fats: 20-35%
Proteins: 15-30%

What Do Macros Do For You?

  • Complex carbohydrates provide quick energy in an easily accessible form of energy and fiber. They’re also important for refueling the muscle glycogen stores after intense activity. The fiber found in complex carbs assists in feeling satiated longer. Calcium, iron, and B vitamins are just a few of the nutrients received from this group.
  • Protein provides the building blocks for muscles and cells along with improving satiety.
  • Fat provides essential fat-soluble vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids which aid in decreasing inflammation in the body.

A dietitian can assist you in determining the best adjustment of macros according to your goal and health needs. Once your macros are determined, a caloric goal will be assessed to aid in achieving your goals. Macro counting is best done when documenting your food intake through a food logging app. Tracking your food intake throughout the day improves your adherence to macro and calorie goals. Monitoring macros and calories together will guarantee that you are providing the body what is needs to maintain health and wellness.

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