Why is counting macronutrients more important than calories?

July 9, 2016

Q: What are your thoughts on counting calories? Do you think it’s more important to track how many calories you eat a day or is it better to use macronutrients as a gauge to determine a healthy diet? 

A: Most people’s idea of good nutrition is measuring how many calories a meal contains, but they never stop to think what these foods are made of and the effect they have on the human body. Don’t get me wrong, calories are important, and if you eat too many you will certainly gain weight. But it’s also important to understand that all calories are not created equal, and those found in a bowl of ice cream are not the same as in a lean chicken breast. That’s why it makes more sense to break foods down into three main types of macronutrients. 

What are macronutrients?

Macronutrients are the foods that we eat in large quantities that are essential for the body to function correctly. The three types of macronutrients people need to be aware of are protein, carbohydrates and essential fats.  All three of these nutrients play an important role in how your body performs and how it will react to a good exercise program.


Protein is responsible for building, repairing and growing lean tissue, and it is extremely important for anyone who works out and spends time in the gym because without proper amounts you will never achieve a lean and healthy body. Protein is also essential for hormone regulation, a healthy immune system and can even be used as energy in extreme cases when other sources are low. Proteins can be found in lean meats, fish, seafood, eggs and in whey and casein protein drinks and powders. They can also be found in certain plants.


Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel and energy, and without them you will not be able to move, work out or even think clearly. Carbohydrates are also essential for the kidneys, nervous system and heart to function, and they also help build muscle and fuel our bodies through tough workouts. The problem is picking good sources and staying away from processed carbs. Sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal and grains can be great choices depending on personal preference and taste, but the more natural the better, and staying away from white bread and sugar is a huge step in the right direction. 


Fat has developed a bad reputation over the years, but fear no more because this important macronutrient is responsible for healthy skin, hair, digestive system, metabolism and can also be used as fuel for energy. Fat also helps people lose weight, and it is essential to a healthy diet as long as it comes from the right sources. Foods like fish, nuts, avocado and olive oil are great ways to get good fat in your diet, but you can also supplement with flaxseed, fish or coconut oil to make sure you are getting your recommended dose. Caution: be aware of man-made fats contained in processed foods, and replace them with the healthy fats listed above. 

Knowing how many calories foods contain is still a good way to track and measure the amount of food you put into your mouth, but understanding the three main types of macronutrients the body needs to function properly and get results from your workouts can be a game changer when it comes to staying healthy and getting in shape. Be sure to track the amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat you put into your body for best results. 

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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