Okay, I used to hate when people talked about macros.
I thought that it was for people obsessing over everything they ate. It seemed like an unhealthy obsession and something I never wanted to be involved in.
Honestly, I just didn’t know anything about it.
However, over the past several years, I dove into the topic, researched, implemented it myself, and have seen it improve clients lives.
It can help you learn more about what you’re currently fueling your body with and what changes you can make to fuel better and help you accomplish your goals.
You don’t have to track forever and I don’t think you should!
Each macro-nutrient is important for helping you accomplish your goals and keeping you healthy.
In this article where’s going to cover these 3 points:
- What are macros and why should I care about them?
- How do I count them?
- What about calories?
What are Macros?
Macro is short for macro-nutrient. Macro means big. There are 3 main macro-nutrients:
Protein is the first one we’re going to discuss because it is SO important for weight loss, strength, and muscle building.
Getting enough protein in your diet will allow you to build muscle, maintain muscle, lose fat, increase your strength, and allow you to feel full while eating fewer calories.
It also requires more energy than other macronutrients for your body to absorb, digest, and dispose of. This is called the “thermic effect of food”. Protein has the highest TEF compared to the other macros.
So, basically you’re burning more calories just by eating. That’s pretty cool!
To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories (calorie deficit). Protein helps you feel full for longer. This will be so helpful as you eat fewer calories.
Low protein diets usually fail because they make you hungry, tired, and grumpy.
SAY NO TO JUICE CLEANSES.
Eating enough protein will prevent the hangriness.
Most importantly, protein is the only macro that will help build and maintain muscle.
The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism will be and the more calories your body will burn while your just sitting.
Here are some sources of protein: meats, eggs, cheese, protein bars, quinoa, beef jerky, and fish.
How much protein do you need?
It will depend on your weight, body fat and goals, so this is a general number…aim for .7-1.2 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass body weight.
If you weigh 150 lbs and have 15% body fat, your lean body mass is 150-(150*15%) = 127.5.
If you go with .7 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass, that will be 127.5*.7 = 89.25 grams of protein.
OR if you don’t know your body fat percentage, you can to .7-1.2 g per pound of ideal weight.
Carbs are often villainized in the nutrition world. There are a lot of low carb diets out there that promote weight loss.
Carb do not make you fat!
You need carbs. Your body needs carbs.
Carbs are stored in your liver, brain, blood, and muscles as glycogen.
Your body uses carbs for energy.
If you want to get stronger and perform better in your sport or at the gym, you need carbs.
Here are some examples of carbohydrates: fruits, veggies, grains, oats, rice, potatoes, pasta, and all the delicious food you love.
Aim for .5-2 grams per pound of lean body mass.
Fat has also gotten a bad rap over the years. There are just as many fad low-fat or fat-free diets out there as there are low-carb.
Fat does NOT make you fat!
Fat is ESSENTIAL for you to live.
It assists in vitamin and nutrient absorption, hormone regulation, brain function, and more.
Here’s a fun fact. They did studies on fat free milk vs. whole milk. They have about the same amount of calcium BUT your body will not absorb all the calcium without the fat.
Drinking whole milk with the fat helps your body to absorb the calcium so you can get the FULL benefit of drinking milk.
I’m personally not a huge milk fan, but I feel like most people prefer the taste and consistency of whole milk vs fat-free or low-fat.
Okay, here are some more examples of fat: meat, fatty fish, oils, nut butters, nuts, avocado, and so much more.
Aim to get between .36-.7 grams per pound of lean body mass. Again, this will depend on your goals, activity level, etc. but this is a good range.
How Do I Count Macros?
I think the easiest way to track or count macros is using something like MyFitnessPal. You can log what you eat and it can keep track of the calories and macros.
In order to log everything accurately, you can use a nutrition label, a scale, or use some hand measurements.
I feel like the scale is for more intense purposes–like if you’re training for a fitness competition or just trying to be super meticulous and accurate. Which could definitely be ideal if you’re just starting out. But, it can also be overwhelming.
Do what works for you and that is realistic for you to stick with.
You won’t always have a scale available or a nutrition label so the hand measurement system is a good back up. You’ll always have your hand with you!
I learned this from Precision Nutrition where I got received my nutrition certification
1 palm of protein = about 3-4 oz (115 g) cooked meat / tofu, 1 cup Greek yogurt / cottage cheese, 1 scoop protein powder, 2 whole eggs
1 fist of veggies = about 1 cup non-starchy vegetables (spinach, carrots, cauliflower, peppers, etc.)
