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  • Clem Duranseaud

Calories and Macros Explained

Updated: Jan 5


This post explains what calories and macro nutrients are


Macronutrients (macros) and calories are the the basic building blocks of our diet. Understand what they are will help us make smatter food decisions, keep eating the foods we love and reach our fitness goals faster.


Macros are proteins, carbohydrates, fats and Alcohol.

Each macro contains different amounts of calories:

- 1 gram of protein has 4 calories

- 1 gram of carb has 4 calories

- 1 gram of fat has 9 calories

- 1 gram of alcohol has 7 calories


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After you’ve chewed your food, what happens to it in your stomach? Where do the calories go? What happens if we eat too much of a certain macro (protein, carb, fat)?

Although I understood early on the role that macros play in performance, it took a while to understand what the journey from solid food to fuel looked liked like.


Another issue that confused me was where do the calories go? For me calories were just a measure of potential energy and I was having a tough time understanding how eating something like that helped us lose or gain weight.


1. Calories

A calorie is simply the amount of energy required to raise one gram of water 1 degree Celsius. When we talk about food, we actually use kilocalories which means the amount of energy required to raise 1000g (a kilo) by 1 degree Celsius. But that's just a technicality...

Here’s the example that helped me understand this. You have 100g of oatmeal. After a quick search you notice that it has 68 calories. That means that if you were to take a lighter to those oats and burn all of them, they could heat up 68 kilos of water by 1 degree.

The exact same thing happens in our body when we “burn” calories. We don't light them on fire with a lighter per se, but we burn them through the chemical reactions that produce energy.

Your body needs a molecule called ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate) to produce energy.


We only have a limited amount of ATP in our body and we are constantly making more of it and breaking it down. It’s in this process that calories are burned.


So if you have too many calories, and your body doesn't need it for this reaction, then the calories get stored for later use.


The difference between the calories you eat and the calories you use throughout the day is called your caloric balance.


You can be in one of three state with your caloric balance:


  • Caloric surplus You consume for calories than you use up. This leads to weight gain. When we try to build muscles, we need to be in a slight caloric surplus.

  • Caloric deficit You consume fewer calories than you use up. This leads to weight loss. Your body eats away at its energy stores (stored fats) to supply the additional energy needed. A caloric deficit that is too big may results in increased hunger, irritability and general miserable feelings.

  • Caloric maintenance You consume as much calories as you use up. This results in neither weight gain nor weight loss.


Understanding how many calories you eat is crucial to take control of your diet. You can still enjoy all the foods you love once you master the art of controlling your energy balance.


Not all calories are created equal, and before we move on to macros, let's chat about nutrient density.


Nutrient density

This refers to the amount of nutrients (vitamins and minerals) per calories. Some foods are very rich in them while others offer very little.


This means that if two people eating the same amount of calories each day could feel drastically different depending on the nutrient density of their diet.


Ingredients with high nutrient density a usually whole, unprocessed foods such as:

  • Veggies

  • Fruits

  • Meats

  • Legumes

  • Fish

  • Nuts

  • Seeds


In order to feel your best, focus on foods that are high in nutrient density.


2. Macros

As we saw earlier, macros are protein, carbs, fats and alcohol.

Protein


Calories per gram: 4


Once they go through your stomach and get digested, proteins are broken down into amino acids. You may have heard this term before if you take BCAA supplements (Branch Chain Amino Acid).


Amino acids are the molecules that make up protein. Think of them as the building blocks of your body. They are used to make muscles, collagen (all your tendons and ligaments and other stuff like that), antibodies, enzymes and much more.


When you digest a protein molecule, you form a bunch of these amino acids which are in turn rearranged by your body’s need and go about building whatever it is you need to build.

What happens when you eat too much of it?

If you eat too much protein, your body will either use the excess amino acids as part of the ATP reaction, or store them…as fat.


If you are in a calorie deficit diet that’s good since you will just burn them, but if you already had a ton of calories that day, your body will store the amino acid. Hence the importance of watching our portion sizes even with very healthy foods!

In the long term too much protein can have harmful side effects, especially to the kidneys.


How much proteins should you eat?

A healthy range for protein consumption is anywhere between 0.8 grams to 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.


If you weight 150 pounds, then you could have anywhere from (0.8 x 150) 120 grams to (2 x 150) 300 grams of protein per day.


I like to keep my protein intake fixed whether I am trying to lose or gain weight. This just makes my meal prepping and grocery shopping easier.

Carbs


Calories per gram: 4


Carbohydrates are the main fuel for your body.


When you eat a carbohydrate molecule, it gets digested and then enters your blood stream as a glucose molecule. Glucose is very useful and your body loves it.


Once in your blood stream, glucose will look for a purpose. It's favourite one is energy production. If your body does not currently need energy, it will store the glucose as fat.


Different carbs will impact your blood sugar differently.


Carbs that come from whole, unprocessed foods will raise your blood sugar slowly. That is good. As we saw earlier, these foods are also high in nutrient density which is advantageous.


Carbs that come from refined and processed foods raise your blood sugar faster. That is not so good. Does that mean you should never eat those carbs? Of course not.


Just being aware of them is important so you can select foods that align with your goals.


One of the tricky things with carbs is that unlike proteins and fats, they very often come in the form of drinks. Think about all the fruit juices and pops.


I say tricky because even though one glass of these drinks is fine, it is very easy to over consume carbs in the form of drinks. Beverages don't really make us feel satiated so we tend to keep drinking them.

Again, understanding the origin and quality of beverages will help you make appropriate food decisions.



Good carbs vs bad carbs

Fats


Calories per gram: 9


Fats are very important to your body. If proteins are the building blocks, carbs the fuel, then fats are everything else that helps your body run smoothly.


Fats are required to build your cell's membranes, they carry certain vitamins around your body and also provide energy. Without fats, your body does not work.


Since one gram of fats brings in more calories that protein and carbs, it actually makes you feel more satiated and full.

Fats can be classified as the following:

  • Unsaturated fats They are liquid at room temperature, making their digestion much easer. Typically seen as the healthiest of fats. Comes from natural oils.

  • Saturated fats Still healthy but solid at room temperature so harder to digest. Comes from animal products.

  • Trans fats


You need fats!

Alcohol


Calories per gram: 7


Contrarily to popular belief, alcohol doesn't stall weight loss by itself. As long as you drink it in moderation, you are in the clear.


If I can summarize that post for you very briefly, it would be that alcohol doesn't bring a whole lot of nutritional benefits to the table and even prevents your body from burning fat while the substance is in your body.


Not a big deal if you keep it under control. I enjoy a glass of wine or 2 or 3 on a weekly basis. I only completely go sober when I am in contest prep and even then it's only in the last few weeks when the dieting becomes extremely important.

What I’m hoping you’re getting from this is that there is no best way to eat.


It depends on so many factors that are unique to you. All that’s required is a little understanding on how macros and calories work.

Last side note

A few people have asked me why is it that on food labels, the macros amount don't match the amount of food listed. For example, you have 100g of chicken and the label will read:

- protein: 31g

- carb: 0g

- fat: 3g

That only adds up to 34g!! What about the other 66g? The answer is actually surprisingly simple: it's water and all the collagen (tendon and ligaments) that make up all the extra, useless stuff.

Reference

Clem Fitness Inc.

Clem Fitness is a personal training service based out of Vancouver, BC. Our area of expertise are muscle definition, weight loss, fitness plans designed to fit in your lifestyle and nutrition counseling.

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