What Exactly are Calories and Macronutrients?
So, what exactly are these calories and macros that everyone in the fitness world talks about? Let's start with calories. We hear about these most often, but do we really know what they are?
There are two types of calories: ● A small calorie (symbol: cal) - 1cal is the amount of energy required to raise one gram of water by one degree Celsius. ● A large calorie (symbol: Cal, kcal) - 1Cal is the amount of energy required to raise one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. 1 large calorie (1kcal) = 1,000 small calories.
These two classifications are often mistaken and used interchangeably. Large calories are most often used when referring to calories associated with foods, drinks and human energy expenditure (our burning up of energy). Calories, put simply, are units of energy which our body needs to function. Our bodies need different amounts of calories dependent on our gender, height, and age level of activity throughout the day. If we consume our daily recommended amount, we will achieve a happy, balanced eating lifestyle. If we consume less or more, weight loss or weight gain will be the result, respectively.
Reaching your daily recommended calorie intake and remaining healthy isn’t as simple as adding up all the calories that you consume throughout the day. One of the main problems with traditional calorie counting is that it doesn't take into account what you're eating, just how many calories. If you nail your daily caloric intake but it was entirely from one McDonald's meal, do you think you're going to reach your goals? Nope. This is where macronutrients come into play.
Macronutrients, commonly referred to as "macros," are broken down into 3 categories-- Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats-- and are measured in grams. Alcohol is the sneaky 4th category. The term macronutrients refers to the chemical elements that humans consume in the largest (hence, "macro") quantities, contributing to our caloric intake. Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram Proteins = 4 calories per gram Fats = 9 calories per gram Alcohol = 7 calories per gram
Here is a calorie and macronutrient breakdown of 1 large hard-boiled egg: Calories 77 Fat 5.28g (5.28 x 9) = 48 calories from fat. Carbs 0.56g (0.56 x 4) = 2 calories from carbohydrates. Protein 6.26g (6.26 x 4) = 25 calories from Protein Breakdown: 64% fat, 3% carbs, 33% protein.
There are multiple ways to determine your macronutrient targets. The simplest method is to allocate calories towards each nutrient according to a percentage split. A common percentage split is the "zone diet" split-- 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat. Depending on a client's goals, we alter these percentages slightly. From these numbers, working out how many grams of each macronutrient you need is a matter of simple math.
"Empty calories" are foods/drinks that have very little nutritional value. They possess virtually no dietary fiber, amino acids, antioxidants, dietary minerals or vitamins. They are made up of added sugars and solid fat. No matter what your health and fitness goal may be, these foods and drinks will never be your friend. Some examples of these foods and drinks to stay away from include:
● Fruit Drinks ● Sports Drinks ● Energy Drinks ● Sodas ● Ice Cream ● Donuts ● Pastries
● Cookies ● Cakes ● Ribs ● Bacon ● Hot Dogs
These days, there are many apps and websites that can help you calculate your daily caloric intake and target macronutrient ratios. Since there's so much conflicting information out there, we recommend contacting a Weighted Plate nutrition coach to help you create a personalized plan. But these basics should be enough to get you started. If you haven't succeeded with simple calorie counting before and you're looking for something different, give macros a try.