Cutting is a difficult process, especially when you have a significant amount of body fat that you are trying to lose. Therefore, it’s only natural that you’ll want to make it as easy as possible whilst still seeing progress week on week.
The absolute basics of a cut are to consume a calorie deficit and put yourself into an overall energy deficit (which will lead to fat loss) but one of the more difficult things to focus on during a cut is counting macros, or at least trying to follow specific macros.
While apps like Myfitnesspal can help make counting/tracking macros easier, you still need to find your ideal macro ratios and then make adjustments each week. This is not only time-consuming but difficult for most people not utilizing a nutritionist or personal trainer.
With this article then, I’m going to cover a burning question that most people have which is do macros matter when cutting?
Do Macros Really Matter for Weight Loss
In my opinion, cutting is very different from weight loss and this definitely has an influence on whether or not macros are necessary or really matter.
The reason is that when someone wants to lose weight, they focus on the scale weight and while the goal is of course to lose body fat, any weight dropped is seen as progress. With cutting, however, the focus is 100% on losing body fat.
This can be viewed as a controversial topic and while weight loss and fat loss can be viewed as two separate things from a dieting perspective, the bottom line is that you cut to lose body fat, get leaner, and look better. With that said, macros do not matter for weight loss, an energy deficit is the most important thing for weight loss.
I said it was controversial but the truth is weight loss or weight gain comes down to an energy balance equation. This equation looks like the following:
Energy expenditure > calories consumed = weight loss
Energy expenditure < calories consumed = weight gain
It’s a little more complex than this and I’ll cover it in more detail shortly but the overall summary is that in order to lose weight you need an overall energy deficit.
This can be achieved by consuming fewer calories than what is required to maintain your body weight (calorie deficit) or by expending extra energy (cardio, weight training) to ensure your energy demands create an energy deficit.
In either scenario, a deficit (calorie, energy, or both) is what leads to weight loss.
What are Macros
Overall calories consumed are the single most important factor when it comes to body composition (bulking, cutting, maintenance, or a body recomp).
People will often start a cut and because of the calorie counting popularity these days, end up getting overwhelmed when it comes to tracking macros as well.
Macros (short for macronutrients) are three of the main nutrients we derive from food. These macros influence and contribute to energy, muscle growth, fat storage, and a range of other factors when it comes to your physique. For cutting specifically though, people often place macros as greater importance than overall calorie consumption which then leads to difficulties with sticking to a diet.
For cutting, the main macro groups have the following importance:
Protein is the foundation and building block for muscle growth. Resistance training (and a high protein consumption) triggers muscle protein synthesis, a state of muscle growth and repair.
When trying to build lean muscle mass, a sufficient protein intake is needed to support tissue growth (through protein synthesis mentioned above). It’s therefore seen as essential when bulking but it’s arguably more important when cutting.
This is because you should still be weight training when cutting and an adequate protein intake is needed to maintain the muscle tissue that you build during a gaining phase.
It doesn’t matter what your individual goals are, when cutting, the aim is not just to lose a maximal amount of body fat but also to minimize any muscle loss. A steep calorie deficit will usually result in losing body fat but if your protein intake is not high enough, you’ll likely also lose muscle tissue in the process.
Carbohydrates fuel cardio and weightlifting sessions. They are stored as glycogen within the muscle and used to fuel muscular contraction. As you might be aware though, you can only store so much muscle glycogen….
Any excess carbs not utilized or stored as muscle glycogen will end up being processed differently by the body and stored as excess body fat. Everyone has different tolerances when it comes to carb intake and unfortunately, some people are more insulin resistant, meaning that carb consumption is less likely to be stored as muscle glycogen and more likely to be stored as body fat.
For this reason, low carb or carb cycling is favored by many when cutting and while this approach is effective, it’s important to note that the key reason why it’s effective is still due to an overall caloric deficit!
Fats are crucial for hormone regulation and energy production, yet have a bad reputation when it comes to weight loss and cutting. While fat intake is essential on a cut, it’s also the macro that needs to be monitored the most.
This is because each gram of fat is the equivalent of 9 calories (1g fat = 9 calories). For each 1g of protein and carbs, however, the conversion to calories is only 4kcal (1g protein/carb = 4 calories).
Therefore, if you choose a food with 10g fat it will equate to 90 calories whereas 10g of protein or carbs will only be 40 calories in comparison. This means you need to be careful with fat consumption when cutting as not all calories are created equally and you could quickly go over your daily calorie intake with certain food choices.
Do Macros Matter When Cutting
So, I’ve mentioned that calories are the most important thing when cutting because this is where you should be placing 80%-90% of your focus. I’ve also said that macros are of lesser importance when cutting (especially when people are counting macros but not losing weight) but now I’ll cover the specifics of why macros can matter when cutting and how they can speed up and enhance your fat loss results.
Firstly, your macro ratios (the proportion/percentage of calories you consume from each macronutrient group) can be optimized to influence your body composition. When it comes to cutting, some people will see better results following a low carb approach whereas others may see better results on a low fat split.
As mentioned earlier, overall calorie consumption is the most important thing for fat loss. It’s only after you’ve calculated your calorie intake that you should look to optimize macros based on your specific characteristics and requirements.
One good example to demonstrate this point is an overweight beginner compared with an intermediate level lifter. The beginners will have little muscle mass, proportionately higher body fat and will lift lighter weights with less intensity (though they will personally feel that workouts are difficult due to fitness levels).
