In the Internet sphere, you may have heard terms like “macros” “IIFYM”. The first term is short for macronutrients and the second is the acronym If It Fits Your Macros. Macronutrients are divided into three categories
Protein (4 calories per gram)
Carbohydrates (4 calories per gram)
Fats (9 calories per gram)
Most diets manipulate these macronutrients in order to achieve weight loss. The most popular methods are: completely cutting out carbohydrates i.e zero/low carb or cutting out fats. This is another form of calorie restriction. When we purposefully leave out an entire category, obviously we will lose fat. However, it’s important we achieve a balance of all three in order to reach optimal health and performance.
Go low carb for too long and your mood, performance and friendliness towards others will decrease. Go low fat for too long and your hormones, gut, brain and sex life won’t thank you.
Demonizing carbohydrates or fats is a road I suggest you avoid. One particular food group is not the problem for growing rates of obesity, diabetes and modern health diseases; the issue is far more complex (1,2,3). Understanding that you need all macronutrients, in some quantity, is the best road to fat loss. We can achieve this by manipulating fats and carbs whilst keeping protein consistent (protein is important for fat loss, satiety, preserving and building muscle, repair and many more functions).
Manipulating carbs and fats sounds complicated right? Not really, it basically means that when you eat higher amounts of carbohydrates, you eat lower amounts of fat and vice versa.
For example, when you are working out, you should be hitting a higher carb intake (30-50%). This will help you to fuel performance. You want to eat the majority of your carbohydrates around your workout, opting for fat at other meals.
On non-workout days, you want to keep carbs down, as they are not required to fuel an intensive training session. Instead, fuel with fats (40-60%) to ensure you are burning fat for fuel.
Keeping carbs between 10-15% can be difficult, so you want to stick to mostly veggies to stay in this range.
That said, macros are not like unicorns with magical powers (wouldn’t that be smashing). There are no special numbers to aim for to lose fat or build muscle. It depends on your goals, gender, age, activity level and hormones and preferences (to name a few).
Calorie counting vs. macro counting, is it the same idea?
Calorie counting has somewhat become outdated by macro counting. Before, would the caloric target for the day would be set (i.e I will eat 1,600 calories) and then you add everything up that you consumed (like the mathematical genius you are). Now, the new trend is to set the amounts of protein, carbs and fats (in grams). For example 140g protein, 80g carbs, 90g fats.Still confused, check this out to help you calculate your own macronutrient requirements
Unlike, calorie counting, macronutrient counting helps you to balance your food intake between protein, carbs and fats with an emphasis on hitting each target.
To macro count or not macro count? That is the question.
Macro counting is not for everybody. There are many benefits and drawbacks to every method. My clients’ have found success in calorie counting, portion control and macros. The best method is the one that suits you right now. That may change in the next month, six-month or year.
If you’re in a position where you’re not sure whether to give it a go, let me give you some potential scenarios where it may be beneficial.
To macro count
Situation 1. You have no idea what foods contain Protein, Carbs and Fats.
A healthy balanced meal consists of all three macronutrients. Let’s try a quick quiz to figure out if you know which foods contain which macronutrient. For example, an apple, this contains mostly of carbohydrates. Ready? Let’s go.
Chicken, avocado, spinach, coconut oil, peppers, peanut butter, shrimp, hot sauce.
If you scored 100%, you got the macros down (fist pump), if you stumbled or quickly goggled the answer (cheater) you may want to incorporate macro counting.
Yes, I know, don’t get your knickers in a twist here are the answers.
Chicken -Protein, avocado -fat, spinach- carb, coconut oil -fat, peppers -carbs, peanut butter –fat (not protein), shrimp –protein, hot sauce -carbs
*Most vegetables (excluding the kind you cook) contain very small amounts of carbs compared to sources like rice, pasta, oats etc so eat as many as possible.
Situation 2. You have no concept of how much protein, carbs and fats to eat
For some, creating a balanced meal is difficult. They have no idea where to start. If you think “I eat 3 chicken breasts a day so that’s enough protein right?” Firstly, why are you eating chicken all day? Secondly, that’s around 75 grams of protein. No, that’s not enough. Calculate your intake needs.
The same is true for carbohydrates and fats. It’s very common to underestimate carb intake (we are in denial because they are so delicious) and grossly underestimate fat intake (hello cheese at 9 calories per gram).
Putting some numbers (grams/calories) to your macronutrients may be what’s needed.
Situation 3. You’re always hungry, tired and craving particular foods
Everything is going well, you’re drinking water in the morning because you hear its good for digestion (you rockstar), you say no to the cookies at the office for Sandra’s birthday and munch on your chicken (again?) salad with tomatoes. For dinner you have some oven-baked salmon with veggies. Then, it’s midnight and you’ve polished off half a tub of ben and jerries, you know, because it was there and because you were craving it. You fell into the freezer and you have no recollection of what happened just the faint memory of cookie dough and a sore stomach.
Sometimes, we need accountability and when we track and calculate our macronutrients, we cannot ignore the numbers in front of us. Just like when you step on a scale and see you’ve gained 20lbs in the last three months.
Logging your macronutrients can help you control your impulses and urges and show a pattern of behaviour that you were unaware/unconscious of, i.e when the clock turns 10pm its Ben & Jerries’ time. It can show you where the gaps in your nutrition are. Maybe you’re eating a lot of refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, white rice, bagels, cookies) and you’re cravings are skyrocketing. So use concrete numbers to overcome the cookie monster (yum cookies).
Situation 4. You want to lose body fat and you have a deadline
A wedding, a holiday, a competition, a reunion –whatever the event, times ticking and you’re on a strict schedule that requires 10lbs of fat loss in 6 weeks. You aren’t losing weight, or you’ve stalled, despite picking up the pace in the gym and longer cardio sessions. It’s time to track your food. Fat loss is never linear but we can keep heading in the right direction with a plan of action. Remember, failing to plan is planning to fail. Tracking macronutrients, ensuring you’re hitting your target and not going over those numbers will allow you to keep making progress. More importantly, when you plateau, you can see exactly why and make necessary adjustments. For example, maybe you are constantly hungry but the scale hasn’t budged in two weeks. You check your food log and realize you’ve been eating 300g (grams) of carbohydrates and only 35g of fat. Ding, ding! There’s your problem. Fat helps with satiety, you’re not getting enough and carbs should probably be reduced to 150g. In this situation, you cannot afford to guess and test. If you are serious about the event you have to be serious about your nutrition.
Take note, If any of these situations sound like you, give macronutrient counting a try. However, if you are a perfectionist (all-nothing), get obsessed with numbers or you simply want to eat better and not count every leaf of spinach. Say no to macro counting. For some, it’s a perfect strategy, for others it’s an obsessive nightmare. Know yourself and what works best for your personality and lifestyle.