You hear us talk about calories and macronutrients pretty often. We throw those words around every other sentence when talking about weight loss or training. Most of you know what calories are, but we’ve been stared at with confused eyes quite a few times when macronutrients are mentioned. In this post, we’re going to look at the science behind calories and macronutrients, and why they are so important to a human being.
Let’s start off with the bigger picture: calories.
A calorie isn’t actually a thing, it’s a unit of measurement. A calorie measures the amount of energy that is in the food and beverages that we consume. We all need this energy to live and stay healthy. Everything we do on a daily basis is thanks to what we feed our body. Let’s use the example of our main source of transportation: the car. Without gas, you will not even be able to start it, let alone drive it to your destination. The car will not be functional. Food and beverages are our gas; our fuel, and depending on the grade of fuel we choose, similarly to cars, it will affect our efficiency and ability to perform properly down the road.
How many calories should I eat?
A general rule of thumb for an average individual is your weight in lbs X 10. This automatically gives you the amount of calories you would need to eat per day in order to function properly. This is known as your “resting metabolic rate.” Keep in mind, this a generic “one size fits all” formula and does not take into account the daily activities you endure such as work, training, and overall general movement from place to place. Depending on how physical you are on a day-to-day basis combined with a splash of good old genetics, some people require less fuel, while others require almost twice as much. A honda civic will not need as much gas as a G-Wagon per say.
Calories in vs Calories out. Weight loss and weight gain.
If you have a specific goal, your calories must reflect that specificity accordingly. Have the conversation with yourself: Am I trying to lose weight? Am I trying to gain mass? What if I told you that the fun part about this whole dieting game is that it’s actually really simple and logical. In order to gain weight, you’d need to consume more energy than what you burn. In order to lose, you’d need to consume less energy than what you burn. These diet fads all have the same final principle in common: you are either in a caloric surplus or a caloric deficit. That’s it!
Eating healthy isn’t automatically the best solution.
There’s a difference between eating healthily vs eating to attain a goal. Healthy foods can also be considered high calorie foods. Avocados, whole eggs, nuts, certain fruits like grapes, bananas, etc can be just as much or even more than a chocolate bar or a portion of chips. At the end of the day, if your goal is to simply gain weight, whether it be with an apple or a bowl of pasta, you’ll need to eat higher calorie foods. The same rule applies to weight loss. If you want to shed a few pounds to lose weight you need to prioritize lower calorie foods – or simply make sure you burn it. So if done correctly, with the recommended advice from a trained professional ( your dear superhero coaches that cares about your mental well being! ), yes you’re allowed to include the more interesting foods and still attain your goals.
What are empty calories?
Now that we know that there is no such thing as “bad calories” or “good calories,” there are certain foods that may be more useful to some fitness goals than others. Candy or soda for example, are often referred to as “empty calories.” That means that they provide calories but have no other nutritional value. They do have their advantages; they are consumed and digested rather quickly, and let’s be honest they just taste good. These quick-fix high calorie foods are usually recommended for someone who is looking to gain weight, yet doesn’t have the appetite to match the goal. On the other hand, someone looking to lose weight can still enjoy these foods however, it is recommended to stick to more nutritious and higher volume foods that provide more long term satiety due to the lessened calories in a day. A chocolate bar will satisfy you for 15 minutes; a greek yogurt with fruits will satisfy you for an hour or more.
Here is where we get into the details of it all. Look at calories as the base of the tree, its roots, what makes the tree, are the macronutrients. Calories are composed of three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Aside from generally providing the body with energy, each macronutrient serves a lot of other vital purposes.
How many grams of protein do I need?
You’re going to have to figure that one out by yourself by trial and error as it differs from one person to another. Research shows that 1.2g to 1.8g per kilogram of bodyweight is the optimal ratio of protein intake for athletes. To calculate your weight from pounds to kilogram, simply divide your weight in LBS by 2.2. Following the calculations above, this means that a 200lbs athlete should be consuming between 110g to 162g of protein per day. For an introduction to learn what your body likes, begin with 1g per kilogram and monitor as you go, write down observations/changes you feel and see! If you feel like your body is not responding the way it should be, gradually increase your intake to 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6 Etc.
Moving on to a crowd favorite: carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the sugar, starch and fibre found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products (yes, you read right – milk isn’t just protein). Carbs have been bad mouthed for many years by the diet industry. To this day, there is still ingrained fear in people when it comes to carbs, but we’re here to help bring light on that subject. Being a macronutrient, carbs are needed in high amount by the body for optimal functioning. They are part of the foundation of a well-balanced diet.
How many carbs should I eat a day?
It is recommended that you consume 30 to 50% of carbs from your total caloric intake per day depending on your goals. Please remember that regardless of your goal, there are no good or bad carbs; you can enjoy both simple and complex carbs while following the 80/20 rule and following a nutrition guide that best works for your lifestyle.
Going to the next most important nutrient your body needs: fats. There are three types of fat: trans fat, saturated fat, and unsaturated fat.
- Most trans fat comes from hydrogenating or adding hydrogen molecules to unsaturated fats. This produces a hydrogenated oil. These can be found in margarine, shortening, baked goods, doughs, and fried foods. They can also be found in red meat. The intake of trans fat should be limited to the minimum possible.
- In large amounts, saturated fat has been shown to increase cholesterol levels and increase your risk for heart disease. Decreasing the amount of saturated fat in your diet can be beneficial. Saturated fat is found mostly in animal sources with high fat contents such as beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, lard, cream, butter, full fat cheese, and dairy.
- Unsaturated fat is known as the “healthy” fat as it is known to help in decreasing your risk for heart disease. These healthy fats originate from plant sources such as avocados, nuts and nut butters, seeds, olives, and oils (olive, canola, sunflower etc.). They can also be found in animal sources such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, and herring.
Does eating fat make me fat? How much should I eat?
Fat that you eat =/= fat in your body. A surplus of calories is what makes you gain weight and fat (if the caloric surplus is not done strategically). It is crucial that you consume enough fats in your diet, especially women. The average recommended amount of fats is 15 to 35% of your daily total calories.
In conclusion, protein, carbs, and fats all play a significant role in getting our body to do what we want it to do: function. Whether it be walking up the stairs or finishing the Astrofit fit test, these three macronutrients work together to help us achieve our athletic goals. Part of the reason we lean more towards counting macronutrients is because it simplifies everything down to a simple formula: eat based on the numbers provided. It becomes easier to integrate our weight loss or weight gain goals into our current lifestyle, as we make small changes rather than drastic ones. We learn to love food again, instead of fearing it. Most importantly, we understand quickly that, in order to reach your fitness goals, you just need to monitor the calories you eat versus the calories you burn!