Any personal trainer or dietician will tell you that you need to be in a calorie deficit state to lose weight. Just consume fewer calories than your body needs and…Voila! Dieting success!
It sounds so simple. And with technology permeating just about every nook and cranny of our lives, and seemingly every living soul on the planet trying to lose weight, calorie tracking apps are making it increasingly easier to monitor the calories in our diets while living a busy lifestyle.
There’s no refuting the science. Eating fewer calories than our bodies need will cause our systems to turn to alternative sources like stored fat for fuel, but nutrition and the food we put in our bodies is equally if not more important than focusing solely on the number of calories that we’re consuming.
How Many Calories Do I Need?
Our bodies require a certain number of calories to function. There are contributing factors like our weight and height, but if we’re able to consume a certain number of calories and no more, then our bodies will maintain the same levels of muscle and fat. This is something that dieticians and personal trainers refer to this as our maintenance caloric intake. Research shows that an adult male will typically require anywhere from 2,200 and 3,000 calories each day while women fall in the 1,600 and 2,200 calorie range.
However, some fitness professionals contend that there’s surprisingly little proof that counting calories alone will consistently result in weight loss and allow us to maintain proper levels of nutrition. In the conversations we’ve had with dieticians and other personal trainers, we’ve learned that tracking calories works best once we first understand modern nutrition and the important role of macronutrients in our diet.
Our bodies are fueled primarily by three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. These are often referred to as macros because our bodies need them in large amounts to survive. Ultimately, it’s these three macros that make up the bulk of our diets.
If weight loss and optimal nutrition are your goals, then how you balance these macronutrients in your diet can make all the difference. To learn more, we visited the bustling fitness scene in Canary Wharf (London) to talk with personal trainers and natural food shop owners to learn what we could about the importance of consuming macronutrients in the right proportions and how people can strike the proper balance between tracking calories and getting the proper levels of nutrition.
Here’s what we found.
Protein is Key
Of the three macronutrients that are essential for dieting success, personal trainers and registered dieticians have told us that protein is most decidedly the difference maker. Surprisingly, protein is also the one macro that society seems to be consuming the least of. That’s unfortunate because it’s one of the three macronutrients in our diets that can be very effective in helping us lose weight while also maintaining the proper levels of nutrition.
When we include more protein-rich foods in our diets, our bodies break these foods down into amino acids, which are the building blocks of lean muscle mass. That lean muscle mass plays a role in how many calories our bodies burn throughout the day, even while we’re at rest. The more muscle tissue in our bodies, the higher our daily caloric burn rate. But the benefits of protein don’t stop there. Protein plays a beneficial role in the functionality of our brain and nervous system, even in our skin and hair.
Not only does protein help us to build and maintain lean muscle, protein-rich foods also take more energy (calories) to digest. This is referred to as the thermic effect of food: it’s the amount of energy that your body needs to digest certain foods so that it can be converted into fuel. If we include more foods in our diets that have a higher thermic effect, it will require that our bodies burn more calories to properly convert those foods into usable calories.
And protein is the macronutrient with the highest thermic effect.
Focus on lean forms of protein like poultry, fish, and eggs. Dairy sources of protein include milk and yogurt, but there are also plant-based proteins such as vegetables and nuts.
A (Re)Introduction to Carbohydrates
If there’s one macronutrient surrounded by controversy, it’s carbohydrate (carbs.) Demonized since the late nineties as the archenemy of every weight loss strategy, there is still the mindset around the world that carbs are simply to be avoided.
Not exactly. Despite what you might have seen on social media, the truth is that carbohydrates have a rightful place in a healthy and balanced diet…so long as you’re choosing the right kind. First, let’s look at the role of carbs in our physiology.
Our bodies are wired to break carbs down into sugar (glucose) which is a form of fuel for the body that either provides immediate energy or gets stored for later use – the latter of which is what you want to avoid.
But not all carbs are created equal. Ultra-processed carbs like potato chips, soda, and doughnuts are to be consumed in moderation. These foods make few nutritional contributions and can negatively impact your health if consumed in excess. You should be targeting complex carbs such as whole-grain bread, cereal, and pasta as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. These foods take longer for your bodies to digest, and they provide a favorable form of fuel for our bodies.
Don’t Avoid Fats
One of the trainers we talked to in Canary Wharf told us that fat is the one macronutrient that dieters continue to avoid en masse. While there’s no doubt that fat has gotten a bad rap, the truth is that dietary fat is crucial for our bodies to function at optimal levels. For example, dietary fat serves as an important source of energy for our bodies. However, what most people aren’t aware of is how vitally important dietary fat is to our nutrition because of the role it plays in maximizing vitamin absorption levels and the contributions that it makes towards proper cell functionality.
The best dietary fats can be found in almonds, peanuts, cashews and pecans. Soy-based products like soymilk and tofu are also excellent sources.
If you’re going to adopt a calorie tracking strategy to lose weight, make sure you’re balancing your macronutrients to optimize your nutritional levels. Based on our research, 45 to 65% of your daily calories should come from the right kind of carbohydrates, 20 to 35% from fats and 10 to 35% from protein-rich foods. Don’t look at calorie tracking in terms of absolutes. Your focus should be on eating the right foods.
When it comes to dieting successfully, personal trainers tell us that how much we eat matters far more than the amounts of carbs, fat, and protein in our food. Ultimately, if weight loss is your goal, your attempts to create a calorie deficient must be aligned with a simultaneous effort to properly balance the three macros in your diet. By doing this, your body will need to draw energy from alternative stores (body fat).
If you’re just getting started, a personal trainer or dietician can help. They’re experts in understanding our anatomy and physiology and have the expertise to expedite your weight loss success by helping you to avoid common pitfalls.