Do you want to reach your health and fitness goals but find it hard to balance calories and macros? You’re not alone.
Hitting calories but not macros is a common issue for many people, yet one that can be easily avoided once you understand why it happens.
Fortunately, as an experienced dietitian, I can help you accurately hit calorie and macro goals while avoiding pitfalls.
In this post, we will look at what causes hitting calories but not macros and discuss some tips on avoiding it to reach your health and fitness goals.
Hitting Calories But Not Macros
As a dietitian, I can explain that “hitting calories but not macros” means you are meeting your daily caloric intake target but not achieving the optimal balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats (macros) for your specific goals.
Overview of Calories and Macros
Let’s clear the fog of confusion–macros are short for macronutrients, which means that we need these nutrients in larger amounts compared to other nutrients (vitamins and minerals). Protein, fats, and carbohydrates all fall into this category.
Each gram of protein, carbohydrate, and fat provides a specific amount of calories.
- Protein provides you with 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrate provides you with 4 calories per gram
- Fats provide you with 9 calories per gram
These three macros will provide 99% of the calories (energy) that make up your diet. The remaining 1% of calories could possibly come from alcohol and sugar substitutes. These will not be a huge contributor to your daily calories.
What About Macros
Now that we understand that macros provide our body with calories let’s use an example of a meal that contains 30 grams of protein, 45 grams of carbohydrates, and 17 grams of fat.
Protein gives you 4 calories per gram, and you have 30 grams in this meal. Multiplying 30 grams by 4 calories gives you 120 calories.
Carbohydrate gives you 4 calories per gram, and you have 45 grams in this meal. Multiplying 45 grams by 4 calories gives you 180 calories.
Fat gives you 9 calories per gram, and you have 17 grams in this meal. Multiplying 17 grams by 9 calories gives you 153 calories.
Now add up the total calories provided by each macro.
- 120 + 180 + 153 = 453 calories.
You can take this one step further by identifying the total days of calories and which macro contributes how much to each. For example, you want to eat 120 grams of protein, 230 grams of carbohydrates, and 56 grams of fat. Using the same method described above, you will get the following:
- 120 grams of protein multiplied by 4 – 480 calories coming from protein
- 230 grams of carbohydrates multiplied by 4 – 920 calories coming from carbohydrate
- 56 grams of fat multiplied by 9 – 504 calories coming from fat
Giving you a grand total of 1904 calories.
What Causes Hitting Calories But Not Macros
Despite meeting their calorie goals, most people I see often fail to reach their macro objectives due to consuming too much fat.
It’s not uncommon to add extra dressing here and some cheese there, and before you know it, you’ve overshot your calorie goal. Since fat has nine calories per gram compared to four for protein and carbohydrates, hitting too much fat can throw off a person’s macro.
Another common issue I see in my clients make is eating overly processed food which typically has a high amount of carbohydrates and fat. Not to mention that these foods are designed to be very tasty and are easy to overeat.
I regularly observe individuals struggling to consume their necessary protein while still sticking to their caloric goals by consuming too much fat and carbohydrates.
How to Avoid Hitting Calories But Not Macros
There are a few tactics that I like to suggest to avoid simply hitting your calories but missing your macro goals.
Break down your macro targets into smaller, more manageable targets.
Getting a daily macro breakdown can feel overwhelming. I often hear the question, that is a lot of food, and how am I supposed to eat that much protein?
If you break down your macro intake into three meals with a few snacks, achieving these goals will be much simpler. Understanding the macros necessary to consume during each meal makes it easier to decide which foods should be included to accomplish this goal.
Tracking your macros is often referred to as flexible dieting because you have the choice of how you want to fulfill these nutrient requirements.
Keep an eye on your fat intake.
In general, try to limit your fat intake. Fat contains more than double the number of calories per gram in comparison with carbs and protein, meaning that excessive consumption could lead you to reach your calorie goal before hitting desired macros.
Benefits of Hitting Your Macros and Calories
Hitting your daily macro and calorie targets is essential for a well-balanced lifestyle, as it contributes to various health benefits associated with body composition and performance.
When you consistently maintain your calorie intake within the boundaries set for your weight management goals, be it losing or gaining weight, you create a sustainable environment for your body to adapt and respond accordingly.
By incorporating the proper balance of nutrients, such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, you nourish your body with the vital nutrients required for optimal muscle growth and energy production.
You can achieve your weight goals healthily and sustainably with a proper balance of macros and calories. Additionally, hitting your macros and calories will help you feel better throughout the day.
Tips for Hitting Your Macros and Calories Accurately
If you’re looking for ways to hit your macros and stay within your caloric budget, here are a few tips that can help. However, it’s important to remember that although tracking macros and calories is useful, don’t stress if you’re not 100% exact all the time.
1. Track your meals and macros: Tracking your meals is key to hitting your macro and calorie goals. Use a food tracking app to log each meal and snack you eat throughout the day to monitor how much protein, carbs, and fat you consume.
2. Eat nutrient-dense food: Focusing on nutrient-dense foods will give your body the essential macros, calories, and micronutrients it needs while keeping you satiated throughout the day.
3. Plan ahead: Planning meals helps to avoid hitting calories but not macros, as you can already plan the protein, carbs, and fats for each meal.
4. Don’t forget about snacks: To reach your daily macro and caloric targets, snacks are essential. Make sure to incorporate protein-rich snacks throughout the day.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it better to hit your macros or calories?
Regarding what is better, I suggest hitting your macros because macros consider 3 nutrients. This will cause you to make better food choices.
Can I count calories and not macros?
You can count calories and not macros. Remember that these are simply tools to monitor your intake.
What happens if I don’t hit my protein macros for one day?
Nothing will happen if you do not hit your protein macro goal for one day. Be sure not make a habit out of missing your protein target but over the course of a single day or even a few nothing will happen if you don’t hit your protein goals.
Does it matter what you eat if it fits your macros?
Theoretically, no, it doesn’t matter. However, I would say that your food choice will play a major role in the over-nutrient profile you are getting each day. Drinking only protein shakes and peanut butter with candy will fill your macros but leave you at risk for other nutrient deficiencies.
Final Thoughts on Hitting Calorie and Macro Goals
Counting macros or calories are both just tools in a toolbox. It’s important to remember that hitting your macro and calorie goals should not override your food quality.
Achieving a well-balanced diet with sufficient vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients is key to hitting your health and fitness goals.
With proper tracking of both macros and calories, along with nutrient-dense foods, hitting your calorie and macro goals can be achieved successfully.
Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.
Noah Quezada is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist located in Denver, Colorado. Over the course of more than a decade, he has gained extensive experience in helping clients manage their weight through in-person sessions. Noah is also the 2023 President of the Colorado Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.