You may have seen or heard the term “counting macros” or “if it fits your macros”. This is a way of dieting that can be super helpful for some since there aren’t restrictions on which types of foods you can eat. You can have chocolate, ice cream, donuts etc. in moderate amounts as long as it fits your macros. But what does that even mean?
What are Macros?
The term macros is referring to macronutrients. Macronutrients include carbohydrates (sugars), fat, and protein. There are also micronutrients which would include vitamins and minerals. Macronutrients contain calories and micronutrients do not. Vitamin C, as a molecule, does not have any calories but a molecule of carbohydrate does. In fact;
1 gram Carbohydrate = 4 calories
1 gram Protein = 4 calories
1 gram Fat = 9 calories
1 gram *Alcohol = 7 calories
Alcohol and carbohydrates digest almost identically in the body so we can almost loop those together but note that they do have different calories per gram.
All carbohydrates are sugars but not all sugars are the same. We have simple carbs and complex carbs. An example of a simple carb would be candy, or orange juice. A complex carb would be found in whole grains, vegetables and in fruit. Many foods contain both simple and complex carbs. Complex carbs are generally fibrous and we find fiber in beans, whole grains, fruit and veg to name a few! Complex and simple carbohydrates both produce energy similarly in the body but simple carbs can be broken down faster which has its pros and cons.
Protein molecules are made up of chains of amino acids. Protein is found is small amounts in many foods and in larger amounts in animal products. While it’s possible to get all of your protein requirement from a plant based diet it can be a struggle. The highest sources of protein are more often found in foods like white chicken breast, white fish, red meat, whey protein powder, and plain greek yogurt. These foods are almost solely protein and are very important to maintaining a lean physique or when trying to lose fat!
Fat or lipid molecules are also made up of chains of varying lengths and are often referenced as short-chain, medium-chain, or long-chain fats. Regardless of the chain length 1 gram is still 9 calories. Some fat food examples include vegetable oil, coconut oil, (all oils), nuts, and avocado. Not that many foods are just 100% ONE macronutrient. Oils are 100% fat, but something like an avocado has fat, carbs and protein.
Not a chicken is created equal. White meat chicken is approx. 95% protein and a 5% fat where as a chicken thigh or leg can be 65% protein AND and 35% fat. Both chicken but extremely different ratios so make sure that you choose wisely as they can provide a significantly different outcome.
How Much of Each Macronutrient Do I Need?
In my experience I have had the most success when I get 35% of our my calories from carbohydrates, 40% from protein and 25% from fat. I have found that when I make my protein a priority in all my meals, I seem to have the best success long term for me. Everyone’s macronutrient breakdown can look different depending on your body and your goals… but if youre looking to build some lean muscle and have that toned sexy look, protein must be a priority.
There are online calculators that will predict your macronutrient needs based on age, weight etc and I would recommend that you use the http://www.mytransformationstartstoday.com when trying to find the macros best for you. It’s an app that can at least get you pointed in the right direction and if you have questions they have registered dieticians on staff to adjust your macros based off of your needs with a simple email or phone call.
How Do You Count Macros?
It’s actually easier than you would think and similar to playing a game. You will receive 3 numbers; grams of carbohydrate, grams of fat and grams of protein! The goal is to hit those numbers throughout the day by tracking your foods. I’ve always treated it as a game and it really has taught me to learn about foods that fit my day so that I can maintain a level of health and look that works for me.
Each food has a macronutrient breakdown which we can find on a food label or by looking it up through an app like My Transformation Starts Today. It even has a scanner that can scan food bar codes and will auto log the food. Honestly, I never found success in a diet until I learned to track and I owe 100% of my success in losing my baby weight and getting to the look I wanted by tracking my macros.
If you are choosing a food that comes pre-portioned or packaged it’s easy to figure out the macros because they are on the food label. For example a protein bar might have 16g protein, 2 grams carbs and 2 grams fat. However, if you are eating chicken, broccoli and rice how do you know the macronutrient breakdown? Great question… You have to weigh the food with a food scale. This can be cumbersome at first but once you get the hang of it it becomes significantly easier as you go. I know it sounds like a lot but I promise you its not. We are creatures of habit and usually eat the same things throughout the week. If you use the MTST app it saves your foods that you regularly eat so that you only have to log it once for easy plug and play on the fly to make it convenient to track your foods and stay on track with your busy lifestyle.
Here’s an example//
Notice how I specified cooked chicken breast, and the brand of bbq sauce? The more accurate you are with your measurements the more accurate your results will be!
If It Fits Your Macros
The term IIFYM is really popular amongst the macro community. You can see now how you might be able to fit in a glass of wine or chocolate bar! You simply plan the rest of your day around it. This strategy can be really helpful for some people because they no longer have a list of ‘no’ foods or foods they can’t eat. We all know as soon as we put something on the ‘no’ list it’s ALL we want! No chocolate? Okay now I’m CRAVING chocolate.
Why Count Macros?
You Will Learn A Lot About Food
It’s amazing how quickly you can learn about food from counting macros for just a week! All of a sudden food labels make sense and you’ll realize that foods you didn’t even know have protein do, and foods you didn’t realize have a LOT more sugar than you thought. Eek!
I think it’s worth everyone’s time to TRY counting macros just for one week. Only track what you are already eating don’t worry about hitting any specific numbers. That way you can see the percentage of carbs, protein and fat in your diet. The results will be interesting I promise you!
It Keeps You Accountable and Provides Structure
For those of us who like structure and ritual macros are perfect. You know exactly what you need to do each day and you can be confident you are working toward your goals! Seeing exact numbers of what you eat can hold you more accountable to your choices. After you learn how to count you will slowly start to memorize what foods have which macronutrient ratio and when you are making food choices when eating out for example you will be more mindful!
It’s Not Restricting
Like I mentioned counting macros can be great for those who have fitness goals but struggle to eat clean 100% of the time. In theory it doesn’t matter which foods we eat as long as we are getting the right amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat. Now there are definitely two sides to this argument. If you rely on packaged foods and protein powders you might not be getting enough of the micronutrients since you aren’t eating vegetables.
Counting macros isn’t for everyone! If you know you are triggered by diets then maybe it’s not for you and something like intuitive eating would be a better fit. I wrote this blog post just to give anyone who is curious about counting macros a QUICK run down and introduction to the topic!
Have you tried counting macros? Are you curious to know more?