I am sure you have heard the term counting macros, but for those beginning their journey into health and wellness, they may be wondering, what is a macro? “Macro” is short for macronutrient. There are three categories of macronutrients you eat daily that provide you with most of your energy; protein, carbohydrates and fats. Thus, when people tell you to count your macros, they are saying to count the grams of proteins, carbs and fat that you’re consuming. Keeping track of the macronutrients you take in daily can help you make smart and healthy food choices, and help ensure that you are getting enough of those main nutrients to nourish, fuel, and satiate your body properly. Counting macros can also help you reach your fitness goals by building or maintaining lean muscle mass and losing body fat.
When counting macronutrients, you still need to track calories. Calories absolutely still matter! Especially if you are on a journey to lose weight or build muscle. You must keep in mind that weight loss can only happen if you are in a calorie deficit. What does that mean? Weight loss happens when you burn more calories than you consume. So where does counting macros come in? Macro counting will allow you to understand where your calories are coming from. Being aware of the food you are consuming and how it fuels and affects your body is so beneficial when you are focusing on fitness, nutrition, and especially weight loss. Knowing what foods gives you energy, what foods deplete your energy, what foods make you feel bloated and uncomfortable, but more importantly seeing the particular foods that help you feel satiated. Because let’s be honest, any of those fad diets that you have tried are typically very restrictive and leave you feeling hungry all the time; and when you are hungry, you binge on whatever you can get your hands on… which are usually empty calories!
I don’t view counting macronutrients as a type of “diet”. I think it is really important to know what kind of food you are taking into your body and tracking your foods and macronutrients helps with that….knowledge is power after all! The best part of macro counting is that you are not having to eliminate any foods from your diet. You are able to eat what you want as long as it fits into your macros. However, making healthier food choices will ultimately yield greater results. Therefore, I don’t recommend consuming ice cream, chips, and fast food all day long. However, you CAN indulge in those foods once in a while and still be successful in your goals. This is where moderation comes in to play. You don’t need to deprive yourself of delicious treats, you just need to eat them moderately. Knowing the number of calories and macros you need for your body and activity level will help with that!
I also think it just isn’t about much how much food you consume, but WHAT you consume! I know I would much rather fill up on a large bowl of vegetables and a grilled chicken breast than a small portion of a fast food burger and fries. Don’t get me wrong, I think a burger and friends is tasty, but the chicken and vegetables is more nutrient dense, lower in fat and calories, and will allow me to fill full longer.
Knowing the numbers is helpful. It will assist you with making more informed and probably healthier food choices. Here is what you should be aware of when you are choosing the food to eat: one gram of protein is 4 calories, one gram of carbohydrates is 4 calories, and one gram of fat is 9 calories. So let’s do some math and compare the following food choices:
For 2 average medium sized glazed donuts you would be consuming 538 calories, 8 grams of protein, 30 grams of fat, and 62 grams of carbohydrates. You probably would not have much energy, your blood sugar would spike then plummet quickly, and you most certainly would not make it to the next meal before you felt like you were starving! However, if instead you had two slices of avocado gluten free toast with an over easy egg on top, you would be taking in 455 calories, 18 grams of protein, 27.6 grams of fat, and 34.5 grams of carbohydrates. This option would leave you feeling satiated, provide you with more nutrients, and you would have the energy to take on the day…or at least until your next meal!
Everybody is different (height, weight, age, activity level) and each person will have different goals, so their allotted calorie intake will vary. But to understand how macronutrients work, let’s use an example of a diet consisting of 2,000 calories a day. If one gram of protein is 4 calories and you consume 100 grams of protein, you are eating 400 calories from protein. This will leave an additional 1,600 calories that will be split between your fat and carbohydrates.
Now let’s be real, counting macros doesn’t automatically mean that you are eating healthy. You can actually reach your macro goals without eating a single fruit or vegetable, and that just isn’t good for you or your body. When creating your food plan for the day or week, it is still very important to get those colorful fruits and vegetables into your diet. Not only will those nutrient dense foods help keep you full and satiated, but they provide you with so many of the essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that you need in maintaining good health. One of my favorite meals is roasted chicken and veggies with pesto. I absolutely love filling my plate with roasted veggies, especially broccoli, zucchini, bell peppers, red onions, spaghetti squash, cauliflower… they allow me to eat more and feel full while providing me with a nutrient packed meal! But don’t forget to continue taking your daily vitamins, these are still very important!
To get started on your macro counting journey, you will need to determine how many calories you will need to consume daily. I always recommend working with a registered dietitian, especially if you have health issues, but you can also reach out to a certified coach to assist you. You can also try to do the math yourself, if you so choose! It is recommended that adults try to get 10-35 percent of their calories from protein, 45-65 percent from carbohydrates, and 20-35 percent from fats. However, even after you calculate your numbers, you may need to adjust the ratios to identify what works best for your body and allows you to see the results that you desire. It also doesn’t end there because once you see results, you will need to continue to adjust your macros based on your body composition. Other useful tools are apps such as MyFitnessPal and the Fitbit watch; these make it easy to set up daily goals and track your macro intake throughout the day.
Once you start to really understand the relationship between your body and the food you consume, you can start to make food choices without counting every calorie or macronutrient. Counting macros can be useful indefinitely, but once you start to identify what you are consuming and how your body reacts to it, you can step back from the math and just eat intuitively and make those healthy food choices. But knowing how to count macros is helpful, especially if you hit plateaus or start to gain weight; these are the times that you will need to identify the areas in your diet that may need improvement. Many times people find that they are lacking sufficient protein or enough veggies!
Please note that before starting any new food plan, you should consult your doctor. I also highly recommend working with a registered dietitian, especially if you have health issues that would impact the type of foods you need to eat or possibly omit from your diet; such as gluten or dairy.
Don’t forget that your nutrition is vital to your overall health and wellness, however, exercise also plays an important part and moving your body should be implemented in your daily or weekly routine. More importantly, give yourself grace! You do not need to be perfect, that doesn’t exist, and it isn’t necessary or important (or healthy). What matters is that whatever happens you keep trying because health and wellness is a journey and not a destination. There is no end. So if you think you have made a mistake, if you went over your daily macros, if you think you indulged too much, if you feel like you ruined your diet, don’t quit! We are human, we deserve to occasionally indulge, and we don’t need to feel guilty about it…and we especially don’t need to make up for it by working out extra hard or further reducing our calories. Just pick back up the next day and move on! Stay consistent and know that every small step is a step forward. Be proud of yourself and your progress, and celebrate those wins!
Need more help understanding macros?