There is a lot of money in sports. In recent years, the collegiate, high school, and even youth levels have financially exploded, not just at the professional ranks. And with more money comes greater competition. Greater competition leads to coaches, athletes, and parents of athletes looking for an edge to win. Along with advances in social media, athletes now have more access to information that can be absorbed in a lifetime. And it’s all sitting in their pockets.
For athletes, the topic of nutrition has always been important. Again, with recent tech advances, much information has become widely available. And a lot of it contradicts itself. Both the vegan and carnivore diets have surged in popularity in the past five years. There are thriving vegan athletes and thriving carnivore athletes. There are fruitarians and no-carb athletes. There’s a nutrition protocol for every goal and every sport. Bulking, cutting, building muscle, losing just fat, hormone balance, it’s all out there, and there are ten claimed ways to do it. Nutrition is infinitely complex, with many potential strategies. Part of the difficulties of nutrition is that different people respond to certain foods differently, too. Genetics, allergies, hormones, and metabolic health all play roles in how the body interacts with the foods and liquids we put into our bodies.
Few things are universally agreed upon in the world of nutrition. However, two of those are that the quantity of calories is important, and macro breakdowns matter too. Vegan or not, calories, and the type of calories, matter.
What Are Macros?
Calories are technically a measurement of energy. The more calories you eat, the more energy available. If you don’t use that energy, the body can store it or let it waste through the system, but not all calories are the same. There are three sources of calories: protein, fat, and carbs. Those are the macronutrients. Protein, fat, and carbs are our only sources of calories. Without them, we have no energy to operate on.
In our culture’s never-ending attempt to lose weight, certain dietary trends have pushed to reduce or eliminate some of these macros altogether. In the ’90s, there was a big push for low-fat diets. Fat makes you fat, right? Well, it turns out low-fat products taste terrible. So companies added sugar to sweeten things up. And it worked! Low-fat, great-tasting products were abundant. But unfortunately, as you probably know, people still got fatter and unhealthier.
Well, it turns out that fat doesn’t make you fat. As research has come out, we know that fats are very healthy for you. It’s good for the brain and the nervous system. Carbs are now the enemy. I won’t get into the science, but lower-carb diets seem to be effective at losing weight. Carbs are essential for athletes, yet some still are experimenting with little to no carbs. The science of low-carb dieting is still young, but that’s the current trend. I won’t get too into that.
What About Protein?
The third macronutrient, protein, might be the most interesting. It’s the source of calories we consume the least, yet it’s regarded as the most important. You’ll never see a low-protein diet. Without protein, we would perish relatively quickly. We can live on little to no fat, and we can certainly live without carbs. Protein has always been the steady one that we can’t live without.
How Many Calories?
Each macronutrient holds a certain number of calories. Each gram contains:
Fat- 9 calories
Protein- 4 calories
Carbohydrates- 4 calories
It is easy to eat a lot of calories in a higher-fat diet because it involves less food. One gram of fat contains more than a gram of protein and carbohydrate combined. Diets higher in protein and carbs will require larger quantities of food.
Calories or Macros?
All this information sets the tone of the great debate on calorie or macro counting. Serious athletes should be serious about their nutrition. Nutrition heavily influences bodyweight, strength, muscle size, and energy levels. Every athlete should have a goal in mind that nutrition should be influencing. Do you need to gain or lose weight? Maintain weight, but add muscle and drop body fat? I can’t answer those questions for you, but hopefully, you have an idea. Your nutrient intake is the key to achieving those goals.
The number of calories you consume will be the most influencing factor on bodyweight. If you need to gain or lose weight to improve athletic performance, you should be counting calories. Being in a caloric surplus or deficit is what gets you to your weight loss or gain goals.
If you don’t necessarily need to change your body weight, but perhaps you need to change your composition, macros start to become more important. How much protein vs. carbs vs. fat will have a greater influence on muscular size and fat mass.
Which is More Important?
Which is more important? It depends on your goals. A wrestler who needs to make weight will be religious about the number of calories consumed. Counting macros is important, but not as much when fighting to lose or gain weight.
However, a sprint athlete such as a track, soccer, or basketball player may not want to add or lose body weight. However, losing fat and gaining muscle may be a goal. For that, counting calories is still important, but if insufficient protein is consumed, the athlete will have a hard time leaning down and building muscle. Macros become much more important to these people.
Which is more important? Both are. It’s like asking if offense or defense is more important. Every athlete has strengths and weaknesses. The goal is always to turn weaknesses into strengths. Nutrition is the same. Need to get bigger? Track your calories, and add more of them. Looking to transform your body but maintain your current weight? Start keeping track of macros and see if there are weaknesses or inconsistencies there.
All people should be aware of roughly how many calories they consume in all situations. They should also be mindful of their rough macronutrient breakdown and see if it fits their goals. It doesn’t need to be meticulously tracked, but tracked nonetheless. It’s part of a healthy lifestyle that will benefit you no matter the goal.
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