While counting calories may help you lose weight, to achieve total health and optimum fitness you’ll need to look beyond the calories, and recognize that not all calories are created equal. If you’re looking to see some real results in your fitness and wellness journey, keep reading because today I’m taking you through this comprehensive guide to mastering your macros…
1. What’s a Macro?
Before you can track your macros, you need to know what they are exactly. Well, ‘macro’ is short for macronutrient and it refers to the process of counting the exact amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and fats you consume in any given day.
It’s a practice that’s been popular amongst elite bodybuilders and physique competitors for ages and has become quite popular with crossfit competitors and those following a paleo diet in recent years. Don’t confuse macronutrient (fats, carbs, protein) with micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). While not talked about as much, technically alcohol is a fourth macronutrient because it contains calories, and all calories come from macronutrients.
There are so many diets and nutritional regimens out there these days that put the focus on protein, and there is some good reason behind this. An adequate protein intake can build muscle or prevent muscle loss if you’re not getting enough calories, it controls your hunger and keeps you feeling fuller for longer and it requires more energy from the body to digest when compared with other macronutrients, which means it burns more calories through digestion.
The best sources of protein is meat, dairy, fish, eggs, and protein shakes and the amount of protein you should be consuming daily all comes down to your goals and your lean body mass (that is your total weight minus your body fat percentage).
It wasn’t long ago that the health world waged a war on fat, and low-calorie diets seemed like the smart way to eat healthy. Thankfully, we’ve since learned that there are good fats and bad fats, but when it comes to counting macros, fats means both the good and the bad (saturated, unsaturated and cholesterol.)
Fat is the second macronutrient and we need this essential nutrient to absorb vitamins and minerals, help with brain function, regulate hormones and many other important bodily functions. You can get fats from a lot of places, among the most common are meats, nuts, nut butters, oils, fatty fish and avocados. As with protein, the amount you need depends on your fitness goals, weight and body fat percentage.
Carbohydrates round out the three essential macronutrients and while for a while carbs were the enemy, they have their place in any diet. Carbohydrates are stored in the brain, blood, liver and muscles as glycogen and our body uses them for essential energy.
Carbs are easy to find and sources include fruit, vegetables, grains, processed foods/drinks and pretty much anything that you get a strong craving for. There’s a pretty wide range with it comes to the question “How many carbs do I need?”. Again, your target amount will depend on your fitness goals, weight and body fat percentage.
5. Macros vs. Calories
One of the most confusing parts of mastering your macros is understanding the differences as well as the relationship between calories and macros. As I stated, all calories come from macros, which means, each macronutrient has a certain number of calories. We measure macros in grams, so one gram of protein has 4 calories, one gram of carbs has 4 calories, one gram of fat has 9 calories and one gram of alcohol has 7 calories.
To test this out, take a nutritional label, multiply the grams of protein by 4, the total grams of fat by 9 and the total carbs by 4 and you should get roughly the total calories per serving (give or take a few calories due to rounding.) While counting calories alone will help achieve weight loss goals, macros are the key to a balanced approach to weight loss and optimal physical health.
6. How Do You Count Macros?
So now that you understand exactly what macros are and why they are important, let’s talk about how you count them. This is the process of counting the amount of fats, carbs, and protein in each item that goes into your body. And that means everything. When you’re eating something that has a nutritional label, this can be done pretty easily with a little math. Count the total fats, total carbs and protein, but be careful to mind the serving size, if you eat an entire bag/box of anything you’ve probably got some multiplying to do because most products contain multiple servings.
For foods that don’t come with a label (i.e., fruits, vegetables, meat, etc) you will need to use a food scale to find out the portion size and then look up nutritional info online and do your additions. Measuring all your food using a scale may sound pretty obsessive, but you’d be surprised how many extra calories come from overfilling measuring cups and spoons each day.
7. Should You Count Your Macros?
This is really the ultimate question and it’s entirely up to the individual and if they feel that it will be beneficial for their fitness goals. There are definitely pros and cons to counting and not counting, and if you’re not already getting the picture, counting every single item you eat and using a food scale to weight all your portions is downright tedious. The other extreme of counting macros is that it can turn dangerous, and can even lead to unhealthy food stigma and the development of eating disorders.
There are advantages of course so you may want to consider taking on this endeavour if you are just shy of your weightless goals and looking to lose the last stubborn pounds; or if your body signals are out of whack and you find yourself craving chips, chocolate and ice cream late at night. If however, you’re already neurotic about weight loss and you have a tendency to stress about it, you’re just getting into fitness and weight loss, or your goal is to just be healthy, I would suggest not counting your macros.