1 cupped hand of carbs = about ⅔ cup (130 g) cooked grains / legumes (rice, lentils, oats, etc.), 1 medium fruit, 1 medium tuber (potatoes, yams, etc.)
1 thumb of fat = about 1 tablespoon (14 g) oils, nuts, seeds, nut butters, cheese, dark chocolate, etc.
Keep in mind that the hand measuring method, the apps, and the nutrition labels are not 100% accurate.
So with your macronutrient goals, I like to give a range as a goal.
For example if your goal protein is 144 grams a day, aim for 134-144 grams.
This will also help you not be so obsessed or overly worried about hitting an EXACT number. (this is for all of you fellow type A’s out there!)
What About Calories?
Each macronutrient has a certain amount of calories:
- Protein has 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates has 4 calories per gram
- Fat has 9 calories per gram
If you’re looking to lose weight or gain weight, overall calories matter.
To lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit.
To gain weight, you need to be in a calorie surplus.
To maintain weight, you need to be at calorie maintenance.
In order to figure out your maintenance, you need to figure out your TDEE, or your total daily energy expenditure.
You can use the google machine for this. It’s super easy.
Once you have that, you can determine how many calories you’re eating based on the following:
- To lose weight: eat 75-80% of your TDEE, or 20-25% less than your burning daily
- To gain weight: eat 110-115% of your TDEE, or 10-15% more energy than your burning
- To maintain weight: eat 100% of your TDEE
I like to track macros and calories vs just calories because macros helps you get the right food to fuel your body and help you achieve your goals.
For example, let’s say Susan has a calorie goal of 1800 calories a day. She was really busy one day, taking kids to school, dropping them off at soccer and gymnastics, running errands, etc. She threw her favorite snack in her purse. Twinkies.
Each twinkie consists of 280 calories.
She had about 5 from 8am to 4pm…leaving her with only 400 calories left of her 1800 calorie goal.
She also felt pretty crumby. Hungry and tired. And not fulfilled.
Each twinkie has 2g of protein, 9g of fat, and 47g of carbs.
A balanced model of macros would be 30% protein, 35% carbs, and 35% fat.
So far Susan has had 3.5% protein, 81% carbs, and 15.5%.
No wonder she doesn’t feel great!
Maybe I’m exaggerating with Susan a bit, but if she were in the habit of tracking macros and being aware of how much of each nutrient she needs, she might have prepared a little differently. Maybe with protein bar, beef jerky, nuts, an apple, etc. And save the twinkie for dessert. 😉
Anyway, tracking your macros will help improve your relationship with food and open your eyes to see how you can fuel your body better.
And hey, you CAN still eat twinkies if that’s what you want. However, it shouldn’t be ALL you eat.
Do I need to track Calories?
You do no need to track your calories forever or at all if you don’t want to or if you feel it will cause you to become obsessive and create a bad relationship with food.
Also, if you have any history of eating disorders, I would recommend not counting calories or macros.
If you feel comfortable counting calories emotionally and mentally, try to view it as a data point.
It will bring more awareness to what you’re eating, how it makes you feel, and how you can better accomplish your goals.
Some people, like to track calories and macros. Some people like to track just protein. Or just fiber. Or calories and protein. Or other combinations.
How meticulous you’d like to be depends on what you can do realistically, what your goals are, and how aggressive you’d like to be.
Once you track for awhile, you will get a great sense of food and what it consists of which can allow you to move into more of an intuitive eating model if you’d prefer.
After tracking for a bit, you can make adjustments as needed to meet your goals.
I hope this helps! Like I said, I was skeptical about macros and tracking them, but, it’s changed how I looked at food and has improved my relationship with it.
I see food as a source of fuel to keep me healthy and allow me to do the things I like to do like run, swim, bike, workout, run around with my kids, etc.
It’s also something to be enjoyed! It isn’t a super restrictive diet that makes you eliminate things like sugar, bread, etc.
Remember, there are no bad foods. There are only better choices that will get your closer to your goals, or worse choices that won’t RUIN your progress, but won’t get you closer to your goals.
One cookie will not ruin your progress and it can totally fit into your daily macro/calorie goals if you want.
Eating nutritious food will help you feel better and help you accomplish your fitness goals.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more, don’t hesitate to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the form below. 🙂
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