You may have seen or heard the term “counting macros”? Macro counting involves tracking your daily intake of the three primary categories of nutrients—proteins, carbohydrates, and fat. The concept behind macro tracking is that not all calories are created equal and that the kind of calories we eat is more important than the number of calories when it comes to weight loss, building strength, or maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
For many this is a preferred method because is does not restrict which types of foods you can eat. I like to consider it as a lifestyle more so than a “diet”.
Yes… you can have chocolate, ice cream, pizza etc. in moderate amounts as long as it fits your macros. After all, life is all about balance!
What are Macros?
The term macros is referring to macronutrients. Macro means large, so macronutrients are the nutrients that your body needs in large amounts.
There are three macronutrients: carbohydrate (sugars), protein, and fat. Each of the three macros plays a different role in nutrition and affects our body differently depending on how it delivers fuel and is digested. 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.
Here is a quick rundown of each of the three macronutrients:
Carbohydrates are NOT bad for you! All carbohydrates are sugars but not all sugars are the same. There are 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 is vital for our organs & muscles. Protein molecules are made up of chains of amino acids. Protein is found in small amounts in many foods and in larger amounts in animal products. While it’s possible to get all of your protein requirements 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 all chicken is created equal. White meat chicken is approx. 95% protein and 5% fat, whereas a chicken thigh or leg can be 65% protein AND 35% fat. Both are chicken but extremely different ratios, so make sure that you choose wisely as they can provide a significantly different outcome.
MACRONUTRIENTS VS. MICRONUTRIENTS
Other familiar nutrients like fiber, vitamins, or minerals such as potassium, calcium, etc. are considered micronutrients. These nutrients your body still needs, just in smaller doses. Macronutrients contain calories and micronutrients do not. Most often we consume micronutrients through nutrition dense foods, but often times supplementation is necessary.
How Much of Each Macronutrient Do I Need?
Your macronutrient intake will vary based upon your personal fitness and health goals. In my experience I have had the most success when I get 35% of 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 you’re 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. I HIGHLY recommend the 1st Phorm App because it takes all of the guess work out for you! When you download the 1st Phorm App you won’t be left to “figure it out.” You will be assigned a personal advisor will develop a plan of success for you by identifying the proper macros you need in order to meet your own personal goals, whether that be lose, maintain or gain weight! The best part is you have access to your advisor daily for questions and support. The app includes macro/meal planning, direct access to an advisor, multiple workout options, daily education, and you can even track your steps and movement inside the app! I love all the features of this app and the personalized help and support you receive.
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 The 1st Phorm App. It even has a scanner that can scan food barcodes 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 over the years 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. A food scale & measuring cups/spoons are essential in counting macros. 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 it’s not. You will quickly learn portion sizes, like what a TBSP of peanut butter really looks like. 😉 Pro tip: ALWAYS weigh and measure your food when it’s cooked, for example cooked rice or meat is different than uncooked.
We are creatures of habit and usually eat the same things throughout the week. If you use the 1st Phorm 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.
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. No foods should be considered “cheating” – just foods we don’t eat as often and balance out with healthy options. 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.
BENEFITS OF COUNTING MACROS
- Helps you make better food choices
- Helps you be more aware of those (BLTs) Small Bites, Licks & Tastes
- Aids in weight loss/management
- Aids in awareness of serving sizes
- Assists in meeting fitness goals
- Allows you to live a balanced/ “less restrictive” lifestyle
- Balances your diet more effectively
- You’ll learn A LOT about food
- Keeps you accountable and provides structure
- Keeps your body satisfied & fueled appropriately
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!
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. It also isn’t strictly for losing weight, it can help you maintain or even gain, it’s very personalized. It’s not a one size fits all approach, that’s why the 1st Phorm app is so perfect! 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?