You’ve probably heard of carbs, fats, and proteins AKA macronutrients.
A basic understanding of macronutrients is necessary because it’ll help you make healthy, informed dietary decisions that support your fitness goals, be it leaning out, building muscle, or living a longer, healthier life.
No single macronutrient is responsible for obesity. Fortunately, there’s no need to ever eliminate any one macronutrient entirely. In this post I’ll explain why and what to do instead.
Each macronutrient (macro for short) has a different primary function crucial for boosting performance, health, and leanness.
- Protein: Rebuilds muscle after a hard workout.
- Carbs: Body’s preferred energy source.
- Fats: Backup energy source. Not ideal.
Each macro can fulfill the functions of the other macros if there is a shortage of something. However, this is far from optimal. For example, if carbs and fats are scarce, protein can act as an energy source. That said, you’re not making it far in a marathon (or any sport/activity) eating like this because protein sucks as an energy source.
Most foods have some combination of each macro. However, the category a food is put into is determined by the macro it contains the most of. So even though cheese has some protein, it contains more fat. Therefore, cheese is considered a fat.
A calorie is a unit of energy your body stores as fat if that energy is not used.
Each macro has a certain amount of calories per gram of food. This is important because an excess of calories will cause weight gain regardless of macronutrients.
- Proteins: 4 calories per gram
- Carbs: 4 calories per gram
- Fats: 9 calories per gram
So if you eat 10 grams of fat, you’re eating more than TWICE as many calories than if you ate 10 grams of protein or carbs.
Because proteins and carbs (specifically fibrous fruits and veggies) are more filling per gram than fats, it’s easier to overconsume calories in fatty foods like cheese, bacon, butter, and anything deep fried.
This is why low-fat diets became so popular. Also, it makes linguistic sense that if you want to lose fat, you’ll cut out fats.
Unfortunately, most “low-fat” products replaced fats with sugar (empty carbs) to make them more palatable. Plus, people didn’t actually eat less fats during the low-fat craze! They ate more carbs in addition to the amount of fats they were already eating, resulting in a higher total caloric intake.
The increase in obesity during the low-fat craze is explained primarily by these two details. Out of this came the flawed analysis that carbs were the culprit behind obesity, hence the current low-carb trend. But I digress.
This doesn’t mean fats are all bad. They’re important for various bodily functions in addition to their role as backup energy. All it means is you should emphasize proteins and unprocessed carbs like broccoli, apples, and other plants.
Not all carbs are created equal. 100g of rice or broccoli is certainly more healthy and filling than 100g of Starburst. Your carbs ought to have lots of fiber in them because the fiber makes them more filling. High fiber carbs tend to come from whole, unprocessed foods like broccoli, apples, and other plants.
So proteins and unprocessed carbs are a nutritional triple whammy because they’re filling, nutrient dense, and calorically light.
By the way, I know you didn’t need me to tell you broccoli is healthier than candy ;)
To drop pounds and maintain lean, toned muscle without calorie counting, add more fiber and more protein to every meal. Eat slowly and pay attention to your fullness level.
Perfect this approach and you may not need any other strategy, depending on how you lean you want to get.
- 90% of your calories are coming from vegetables, fruits, and proteins,
- You stop eating when you’re “starting to feel a little full”
- You’ve done this consistently for a month, yet the scale doesn’t budge,
then calorie counting or more attention to portion control can be helpful because ultimately it does all boil down to calories.
But as you’ve now learned, calorie counts are based off of macronutrient ratios. So awareness around macros is an excellent start to building an intuition for healthy eating.