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  • Clem Duranseaud

Calories and Macros Explained, master nutrition fundamentals

Updated: 4 days ago


This post explains what calories and macro nutrients are


Macronutrients (macros) and calories are the the basic building blocks of our diet. Understanding what they are will help us make smatter food decisions, develop healthy eating habits and reach our fitness goals faster.



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Macronutrient breakdown


Macros are proteins, carbohydrates (carbs), 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


A macro nutrient contains calories, whereas micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals) do not. I will write a separate article on micro nutrients soon.


Let's take an in depth look at these essential nutrients.

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 to create useful energy in the form of muscular contraction, 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 makes my meal prepping and grocery shopping easier and simplifies managing my calorie intake.


Protein rich foods


Any of of the following foods contain high amounts of protein:


  • Any meats including fish

  • Eggs

  • Cottage cheese

  • Greek yogurt

  • Lentils (one of my favourite)

  • Tempei

  • Soy products

  • Beans

  • Nuts and seeds


As you can see, it is easy to get enough protein even on a vegetarian or plant based diet. If you do find you diet is lacking in this macro nutrient, you can look at protein supplementation.

Carbs


Calories per gram: 4


When you eat a carbohydrate molecule, it gets digested and then enters your blood stream as a glucose molecule. Glucose is very useful for fueling workouts 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 carbohydrate sources


Carbs come from many different sources and usually come from delicious foods we love to eat. Depending on how a carb is created (unprocessed vs processed), it will impact our nutrition differently.


Carbs that come from whole, unprocessed foods will raise your blood sugar slowly. That is good because if you elevate blood sugar quickly and there is no immediate need for it, it will be stored as fat.


Carbs that come from refined and processed foods raise your blood sugar faster. That is not so good because it leads to fat deposit and other unwanted stuff like insulin resistance. 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.


It's totally ok to have some of these types of carbs in your diet, just not every day. This is where understanding food labels comes in handy because sometimes we think a food is healthy but in reality it may not be so.


As a rule of thumb when reading food labels, the less ingredients you see the better, and if you see ingredients that you can't even pronounce or don't know what they are, try to avoid that food.


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 liquid form. Beverages don't really make us feel satiated so we tend to keep drinking them.

Once again, understanding the origin and quality of beverages will help you make appropriate food decisions and better manage your caloric intake.



Different carbohydrate sources, learn these to make healthy eating habits
Different carbohydrate sources

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.


They are also used up for energy, especially during longer form of exercises which also makes them an integral part of our exercise nutrition.

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 - These are fats that are industrially processed and not great for us. They tend to do more harm than good in our bodies.


Just like carbs, it all comes down to your goals and personal preferences for making healthy lifestyle choices that make sense for you.


Healthy fats list


The following is non exhaustive list of healthy fats you can include in your diet.


  • Olive oil - great for salad dressings

  • Avocados - delicious by itself, toast or salads

  • Any raw nuts - my go to snack when snowboarding or hiking

  • Any raw nuts - hemp, chia, sunflower, pumpkin the list goes on

  • Sardines

  • Salmon

  • Mackerel

  • Butter - Knowing it's source and reading the food labels is important for this one. Is it mass produced from industrial elements, or does it come from animals that are grass fed?

  • Yogurt

  • Eggs


As a rule of thumb, be more careful with fats that come from animal products. The way the animal was raised is important and adds a level of research for you.


Benefits of healthy fats
Benefits of healthy 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 fats 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.


The tricky part about alcohol is our tendency to over consume it. As long as I stay on top of my consumption, I find that I can keep enjoying it guilt free.

Macro nutrient recap


What I hope you’re getting from this is that there is no best way to eat. Macro nutrient balance is very suggestive. You don't need to go on a high protein diet or a low carb diet to be happy.


It depends on so many factors that are unique to you. Understanding nutrition labels and dietary components of the foods we eat is a great place to start.

Now lets take a look at calories, what they are and how they impact our diets


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 use 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.


What is the caloric balance?


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.


Caloric intake management is crucial to take control of your diet. You'll be able to enjoy all the foods you enjoy and still reach your body composition goals.


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 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 are 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.


Should you track calories?


Calorie tracking, or counting, is an important skill to have if you really want to make better food decisions.


I highly recommend counting calories for a month if you've never done it. Yes it is tedious, yes it takes time, but you will learn so much from it. And the nice thing is that once you've done it for a while, you don't have to keep doing it for the rest of your life.


Tracking daily calories for a while will help you make better portion control and understand which foods to prioritize to reach your goals. It will also help you enjoy your cheat foods more responsibly.


Calorie counting tips


Focus on tracking what really impacts you caloric balance first: fats, alcohol and carbs. Once you have that down, track calories that come from protein.


I personally do a caloric audit every six months for two weeks. This helps me stay on track and serves as a good reminder when if I've developed guilty habits.


What I mean by that is that we are naturally inclined to eat more of what we love. For example, I know that a healhty peanut butter portion is one table spoon. Somehow, every time I do a calorie audit, I find myself using two or three table spoons...


And look it's normal. We are not machines, we will gravitate towards yummy, delicious foods. That's why I find calorie counting from time to time very helpful.

Conclusion


Optimal nutrition is very personalized and will vary throughout your life according to goals and needs.


There is no best way to eat, only a best understanding of the things we eat.


Take the time to learn how to read food labels, count your calories until you know how many calories are in an apple and a bag of chips. This will give you the knowledge you need to select the best balanced diet components for your immediate situation.


I am always available if you have questions about this, you can contact me on instagram @clem_fitness_ anytime you want!


Bon appetit!


Clem


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 counselling.

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