Skip to content

Should You Count Calories or Macros?

Kim: [00:00:00] Welcome to episode 72 of the Fitness Simplified podcast. I’m your host, Kim Schlag. On today’s episode I’m going to be answering questions that I received on my DMs, starting with this one, “should I count calories or should I count macros? Which is better for weight loss?” Let’s go.
[00:00:26] So on today’s episode, I am tackling a few questions you asked me on my Instagram DMs. We’ll hit a variety of nutrition and training subjects starting with this guy: 
[00:00:37] “Is it better to count calories or macros for weight loss?” 
[00:00:42] Great question. Now to answer this question, it is important to understand what macros are and how they relate to calories.
[00:00:51] So, the word “macros” is short for “macronutrients.” They are the nutrients we need in relatively large quantities in our diets, as opposed to vitamins and minerals, which we need in relatively smaller amounts. 
[00:01:05] Now there are three macros: carbohydrates, commonly called carbs, fats, and protein.
[00:01:12] Each of these three provides us with energy, otherwise known as calories. Now carbs and protein each have four calories per gram and fat has nine calories per gram. When a person counts macros, they count the total number of grams of each of the three macros they eat that day. 
[00:01:34] So, for example, maybe one day a person has 130 grams of protein, 140 grams of carbs, and 55 grams of fat.
[00:01:44] Now, based on what I just told you about the energy value of the macronutrients, it is easy to see that this person had 520 calories of protein, 560 calories of carbs, and 495 calories of fat for a total of 1,575 calories. 
[00:02:05] As to the question of which is better, counting the calories or counting the macros, my personal preference is counting calories and protein instead of counting the macros. And there are two reasons why. 
[00:02:20] 1) research indicates that for weight loss, as long as total calories and sufficient protein are accounted for, both higher carb, lower fat; and lower carb, higher fat diets work equally as well.
[00:02:38] The determining factor is going to be adherence. So, whichever you are more likely to stick to is better for you, but both work equally as well. 
[00:02:50] The second reason is: less math. 
[00:02:54] Since the ratio of carbs to fat isn’t what drives fat loss, why count them? If you’ve ever counted macros before, you know it can be a little bit like a game of Tetris trying to hit all three numbers.
[00:03:07] I found it very stressful. 
[00:03:11] And again, since that’s not even the determining factor in weight loss success, why mess with those numbers? Right? So if you can lose weight equally as well with whichever ratio of fat to carbs, why be messing around, trying to hit them exactly? Count just two numbers instead, total protein and total calories; instead of all three, carbs, fats, and protein. 
[00:03:35] And that is why, in my estimation, counting calories and protein is the better option for weight loss than counting macros. It does not make counting macros wrong, I just don’t see the need for the extra math and the extra layer of difficulty. 
[00:03:54] Now, moving on. Question number two: how do you coach someone who gets bored working out?
[00:04:03] Interesting question. It would depend on the person. 
[00:04:06] Now, if you don’t find working out interesting, I’d suggest a couple of things. The first thing would be, get clear on your goal. Why are you working out? General health? Weight loss? Sports performance? Some combination of these? That would be the first thing I would suggest you do. Figure out, “why am I even doing this?” 
[00:04:28] The second thing I would suggest you do is understand “minimum effective dose.” You do not have to train every day. In fact, you should not be training every day. 
[00:04:40] So, let’s talk minimum effective dose specifically for weight loss. Technically speaking, you can lose weight without exercise at all. You likely won’t like the look you achieve. If you’re interested in optimal body composition — i.e. you want to look fit — you will need to not only lose fat, you’ll need to build muscle. And this requires strength training.
[00:05:06] Ideally you’ll train each of your major muscles for a total of 9 to 20 sets per week. You can break that up over the course of the week in many different ways. It is very difficult to hit each muscle group with enough intensity to be effective for the required number of sets if you train them only one time per week. So training each muscle group two times per week is a practical, effective option.
[00:05:33] Here are two good training splits to do that: 
[00:05:37] The first would be a three-day split: lower body, upper body, full body. 
[00:05:45] The second would be a four-day split: lower body, upper body, lower body, upper body. 
[00:05:52] Now, if you are a person who does not enjoy training, a three-day split would likely be the best fit because that gives you four days where you don’t have to train.
[00:06:02] Okay, so that’s the second factor I’d have you consider. The next factor I’d have you consider is: try to make it as pleasant as possible. What can you do to make this pleasant? Can you train with a friend? Can you train with a trainer you enjoy? Can you buy fabulous workout clothes that make you feel really great about yourself when you put them on? Can you make a power playlist to get you psyched up? 
[00:06:24] Oh my gosh, I have so many songs that I get super excited to hear in the gym. 
[00:06:28] Then focus on what you do like that can make the training experience so much more pleasurable. Do you like how it feels when you get sweaty? Do you like the way your arms look when you do a bicep curl? Do you like how strong you feel doing lat pulldowns? Notice these things and focus on them.
[00:06:46] Additionally, and I talk about this a lot because it works so darn well, pick a motivating performance goal. It can b
e whatever seems most interesting to you. 

