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Counting calories is one of the most popular diet strategies that people use to lose weight. But is it the best way? Or are there other ways to lose weight that might be better for your health in the long term? Some believe that counting your macronutrients can encourage you to choose healthier food options. Counting your macros can even help you incorporate more micronutrients into your diet. So if you're interested in learning about the health benefits of counting your macros, we strongly suggest you keep reading. You may be surprised by what you learn!
A Quick Note About Micronutrients
We believe it's important to understand the difference between macronutrients and micronutrients before we get too deep into the discussion. Micronutrients are found within macronutrients. They are especially abundant in whole foods and minimally processed food. The more processed your food, the fewer micronutrients you will be eating. Among the more important micronutrients are:
- The "alphabet" vitamins (Vitamins A - K)
- Minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium
- Fatty acids like Omega-3
- Amino acids like glutamine and isoleucine
Amino acids and fatty acids are abundant in sources of healthy protein from grass-fed, free-range, or wild-caught animals. Vitamins and minerals are highly concentrated in colorful, high fiber fruits and vegetables. Counting macros - for most people - means that you'll be spending more time in the fresh food isles of your grocery store getting these high-micronutrient foods into your diet. The more of these micronutrients you get, the easier it will be to build strong muscles, maintain bone density, improve your cardiovascular health, and live a better life in general.
Macronutrient #1: Carbohydrates
There are two macronutrients which can easily be burned for energy by your body. Carbohydrates are one of them. There are three main types of carbohydrate: starches, fiber, and sugar. Unfortunately, they're more of a quick-and-dirty type of fuel that produces a lot of toxic byproducts. A good analogy is to compare the way carbohydrates affect the body to the way diesel fuel affects motor vehicles.
Counting your macronutrients is very popular when it comes to low-carb dieting. But just because someone tells you to restrict your carbs doesn't mean there aren't healthy carbs that you should be eating. High fiber fruits and vegetables, like the ones we mentioned a minute ago, aren't just good for your health due to their micronutrient content. There are also excellent for your gut health. Encouraging the growth of healthy bacteria by eating high-fiber foods can help improve your immune system, reduce inflammation, and even improve your mood.
Whether you are eating starch, fiber, or sugars, timing is also important. Carbohydrates should be eaten strategically throughout the day when you know you are going to need the most energy. This is especially true if you are very active and workout on a regular basis. Your body will burn up your carbohydrates more quickly when you consume them immediately before or after strenuous activity. This means that when those carbs are converted into glucose, they will spend less time in your bloodstream and they won't have as drastic of an impact on your insulin response.
Many medical experts believe that excessive carbohydrate intake combined with a sedentary lifestyle is the main cause of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. This is the main reason why low carbohydrate diets are gaining in popularity. Not only are they good for short-term weight loss, but they have long-term metabolic health benefits as well.
Macronutrient #2: Protein
There are 20 different amino acids in existence. Different types of protein are constructed with different combinations of these amino acids. Some of these amino acids are essential, meaning that your body cannot produce them on its own. The non-essential amino acids are easily synthesized in different parts of your body as long as you eat plenty of good, healthy protein on a regular basis.
Complete proteins contain a mix of essential and non-essential amino acids, whereas incomplete proteins only contain non-essential amino acids. Most animal products are classified as complete proteins; plant proteins, on the other hand, are usually incomplete. You should also know that eating too much protein - especially on a low-carb diet - isn't always the healthiest thing. When you eat low carb but your body isn't getting enough fat to produce ketones for energy, it'll break down protein instead. But this puts a significant strain on your kidneys. It also converts the protein into glucose, which still triggers an insulin response.
Macronutrient #3: Fat
Fat is actually a superior fuel to carbohydrates and protein if you can feed it to your body the right way. When you metabolize fat, you produce ketone bodies, which are the equivalent of super premium unleaded fuel for the human body. They burn cleaner and produce fewer toxic waste products than carbohydrates do, especially in your brain and your heart cells. There are even exogenous ketone supplements available for people who want to reap the weight loss and cognitive benefits which are associated with higher levels of ketones in the blood.
Unfortunately, most of us have trained our body to burn carbohydrates over fat because we've been eating too little fat and too many carbs. Low-carb, high-fat diets such as the ketogenic diet are the most efficient way to train your body to burn fat instead. When you are in a calorie deficit, your body will be more likely to burn its own stored fat for energy instead of craving carbohydrates. And there are dozens of other health benefits you can get from training your body to prefer fat over carbs for energy - so many, in fact, that we don't have enough room on this page to talk about all of them!
How Many of Each Macro Should You Be Eating? That Depends.
A gram of fat contains 9 calories worth of energy. A gram of either carbohydrate or protein contains 4 calories. In order to calculate the right macronutrient profile for you, you should consult with a nutritionist or find reliable resources on the internet to help you do the math. Calculating your macros depends largely on the goals you want to accomplish regarding weight loss, longevity, and overall health.
People with a high body fat composition should eat most of their calories from fat, eat a moderate amount of protein, and keep their carbs to a minimum. People who are lean and physically active can allow themselves a higher number of carbs on their plates and keep their protein and fat balanced so as to not enter a caloric surplus. On the other hand, anyone who's trying to put on muscle should aim for a caloric surplus with a healthy amount of protein, a slightly higher carbohydrate intake, and a moderate amount of fat. If you're struggling to calculate your macros on a ketogenic diet, don't worry - we'll have a walkthrough on that coming very soon.