One concept many people overlook is that a good weight and optimal nutritional health do not always go hand in hand. A person that is overweight, but eats from a variety of food groups is less likely to exhibit signs and symptoms of malnutrition than a normal weighted individual who thrives off of potato chips. Why is this? The key is that the overweight person is getting a better ratio of macronutrients within their diet, which are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Each of these macronutrients is essential to the body in their own way and it is important to obtain adequate amounts of each. Many people assume that to get the dream body they have always wanted, that counting calories is the best way to go, however this often leaves people mentally stressed out with the physical results that they want not happening. The best way to obtain a good weight, build muscle, and have good nutritional status is to understand the benefits to tracking macros and to utilize this strategy within your diet plan. From both research standpoints and personal experience, this article will demonstrate how and why this is. 

You are less prone to nutrient deficiencies and their effects.

Emily Conner

It is very easy when you are simply focused on counting calories, to overlook the nutritional content of the foods you are consuming. Yes, they make 100-Calorie pack Oreos and they taste pretty good, but instead of the calories coming from complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and mono- and polyunsaturated fats, the majority is coming from sugar and sodium that contain little nutritional value. Eating foods like that may help you meet your calorie requirements for the day, but you are prone to lack in one or more of the essential macronutrients your body needs to properly function. It is demonstrated that macronutrient balance is essential to prevent chronic disease risk, as well as ensure micronutrients are being adequately consumed. One of the benefits to tracking macros is that you are obtaining a vast variety and proper amount of the micronutrients, which are vitamins and minerals, necessary for your body to function. These micronutrients are more heavily concentrated in some macronutrients than others.

A lack of certain vitamins and minerals can produce a variety of health issues, such as increased infection risk, weakness, fatigue, hair loss, dry skin, and depression. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 45-65% of calories should derive from carbohydrates, 20-35% from fat, and 10-35% from protein for those above the age of 19 years old. Counting macros allows you to make sure you are meeting these standards in order to avoid malnutrition signs and symptoms. One thing to note for those cutting calories through dieting, while counting macros will still help to avoid nutrient deficiencies, a dietary supplement is recommended to consume to ensure proper nutrient intake. 

You have capability to influence your metabolism.

ice, coffee, flour, chocolate
Malia Budd

Not only do the three major macronutrients have influence on your weight through calorie intake, but they also each have a unique influence on how you burn calories as well. Your metabolic rate is the speed at which your body breaks down food to convert it into useable energy and each macronutrient has it's own, individualized process of metabolizing. Protein has the highest influence upon raising basal metabolic rate by approximately 15-30%, carbohydrates following at about 5-10%, and finally fat with 0-3%. This is because protein's digestion, absorption, transport, metabolism, and storage are more complex than the other two macros.

Another one of the benefits to tracking macros is that you are able to have direct control upon your metabolic rate by manipulating the percentages of the macronutrients you are consuming. For example, a 30% protein, 50% carbohydrate, and 20% fat daily diet would likely raise metabolic rate higher than if one were to eat a 15% protein, 50% carbohydrate, and 35% fat diet. While although these macronutrient percentages are within the recommended range values, and both meet the same caloric requirements, their influence on metabolism would be estimated to drastically differ. Simply counting calories only allows you to control your energy intake from food, but not both intake and output like tracking macros would allow you to do. 

You are able to build muscle more efficiently.

coffee, beer, tea, espresso, Weights, gym, Lifting, Health
Carolyne Su

Everyone with an Instagram has come across the fitness fanatics who have six-pack abs and make you feel like going to the gym once in awhile might not be such a bad idea. Want to know their secret? More than likely, along with their 300 pound deadlifts and 10 mile runs, they probably track their macronutrients. So yet another one of the benefits to tracking macros is that if you do, your chances of becoming one of these people increases because you can build and maintain muscle better.

Carbohydrates, protein, and fat each influence muscle building and preservation differently. To build muscle, the body must be in a state of positive energy balance, which means the amount of calorie intake must be higher than what is burned. Carbohydrates are mostly responsible for producing the energy needed for muscle building exercises by releasing their body storage form of glycogen. Protein is responsible for creating and preserving muscle by containing amino acids that convert into muscle tissue. Fat plays a role in producing hormones, such as testosterone, to help build muscle mass. It is important, therefore, to maintain a proper ratio of these macronutrients in the body for optimal muscle building and maintenance, that only tracking macros can ensure. It is suggested that to gain muscle mass a carbohydrate consumption 55-60%, a protein range of 25-30%, and a fat range of 15-20% based upon total calorie intake should be used.

You have improved control over your appetite. 

pizza, pepperoni, dough, crust, sauce, mozzarella, cheese
Emily Waples

Finally, one of life's major challenges we have all faced a time or two is seeing a pizza out in the open and resisting the urge to take a piece or the whole entire box. The last of the benefits to tracking macros this article will discuss is that it can actually help you control appetite, so you might be able to pass on the pizza.  Especially when only monitoring calories while dieting, hunger is one of the major factors that leads to the irritability and cheating often seen.

There have been several methods linked to how each macronutrient plays a role in appetite via metabolic, neural, and endocrine pathways. One mechanism is through the suppression of the hormone Ghrelin. Ghrelin is a gut hormone that's role is to initiate feelings of hunger and is increased before meals and suppressed following food intake. Carbohydrates have been shown to be the most effective macro to suppress Ghrelin, due to insulin secretion and fast absorption. Protein, however, has been demonstrated to suppress Ghrelin for the longest duration, so one does not feel hunger for longer time periods. Fat exhibits a weak and limited ability to suppress Ghrelin. By manipulating and monitoring macronutrient intakes, you are therefore able to control this hormone's stimulation and have increased appetite control. 

From a personal standpoint, I have utilized both simple calorie counting and macro tracking within my lifestyle. I underwent a 40 pound weight loss, losing weight at first with only calorie counting and then switched to macro tracking. When I used simple calorie counting, weight fell off as it was supposed to, however after a period of time I felt both physically and mentally exhausted. I experienced nutrient deficiency symptoms, such as hair loss, fatigue, and was at the doctor's office regularly with infections. I also could not build muscle very well, felt weak with exercise, and was irritated by hunger the majority of my days. When I began to analyze my nutrition further, I saw that what I was putting into my body was the reason why I felt bad the majority of the time. I switched to macro counting along with including a dietary supplement, and was able to effectively control calorie intake, as well as improve my nutritional health. My deficiency symptoms were relieved, I gained better muscle definition, and I overall felt happier with life in general.  I still continue to track macros to this day and advocate that this is a much healthier and useful strategy to obtain a body composition you desire, whether that is to lose, regulate, or gain weight, and/or to build muscle.