[00:06:57] I have clients right now focusing on learning how to front squat, working towards their first chin-up, working towards their first pistol squat, working towards getting five pushups, working on their first pushup, working out a bodyweight deadlift, and on and on and on.
[00:07:14] These things keep training spicy and give it focus. So pick something and then once you accomplish it pick another thing. You may have watched me last spring, I started working on my first pistol squat. I spent a good six weeks working on that. Now I’ve been working — I’m on week five, I believe it is, maybe week six — of working on a one-arm pushup.
[00:07:34] This one’s going to take me a lot longer than six weeks. This is a hard endeavor. I’m really excited about getting into the gym. And look, I am a person who likes training, it’s not like I’m the person who wrote this and it’s like, “I get bored working out.” Not that I don’t ever get bored working out, mostly I don’t and this is one of the things I do to keep it interesting. I pick new goals. 
[00:07:54] Okay, the next thing I would say, number four: remind yourself of the why. 
[00:08:00] I’m right back at the beginning, the first thing I said is, “why are you even doing this?” So look, I do lots of stuff every single day that’s boring. Lots. And I’m going to guess that you do too, right?
[00:08:11] It’s just part of adulting. For me, figuring out the tech side of my business stinks, sifting through hundreds of emails is not thrilling. You know, the ones from my clients updating me on their progress, those rock. But Dave, from Random Fitness Product Company who thinks I’m a perfect fit for his supplement, that stuff bores me to tears, but I still do that stuff.
[00:08:32] You totally do it too. Right? Laundry is boring, but you do it because you value clean clothes. Taking your car for an oil change is boring, but you do it because you value a functioning car. For those of us who love training, training for training’s sake is fine by us. We love it. But if you don’t intrinsically love it, that is okay. You can focus on the outcome you will receive by doing it. 
[00:08:59] You value a strong, healthy body. You value how you look in your genes. You value being able to get up from the ground with ease when you’re gardening. Focus on that “why.” 
[00:09:09] Okay, and then the last piece of advice I have around what I would say to somebody who finds training, boring: build the habit. 
[00:09:18] Just build the habit ’til it is something you just do. Like brushing your teeth. That is not something that’s super interesting now, is it? Do you get all excited to brush your teeth? Nobody does, right? But you’ve built that habit. 
[00:09:31] Same with training. Practice just getting it in week after week, month after month, place it in your schedule wherever you have the least amount of friction. Whether that’s first thing in the morning or right after the kids start school or right after work, remove as many barriers as possible and engrain that habit.
[00:09:50] Don’t think of it as something that has to be, “ugh, this is too boring. I need something more exciting.” Think of it as something you do over and over, just because you value the outcome and build that habit. 
[00:10:05] All right, moving on to one last question: “how should you lift when one arm is stronger? Do you add reps to the non-dominant arm to create balance?”
[00:10:18] Another really great question. This is something a lot of people worry about and it’s something I’ve actually changed my position on as I’ve gotten more experienced as a coach. 
[00:10:28] When I first started as a coach, I absolutely had clients do extra reps on one arm or one leg if there was a discrepancy in their strength, in their symmetry.
[00:10:39] What I’ve learned with experience is that symmetry is a mirage. No one’s body, no one’s strength is perfectly symmetrical. I don’t know a single person who every part of their body is equally as strong as the other side. There’s no reason to panic about that. Continue to train both arms using the weight that your less strong arm can lift for the given number of reps. Both arms will get stronger. 
[00:11:07] All right, that is it for me today. If you have a question you’d like to have answered, DM them to me on Instagram or email me at kim@kimschlagfitness.com. 
[00:11:18] If you would like to come on the podcast and have me coach you through a struggle you’re having with your nutrition, with weight loss, with your fitness, shoot me a message in either of those places and we will set that up. I haven’t done an episode like that in a bit, and I would like to, as they’re extremely valuable, not only to the person who comes on, but to everybody listening. 
[00:11:38] Thank you so much for being here today. I appreciate you ever so much.
[00:11:42] Same time next week. Talk to you then.
[00:11:47] Thanks so much for being here and listening in to the Fitness Simplified podcast today. I hope you found it educational, motivational, inspirational, all the kinds of -ational. 
[00:12:00] If you enjoyed it, if you found value in it, it would mean so much to me if you would go ahead and leave a rating and review on whatever platform you are listening to this on. It really does help to get this podcast to other people.
[00:12:14] Thanks so much.