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Macronutrients and Calories

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Bodybuilding and Fitness Newsletter 9/9/2020

How Do Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats Compare in Terms of Calories?

Macronutrients and Calories

When it comes to gaining or losing weight, calories are arguably the most important part of the equation. And, while different foods provide different levels and types of trace nutrients, virtually all of their calories come from three sources: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

If you want to truly understand the caloric content of foods, and how they might affect your body, then you need to get a handle on the basics of each of these macro nutrients.

To help with that endeavor, here is a rundown of the calories in proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.


Especially for lifters and other athletes with demanding training schedules, protein should form the core around which the rest of your diet is built. A good rule of thumb is to shoot for about one gram of complete protein per pound of body weight a day.

For a 150-pound man, that means he’ll be targeting around 150 grams of protein each day.

Each gram of protein, regardless of source or how complete it is, supplies around four calories, so our example lifter will be taking in about 600 calories each day in the form of meats, eggs, dairy, and other good protein sources.


Carbohydrates come in two basic varieties: simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates are all forms of sugar, and they enter your blood stream quickly.

Complex carbs, on the other hand, take a lot longer to digest and often contain dietary fiber, too. Regardless, they DO eventually make it into your blood stream as glucose.

Your primary focus most of the time should be on eating complex carbs, but either variety will supply you with about four calories per gram. Since carbs are the best, most direct source of glucose (blood sugar), which is the fuel of choice for your muscles, most lifters would do well to eat a diet fairly high in carbohydrates.

For our example lifter, if he’s going to eat 2000 calories a day and 600 are taken up by proteins, then he might want to shoot for 1000 calories from carbs. That works out to 250 grams a day, most of which should be of the complex variety.


Fats often get short shrift, but they’re vital to maintaining good health and keeping your recovery ability up to speed.

Not only do the right fats — like omega 3s and omega 6s — help with tissue repair and keeping your immune system in good working order, they also tend to be digested slowly. This can help you maintain a stable blood sugar profile throughout the day.

You have to be careful with fats, though, because they contain a whopping nine calories per gram — more than double the energy supplied by carbs and protein.

At this point, our example bodybuilder has 400 calories left to make his daily goal of 2000, and those should come from good fats like fish (or fish oil), flax seed, or nuts. To hit that total, he should aim for about 45 grams.

Putting It Together

Knowing the caloric content of the three macronutrients is important for a couple of reasons.

First, it can help you make food choices that fit in with whatever calorie ratio you’re targeting. This is especially important if you need to eat a very low percentage of any of the three nutrients for any reason.

Second, it can help you make intelligent food choices even when you don’t have complete nutritional information available. While you may not always know how many calories are in a specific offering, you can usually make a visual judgement call about the relative makeup in terms of fat, carbs, and protein.

And that can help you guess at overall calorie content and calorie ratios, which should keep your diet goals on track.

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