Now please don't panic! Before I begin, I promise you it is a lot easier than you think & is something I swear by for helping me really push for my goals. It is much like meal prep, a concept that may seem daunting & mystifying at first, but since reading my Ultimate Guide to Meal Prep, you now see how easy & attainable it can be. Well this is the goal for today - Master Your Macros Part One aims to clear up any confusing surrounding macro counting & show you just how easy it can be. Plus next week, in Part Two, I will be sharing with you the benefits I've seen since counting macros.
So lets get stuck into it. What is macro counting? What is a macro nutrient? And is it the same as micro nutrients?
A Macro Nutrient is essentially the source of our body's energy, or fuel. It is divided up into 3 primary macros - carbohydrates, fats & proteins. Some also count alcohol within their macros, but it is not as much of a focus, as you want to be getting your energy from a source with sustenance. Each of these macros provide energy to the body in the form of calories. Calorie counting is a popular way to maintain a healthy body weight, but macro counting will allow you to have a more balanced diet & tailor it to your goals. More on this later...
Micro Nutrients are sources that do no provide calories, but provide us with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants etc. These are essential for good health, but do not contribute to weight loss or muscle gain.
Finally Macro Counting enables us to track the correct proportion of carbs, fats & protein that our bodies need, specific to our daily calorie allowance - which is determined by our individual height, size, weight, age & gender. Counting macros allows us a more accurate way to tailor our nutrition & meal plans, in order to achieve our goals - be that to loose weight, gain muscle or lean out.
But How?!? Well now I want to break through that confusion... Firstly you need to find the correct macros for you & your goals. I suggest using a website like IIFYM, that will do all the confusing stuff for you & just give you your numbers. Then in order to track your macros, I use My Fitness Pal, which allows you to easily see what macros are in the foods you are eating, the macros you've eaten that day & what you have left. And it really is as simple as that! I tend to keep just bellow my carbs & fat if I can & be hitting or just above my protein target - if you are going to be over on anything, I prefer to be over on protein!
If you fancy getting technical, this is where you can really play around & have fun. Remember I said macros are calories that fuels the body? Well each macro is equivalent to a certain amount of calories...
1g Protein = 4 Calories
1g Carbs = 4 Calories
1g Fat = 9 Calories
1g Alcohol = 7 Calories *
* So back to alcohol. Unlike other macros, alcohol provides no sustenance to the body. Although it won't frequently be counted with macros, some will track it, as it can have a big impact on whether or not you reach your goals. Alcohol is known for causing bloating, but that is the least of it! As there is nothing beneficial for our bodies in alcohol, once consumed, our bodies will prioritise on extracting it & removing the toxin. Whilst doing this, any other beneficial energy from the foods we've eaten, be it fat, carbs or protein, will not be broken down & utilised in the same way, thus resulting in more of these macros being stored as fat! The occasional drink won't cause a obvious effect, much like the occasional binge on chocolate, but frequent consumption will lead to weight gain.
Back to the good macros. It's time to have a play. If you find out your macro allowance for maintaining your weight, instead of tailoring it on the IIFYM calculator, you can then start to play around with the ratios. For example, these are the rough guides...
- For weight loss - 10-30% Carbs + 40-50% Protein + 30-40% Fat = Total Calories
- For building muscle - 40-60% Carbs + 25-35% Protein + 15-25% Fat = Total Calories
- For maintaining weight - 30-50% Carbs + 25-35% Protein + 25-35% Fat = Total Calories
Here's an example of how I work out my macros, for my goal of building muscle, at my current body weight of 131 pounds...
- Let's start with protein - Suggested 1-1.5g protein per pound of body weight for my goal. 131 pounds x 1g protein = 134g protein per day x 4 calories = 536 calories (out of my 2090 daily calories) = 25% of my calories is protein.
- I have then chosen to have 50% of my calories as carbs, so 2090 calories x 0.5 (50%) = 1045 calories as carbs / 4 calories per gram of carbs = 261g carbs per day.
- Finally fat, we're left with 25% of my daily calories, so 2090 calories/day x 0.25 (25%) = 522.5 calories as fat / 9 calories per gram of fat = 58g fat per day!
I promise, once you get your head around it, it can be so simple. Plus by using the app, it will calculate everything for you. Now lets talk more about eliminating the stress of it! Counting your macros can be fantastic in helping you achieve your goals, as long as you don't become too obsessed, or it can become more of a headache. Here's a few tips that help me make tracking my macros a piece of cake!
- What works for you? For me I like 3 meals, 3/4 snacks a day, depending on if I work out. This keeps me full & maintains my energy levels, as my meals are evenly spread out, preventing mindless snacking. If you are pushed for time, try opting for quick snacks (eg. nuts). But you need to firstly find when works for you to eat & identify when you're most likely to snack - so you can plan ahead & snack healthy.
- Start with what you know! When meal planning & planning my daily macros, I will start by recording my breakfast, snacks & things that I have most days. Then I fill in the gaps.
- Protein first. I find this is my hardest macro to meet, perhaps because it's the only one I want to achieve, whilst the others I want to keep slightly bellow. So I will chose my source of protein for dinner & ways I can add protein to meals & snacks first. Then I fill in the gaps.
- Too many macros? I can so easily go over on fats & carbs. My tip - drop the portion size & up the portion size of lean protein. It keeps you full & gets your macros in check. For example, I still have pasta & rice, but have a 40-50g portion, with a lot more protein, or replace it with beans (which are higher in protein) & veg which is filling, with enough carbs to maintain energy.
- Daily stress? I am happy to eat the same meals Monday to Friday, it's easier & saves me money. So I will only record my macros whilst planning my meals for the week, which is 1 day only! Like to vary your week's meals? Record meal plans that meet your daily macros, that you can look back over, without having to recalculate. Saturday & Sunday I don't record my macros, but I am sensible with portions & have learnt what I can & can't eat, plus I listen to my body, as to whether it is truly hungry. You will develop this skill quite quickly!
I hope this helps clear up some of the confusing surrounding macros! It can be quite a daunting prospect, but it's so easy once you've got into it. If you want any help calculating your macros or advice on how to stick within then, just drop me a message bellow. And stay tuned for next week, when I will be posting a second in the Master Your Macros series about the real benefits you can expect from tracking your macros. Remember I'm always here to help & share with you everything I've learnt & my honest experiences within my own fitness journey. In the mean time, check out my social media for more :)