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The Macro Basics: Why Simply Counting Calories Isn’t Enough

Avatar Nutrition Staff

September 12, 2017


To build the body of your dreams, simply counting calories isn’t enough.

Sure, you will lose weight if you eat fewer calories than you burn— but by failing to account for macros, much of this loss may come from muscle rather than fat, and energy levels and metabolism may plummet.

Although protein, fat, and carbs all contribute calories, each play a distinct and important role in helping you shape your ideal physique. This is why you must do more than count calories to achieve your goals. You must pay special attention to your protein, fat and carb intake as well.

What Are Macronutrients?

Protein (4 calories/gram)

Proteins, made up of amino acids, are the building blocks of living organisms. Protein has many functions within the body such as:

  • Repairing damaged tissue
  • Forming antibodies for your immune system
  • Fighting hunger, keeping you fuller, longer

While adequate protein intake is critical for overall health, a higher optimal intake is necessary to build and repair muscle and to prevent muscle loss when dieting. The more aggressive your calorie reduction and fitness routine, the more protein you will need to eat to favor fat over muscle loss. Protein is also very thermogenic, meaning that your body will waste many calories just digesting and processing it, boosting your metabolism.

Sources:  Meat, protein powder, egg whites, and low-fat dairy

Fat (9 calories/gram)

Fats are important for overall health and serve many essential functions in the body.

  • Fat is used in the production of new cells and hormones
  • It is critical for normal brain development and nerve function
  • It’s necessary for absorbing vitamins A, D, E, and K and for carrying them throughout the body.

As a structural component of hormones that impact metabolism (among other functions), failing to eat enough fat could wreak havoc on your body! Go ahead and drop the old myth that “eating fats makes you fat” right now – fats are a crucial component of your health and neglecting to eat enough of them could sabotage your goals.

Sources:  Fatty meats, Full-fat dairy, oils, nuts, butter, avocado, and eggs

Carbohydrate (4 calories/gram)

Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel. All tissues and cells are capable of using glucose (the end product of carb breakdown) as their energy source. While it has been in vogue over the past decade to vilify carbs as the main driver of the obesity epidemic, the evils attributed to carbs are actually the result of eating too many calories. In a standard non-ketogenic diet, carbohydrates are necessary for:

  • Proper muscular, cardiac, kidney, and brain function,
  • Keeping you satisfied while powering intense workouts.

To build muscle and burn as many calories as possible, you need to train with plenty of fuel in the tank.

Sources:  Grains, Starches, Fruit, and Vegetables

Alcohol (7 calories/gram)

Although alcohol isn’t listed as a main macronutrient, it can provide your body with energy and is technically classified as a macronutrient. It isn’t typically mentioned alongside protein, fat, and carbs because it’s not essential for survival. But if you choose to consume it, the energy alcohol provides can be accounted for to help you stay on track with your progress.

The type of alcohol that is consumed while drinking is ethanol, which makes up around 3% to 40% of the total volume of an alcoholic beverage. While humans have been consuming alcoholic drinks for thousands of years, the beneficial health effects are limited to reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.

However, this benefit is only associated with light to moderate consumption and is due in part to non-alcoholic components such as polyphenols and other bioactive compounds found in wine and beer. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a wide array of health problems that affect the heart, brain, kidneys, liver, pancreas, immune system, and even result in various cancers.

Sources:  Wine, Beer, Liquors

What’s the Deal With Fiber?

Along with protein, fat, and carbs, Avatar Nutrition provides a fiber target to ensure that you eat a minimum amount each day. While fiber is classified as a carb and isn’t traditionally recognized as its own “macro,” it’s important to get a certain amount for digestive and general health.

Fiber (counted as a carb)

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is resistant to digestion. It’s famous for:

  • Preventing constipation
  • Promoting regularity
  • Improving blood sugar
  • Controlling satiety
  • Lowering cholesterol.

Studies also show an association between higher fiber intake and lower risk of several diseases. The reason for this may be due to the effect of fiber on bacteria in the intestinal tract—an exciting and relatively new area of study! Fermentable fiber acts as a food source to microorganisms living in the colon and can alter the composition of this microbial community to one more favorable to health. The outcome may be improved immune health, gut health, and even metabolism and energy balance!

Sources:  Fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans)

Your body doesn’t discriminate against certain types of food, so why should you? As we’ve just explained, all food is made up of three macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fat. And contrary to popular belief, your body doesn’t care how you acquire them. With Avatar Nutrition, you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want–so long as you hit your calorie and macronutrient targets.