WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “COUNT MACROS?"
This is a strategy used to help people optimize their performance, health or body composition. Macronutrients or “macros” are our proteins, fats and carbohydrates. They make up the foods that we eat and contribute to our total calories consumed each day.
Every food you eat will have a different breakdown of macronutrients. Some foods will be primarily one source of macros and others will be more balanced. Think of a tbsp of butter, which is fat, compared to a lentil, which is a mixture of protein and carbs.
Our bodies need proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in varying amounts to function optimally. Counting macros can help you better understand your individual intake and need to feel your best.
WHAT ARE MACRONUTRIENTS?
Macronutrients are nutrients the body needs in large quantities to function optimally. The three macronutrients are protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Each macronutrient has a calorie count associated with it. Protein and carbs both have 4 calories per gram. Fat has 9 calories per gram.
Carbohydrates are a source of immediate energy for all of your body’s cells. Regardless of the food source, all carbohydrates we consume are digested as simple sugars. While their final digested form may look the same, simple and complex carbs are digested and absorbed at different rates. Think of a piece of candy versus a baked potato.
Simple carbs (candy) are digested and absorbed much quicker than more complex versions (baked potato). While all humans should consume carbohydrates, our individual needs will vary based on goals, lifestyle, and activity levels.
We need adequate fat to support metabolism, repair of body tissues, immunity, hormone production, and the absorption of many fat-soluble nutrients (such as vitamins A and D). In addition to these very important roles, fat also helps keep us full between meals, as well as add flavor and enjoyment.
Protein is the building block of life. It is found throughout our body from our hair and skin to our muscles and bone. It helps promote good immune function, metabolism, satiety, weight management, and performance. There are few functions in the body that DON’T involve protein, which makes it such a critical macronutrient.
HOW DO YOU COUNT MACROS?
To count macros, you must first determine your daily calorie goal. This calorie goal will be determined by your reason for counting macros in the first place. Are you interested in losing fat, gaining muscle, increasing performance or focusing on overall health? Different goals have different caloric needs.
The identification of your primary goal then helps create the parameters to which your macros will be set. Your individual targets for all three macronutrients; protein, fat and carbs must equal your total calories. This total calorie number and individual macro breakdown allow you to keep yourself well-fueled for your intended goal.
As an example, if we were to give a client a goal of hitting 2000 calories in a day with 30% protein, 30% fat and 40% carbs, then his/her macros would be: 150P/67F/200C. The conversion from calories to grams being achieved by dividing protein and carbohydrate calories by 4, and fat calories by 9.
Macro counting, as it relates to the physical act of weighing and tracking the food, is most easily done using a tracking program like MyFitnessPal. and kitchen scales. Apps like MFP have a diverse catalogue of food's caloric and macronutrient values from all over the world. Upon searching a food item in MFP, you will be shown both the caloric and macronutrient values of the food.
By logging your individual serving of this food into the app, you will be able to aggregate your total macronutrients consumed throughout the course of the day. Over time, you will gain a better understanding of which foods fall into each category, making it easier to better choices
Tracking macronutrients manually using pen and paper is also possible, just much more time consuming.
WHAT IS FLEXIBLE MACRO COUNTING?
I set the guidelines of total calories, and then simplify the approach by only being stringent about the protein goal. This gives the client the freedom to use different ratios of carbs and fats to hit their total calorie goals. So with the example of the client above, any of the following would be acceptable:
This freedom often removes the “need to be perfect” feeling that many people struggle with. Which can dramatically increase compliance, and allow for more leeway when going out to eat or in social settings.
HOW IS THIS APPROACH USED FOR WEIGHT LOSS?
To lose weight a person has to maintain a caloric deficit over time. Flexible dieting is effective because it can make sustaining this caloric deficit more achievable, especially in situations in which the client may lack control over their food choices. Along with that, controlling your protein intake will help keep you satiated as well as aid in the building of lean muscle mass. This approach takes out the pressure of “perfection,” which in turn makes it easier to sustain compliance long enough to see results.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN BENEFITS?
You can easily stay on track, eat more of your favorite foods, learn the benefits of portion control, and reach your goals. This strategy works very well for a wide variety of people whether you have time to meal prep or eat at restaurants frequently.
WHAT ARE THE DRAWBACKS OF A FLEXIBLE MACRO COUNTING?
This approach may create freedom for some, however, it doesn’t work for everyone. Some people thrive off reaching specific targets daily and having too much flexibility in macro tracking may throw them off. In this case, you may want to track traditionally. This is why working with me and providing feedback one-on-one is good, so we can what strategies are best for you