The intermediate lifter will have more muscle mass and be able to lift heavier weights with more intensity. Their muscles will therefore require more fuel in terms of glycogen stores and they will also burn more calories at rest.
A beginner could follow a low-carb diet with incredible results yet the intermediate lifter could struggle following a similar approach. This is because carbs are needed (but not essential) to fuel muscular contractions and lifting heavier weights has a much greater demand for energy.
With these factors in mind, it can be beneficial to place a focus on macros when cutting. Something of particular importance is food selection which is directly related to macro ratios…
Are All Calories Created Equally
I’m sure you’ve seen if it fits your macros (IIFYM) and statements like “all calories are created equal” meaning 1g of carbs from rice is treated by the body no differently than 1g carbs from a chocolate bar. The body will still process the carbs the same way.
There is an element of truth to this but when cutting, all calories are certainly not created equal!
The reason for this is the macro ratios and nutrient density of the food sources you consume can greatly influence how easy it is to stick to your diet. Much like IIFYM, I’m sure you’ve also seen the comparisons on Instagram when a 500 calorie plate of salad looks enormous when compared with a 500 calorie coffee.
Some of these comparisons are used for the shock effect but when cutting, the underlying message they give is very relevant. Alongside getting a good balance of nutrients when cutting (more on this later), the biggest challenge many people have is staving off hunger.
When training hard and consuming a calorie deficit, your macro selection and food choices can be the difference between a comfortable day with minimal hunger pangs or
Should You Count Calories When Cutting
One reason why macros can matter when cutting is that they force you to count calories and keep track of your overall daily intake.
If you are going to count calories daily (which I 100% recommend), by using apps like Myfitnesspal it’s an effortless task to also count macros in the process. The reason you should count both when cutting is that it’s difficult to eat intuitively unless you are an experienced dieter who eats similar meals.
This occurs in more than one area of dieting as well. Skinny individuals struggling to gain muscle or size will always claim to be “eating a load of food” yet when you actually track their intake, it’s barely enough for maintenance. When cutting, the opposite is usually true.
People will grossly underestimate how many calories they actually consume and mistakenly over-consume on a daily and weekly basis. This approach sees people fail on a cut 8/10 times.
When counting calories, you can monitor your weight daily and not only get a clear picture of how many calories you need to consume to lose weight but it also allows you to make accurate adjustments each week. If you consume 2,500 calories in week 1 and don’t lose weight, you can reduce this to 2,400 calories the next week and monitor progress.
Macros are not as important when it comes to daily tracking but if you utilize technology, it becomes an effortless task and certainly worth tracking if you want the best results.
** This daily tracking is also useful to look back on through different dieting phases to see what you respond best to and it sets a personal blueprint for a minimal time commitment each day.
What Is the Best Macro Ratio for Cutting
After spending a section earlier saying that macros don’t really matter for weight loss, I won’t dispute that a macro split will enhance your progress or physique.
If for example you only consume your calories from protein (I’m being extreme for the purpose of illustrating my point), you’d do a good job of holding muscle mass but energy levels and performance in the gym will be non-existent!
Likewise, a diet too high in fat would see you struggle to consume filling meals and you’d be eating a significantly smaller volume of food throughout the day. This will in turn lead to increased hunger, cravings, and unnecessary difficulty when it comes to sticking to a calorie deficit.
Therefore, while calorie consumption is the most important factor for weight loss, a macro ratio split can be considered the most important factor for enhanced fat loss, muscle retention, and body overall body composition when cutting.
Choosing the correct macro ratio split can however be quite difficult. Everyone has different body types which makes it very difficult to recommend an “ideal macro split”. There are however some general guidelines that you can follow and then customize to suit your individual needs (or adapt weekly depending on how you respond).
Firstly, you can use a percentage based split which makes calculating much easier to do (though this method is based on estimates and will need tweaking over time depending on how you respond).
- Protein – 40%
- Fat – 35%
- Carbs – 25%
Following this split, you’ll maximize muscle retention through a high protein intake as well as having a more satiating meal as a result. As carbs are the most difficult thing to control and manipulate when cutting, these are the macros that are best kept with the lowest percentage as a proportion.
For those that want to be a bit more analytical, there’s a more conservative formula that you can follow to set your macros:
- Protein – 1g per 1lb of body weight
- Fat – 0.45g per 1lb of body weight
- Carbohydrates – Make up from remaining calories
Therefore, A 200lb person whose calorie requirements are 3,300 calories per day should have a starting macro split of:
- 200g protein (1g per 1lb of body weight)
- 90g fat (0.45g per 1lb of body weight)
- 423g carbs (remaining calories)
You can also check out the video below for a quick summary and different approach to setting your macros:
As a basic answer, macros do not necessarily matter when cutting. The most important thing on a cut is the energy balance and creating an overall calorie deficit. This is what will drive the majority of fat loss when cutting.
To be more meticulous though, macros do matter when cutting from a body composition viewpoint. Manipulating your macros not only allows you to control appetite, satiety and cravings but also how you will look visually at the end of a cut.
Maintaining muscle mass whilst losing body fat should be the goal and tracking calories alone cannot guarantee the best results from a cut. Therefore, macros do matter when cutting if you want to lose as much body fat as possible while still holding muscle mass.
^^ Contradictory I know!
The easiest takeaway is that you likely need to track your calories when cutting to ensure you are staying in a calorie deficit. For the effort of tracking calories, you might as well also monitor your macro intake and customize it for the best possible results.
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