The fitness industry runs wild with bulls**t myths, guys.
And one of the most popular myths, the one I’m going to address today, is that we can strike an optimum macronutrient split which overrides the need to track calories.
Yes, muscle building magazines and self-proclaimed fitness gurus lead us to believe there exists a magical formula of protein, carbohydrates and fat which, when struck, will proceed to suck body fat out of our midsection and into a space/time continuum.
All you have to do is figure out that equation…
Well, they’re wrong.
When it comes to losing weight and building muscle, your macronutrient split means precisely d**k. Calories are king.
Allow me to explain. I’m not saying macros are useless. I’m saying they’re useless if, at the end of the day, you are still eating too many or too few calories.
Time To Kill The Macro Myth
There isn’t one shred of academic data to support the belief that overeating can produce weight loss.
It’s not my opinion, it’s the law of thermodynamics. (1)
The next time a gym bro advises you, “Hey man, don’t track your calories. You can eat however many calories you want as long as you track your macros!”, feel free to inform them, that the only reason they happen to be losing weight is because they are still in a calorie deficit even though they might not be keeping a track of it.
If someone maintains their body weight at 2500 calories, consuming 4000 will definitely lead to weight gain, regardless of how much is coming from protein, carbs or fat.
Not only is this false information to support the idea that calories don’t matter, but it also increases the likelihood of another common dieting issue; analysis paralysis.
If someone is coming from a phase of eating too much junk food and wants to clean up their diet, the worst thing they can do is over-complicate things.
Because suddenly, instead of just trying to eat less junk food, they’re worrying about individual ingredients.
Ever had so many jobs to do on your day off that you end up doing none of them at all? That’s analysis paralysis.
Macros Really Don’t Matter
When I have a client who’s trying to lose weight, the first thing we’ll do is look for ways to reduce their daily calorie intake.
It’s as simple as that.
Once they have this nailed down, we’ll begin optimizing those calories by ensuring enough of them are arriving from protein, to help them build as much lean muscle as possible. That’s around 1g per lb of body weight. (8)
Once they have that habit nailed down, they are free to experiment with foods, and it never gets any more complex than that!
Don’t jut take my word for it, though.
Studies clearly show that when total calories and total protein are under control, you can obtain the remainder of your calories from fat, carbs, or both, and achieve exactly the same weight loss. (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
So it makes sense to build your diet around foods you enjoy and shoot for long-term sustainability to unlock even more results.
The graph above shows the results of a 1992 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which compared the effects of several isocaloric diets which consisted of 15% protein followed by a mixture of 15-85% carbohydrates and 0-70% fat.
The researchers were attempting to see if they could manipulate weight loss despite keeping overall calories and protein the same.
So we had groups going low carb and high fat, moderate carb and moderate fat, and also high carb and low fat.
They found no difference in net weight loss and concluded that caloric restriction is the ultimate factor which determines weight loss results, not macronutrients. (2)
These results were further confirmed in a 2005 trial from researchers at the University of Minnesota, where it was discovered that as long as total protein and total calorie intake are controlled, there were no significant differences in weight loss results regardless of the make-up of other macronutrients. (6)
The net difference between the three approaches was less than 0.1kg!
Fifteen years after that original paper, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published another study which once again tested the theory that manipulating macronutrients could increase weight loss, comparing groups of participants following either a strict high carb low fat diet, or a ketogenic diet (very low carb, high fat).
Once again, there were no differences in weight loss results because total calorie intake was the same across both groups. (7)
The idea that we can eat in a calorie surplus and still lose weight is absurd, and goes dead against the laws of thermodynamics.
Watch out for any ‘gurus’ trying to sell you plans which are based on that.
As I wrote in this article for Women’s Health magazine, even if you optimize your macronutrients to support your training goal in the best way, the key to weight loss success is that you remain in a calorie deficit while doing so.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this breakdown of why calories are more important than macros when it comes to losing weight! Consider hopping on my free email list down below, so you get ongoing fitness tips from me, straight outta my gym!
- Howell, S., et al. “Calories in, calories out” and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. (2017)
- Leibel, R.L., et al. Energy intake required to maintain body weight is not affected by wide variation in diet composition . Am J Clin Nutr. (1992)
- Golay, A., et al. Similar weight loss with low- or high-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr. (1996)
- Golay, A., et al. Weight-loss with low or high carbohydrate diet. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. (1996)
- Luscombe-Marsh, N. D., et al. Carbohydrate-restricted diets high in either monounsaturated fat or protein are equally effective at promoting fat loss and improving blood lipids. Am J Clin Nutr. (2005)
- Raatz, S. K., et al. Reduced Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Diets Do Not Increase the Effects of Energy Restriction on Weight Loss and Insulin Sensitivity in Obese Men and Women. J Nut. (2005)
- Johnston, C. S., et al. Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr. (2006)
- Bandegan, A., et al. Indicator Amino Acid-Derived Estimate of Dietary Protein Requirement for Male Bodybuilders on a Nontraining Day Is Several-Fold Greater than the Current Recommended Dietary Allowance. J Nutr. (2017)