Must -Know About Macros
One of best ways to make better dietary choices is taking the time to understand the composition of the food you eat. This means understanding the dynamic of macronutrients and how they fuel your body to meet your specific lifestyle.
What are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients are the essential chemical substances the human body needs to produce energy. The unit of measurement for energy is a calorie. Macronutrients are separated into three main categories - carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Each macronutrient has their own caloric structure and unique responsibility in the body. Carbohydrates are typically processed quickly by the body and are considered a quick source of energy. The body breaks carbohydrates into glucose which is used as energy first. They are also important for brain function. 1 gram of carbohydrates is 4 calories. Proteins are used to build and maintain muscle mass. Proteins support a healthy immune system. They satiate the human body and help us feel fuller for longer periods of time. Proteins are essential components of not only muscle mass but also our bones, skin and hair. Protein facilitates the chemical reaction that transports hemoglobin to the blood. 1 gram of protein is 4 calories. Fats aid in the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals in the body. It is the main way the body stores energy which can become tricky if you’re eating too many calories, as 1 gram of fat is 9 calories. It must be noted that fats can also be used as a source of energy, when managed correctly. If you’ve ever heard about or tried the keto diet, you know exactly how that works.
How exactly do I count Macronutrients?
Taking into consideration your BMR (basal metabolic rate), which is the base amount of calories you need to just exist as a human being and your daily activity, you’ll have a fair understanding of how many calories you need in a day to stay the same size you are right now, lose weight, or gain weight. There are quite a bit of online calculators that can help you find that number. A few good ones are Myfitnesspal, Fitocracy, HealthEater.com, and Loseit. I suggest trying a 2 to 3 out and settling on an average of them. It will be a good marker for you to start from, and you will have the opportunity to make slight adjustments to your diet if necessary. Or you can just see a registered dietician or nutritionist that can work it out for you! When you’ve figured out what your daily caloric intake should be, you can now dedicate a percentage of your daily calories to each macronutrient. For example, someone whose recommended daily caloric intake is 1900 calories may want to dedicate 50% of her diet to carbs, 20% of her diet to protein and 30% of her diet to fats. This means 950 calories will be carb sources, 380 calories will be from protein sources and 570 calories will come from fats. The ratio will always look different depending on your goals.
How much of each Macronutrient do I need?
The body needs macronutrients in large amounts to properly function. The recommended daily intake for carbs is typically 45-65% of your daily caloric intake. I’d suggest the lower end of the spectrum for those with a more sedentary lifestyle and the more active you are the higher your carb intake should be. Remember carbs are the first responder when your body is looking for energy so depriving yourself is not beneficial especially when you’re maintaining and active lifestyle and would like to have energy to run, lift weights, or think clearly! Ever been hungry and your ability to rationalize anything becomes skewed? Eat your carbs. The recommended daily intake for protein is 10-35% of your daily caloric intake. Again, where you fall on this spectrum depends on your lifestyle. For those who strength train, muscle building does require and increased amount of protein intake. When it comes to fats the recommended daily intake is between 20 and 35% of your calories. There has been a low fat craze for a while now, and fats typically do not get the respect they deserve as a macronutrient! They support mobility and joint lubrication and are an adequate nutrient for children and the elderly who may not be getting the required amount of calories due to their caloric density.
Counting Calories Vs Counting Macros
There is truth to the saying “calories in vs calories out”. At the end of the day weight loss, weight gain or weight maintenance comes down to three simple formulas:
Calories consumed < Energy used by the body = Weight Loss (caloric deficit)
Calories consumed > Energy used by the body = Weight Gain (caloric surplus)
Calories consumed = Energy used by the body = Weight Maintenance
Counting calories helps you to ensure you are eating enough. Macro counting ensures you’re eating appropriately. If you’re eating in a caloric deficit and eating 80% carbohydrates you will still lose weight, but are you fueling your body correctly? You may be doing more harm than good in the long run. Counting macros can help you make informed choices on eating for your goals while still maintaining levels of nutrition your body needs.
Pros and Cons of Counting Macros
There are quite a few benefits to counting your macronutrients. Firstly you definitely become more aware of portion sizes and imbalances in your current diet. For instance, who knew a regular box of spaghetti pasta had 5-8 servings in it? I know, I’ll give you a second to go and check! More often than not, counting calories holds you accountable for ensuring you are eating the correct amounts of each macro to fuel your lifestyle. Counting macros enables you to make flexible eating choices to suit your needs and doesn’t restrict you to a specific type of diet. You have full agency to alter the ratios until you find a balance that keeps you satiated within your caloric range. You also have full agency to eat that donut you’ve been craving if it fits within your macros! (That statement has a caveat, we’ll come to that later). After all if you’re counting macros - you’re watching your calories as well. On the flip side of things, the challenges to counting macronutrients must be discussed. If you are considering trying it out, being informed about its benefits and setbacks allow you to make an informed decision on what is best for you! Counting macronutrients can become unhealthy if your relationship with eating has been negative in the past. Measuring and weighing your food can create obsessive habits, and potentially trigger an eating disorder (this must be said for any kind of diet or eating habit you undertake). Counting macros does not take into consideration the quality of food. Not every calorie is created equally. There are healthy fats and not so healthy fats. There are good carbs, and then there are carbs we all love (there's the caveat for that donut! but may not be the best for us all the time. It is always important to include whole foods in your diet. The less processed the better! Of course the donut has a place in our hearts and there will be a time to eat that donut - we call this balance. Make sure you incorporate fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins and fats, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes in your daily caloric intake. I know you hear it over and over, but that's because it's true! Counting macros take time and effort, as with most things that are beneficial to you - except breathing, we do that automatically.
Tips for counting macros with minimal stress!
Now that you’ve been informed on what macros are, how to count them and what can go right or wrong, here are some helpful tips if you decide to use this dieting tool to help you reach your health and fitness goals:
Be planful. Spending an hour or three planning your meals for the week or the next few days makes your food choices throughout the week so much easier especially if you’re on the go and usually get caught up making poor decisions due to lack of available food.
Eat out less. Get to know your kitchen. Did you know the drawer under your oven is for keeping food warm? No, it’s not pan storage. Creating your own meals helps take the guessing game of whats in your food.
If you want the donut - eat the donut. Just don't make it an everyday occurrence. Having a balanced relationship with food helps to curb cravings, helps you to obsess less about eating the perfect food 24/7 and makes you less likely to binge.
If you do decide to eat out, do not be afraid to ask the server for an ingredient list and alternative options.
There are apps that can help you ensure you’re eating enough of each macro without you having to stress over multiplication! Myfitnesspal and chronometer are two of the more popular applications that are very user friendly.
Always remember to do what is best for you. Counting macros can be a solid tool in helping you reach your goals. It provides you with the ease of flexible dieting. It is up to you to ensure you are eating a diet rich in wholesome, minimally processed food. As always create healthy habits that will last a lifetime!