Count Your Macros NOT Calories
If you’re reading this, you’re in the right place.
Because if you have the internet, frequent Facebook, use google, or even search nutrition hashtags on Instagram, you’ve probably seen the term macros thrown around.
Short for “macronutrients,” it refers to carbs, fats, and proteins—the three basic components of every diet. If you get their proportions right, it makes dieting a lot more effective when simple calorie restriction fails.
One of the problems with traditional calorie counting is that it doesn’t take into account what you’re eating, just how many calories. Sure, portion control alone might work for a while, but unless you switch to the right foods that fuel your body for success, you’ll be hard pressed to keep the weight off and fall back into the abyss of crash dieting. Low carb, high protein, no fat, it’s all so damn confusing! 🙁
In order to start eating more of the right thing, we’ve found it beneficial to focus on your macronutrients rather than simply just your calories. Some people do well on lower carbohydrate, higher fat diets while others on higher carbohydrate, lower fat diets. Creating (and hitting) macronutrient targets allows you to determine which works best for you, then stick to that type of diet without needing to completely vilify and eliminate either fat or carbohydrates.
The Three Main Macronutrients
Like we said above, there are three nutritionally relevant macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Alcohol is a macronutrient too (but doesn’t provide much in the way of positive benefits), which we’ll covered extensively in depth at a later date.
Let’s go through each macronutrient to get a basic understanding, then calculate how many grams of each we need every day.
Calories: 4 calories per gram.
Overview: Arguably king in the world of fitness nutrition, protein is mostly associated with building muscle and primarily found in foods like meat and dairy. However, its uses extend beyond muscle: it’s the core component of organs, bones, hair, enzymes, and pretty much all other types of tissue in your body.
Proteins are made of amino acids, many of which the body can make itself. However, there are nine amino acids that are strictly required for normal body function that your body can’t biosynthesize. These are (aptly) called essential amino acids, and the full nine can be found from all meat sources. Unfortunately for vegetarians and vegans, it’s rare to find the full nine in legumes and grains, so you need to make sure you eat a large variety to get all of them.
Calories: 4 calories per gram.
Overview: First friend, then foe, then friend again–the diet industry’s relationship with carbohydrates has been confusing at best. While it’s technically the only macronutrient your body can survive without, doing so would be no fun. Carbs are your body’s most easily accessible source of energy, and is broken up into glycogen (used by muscles and your liver) and glucose (used by the brain).
In common nutrition speak, carbs are largely divided into simple and complex carbohydrates. The two classifications refer to the length of the carbohydrate molecules. The shorter the molecule chain is, the easier it is for your body to break down, so it’s “simpler”—basically they’re sugars. On the other hand, larger molecules, like starch, are “complex” because it takes longer for your body to break it down into usable components.
In the world of macros, a carb is a carb, whether it comes from sugar or starch. Be clear: this isn’t an endorsement rely on pop tarts and candy to meet your targets.
(Those aren’t on your meal plans anyways)
In fact, what you will notice is that after counting macros a while, you’ll probably gravitate towards complex sources of carbs for satiety’s sake. But the freedom of choice is there, and relaxing this boundary between “good” and “bad” foods is important to develop a healthier relationship with what you eat.
Calories: 9 calories per gram.
Overview: Fats are a key component of essential dietary supplements like dairy, bacon and peanut butter. In all seriousness, though, fat often gets a bad rap because its the most calorie-dense nutrient out there. But they’re very important to normal body functions, acting as the backbone to important hormones, insulation for nerves, skin and hair health, and so on.
There are a bunch of different types of fats, from saturated to monounsaturated to polyunsaturated fats. Out of all of them, the main three you should be concerned about are trans fats, omega-3 fatty acids, and omega-6 fatty acids.
Trans fats, colloquially known as “frankenfats”, have been genetically engineered and consistently shown to increase the risk of coronary heart disease, hence they should generally be avoided. They’re usually found in packaged foods and various brands of margarine.
The latter two, however, are what’s known as essential fatty acids. Similar to essential amino acids, your body can’t produce them by itself so you have to obtain them through your diet. Omega-3’s can be found in fatty fish, flax, and walnuts (note that they’re more easily absorbed from animal sources), and omega-6’s from pretty much all kinds of vegetable oil.
Figuring Out Your Macronutrient Requirements
You can figure out what macronutrients to target in a few simple steps, by performing a couple google searched on the internet. But don’t worry, we’ve already done this for you. 🙂
Based on your height, weight, age, sex, and activity level we’ve done the leg work and created you a macronutrient profile and calculated our calories accordingly so that the outline you follow already aligns with your goals.
The most common split is 30:40:30, i.e. 30% of your calories allocated to protein, 40% to carbohydrates, and 30% to fats. Truthfully though, no two meal plans / macronutrient calculations are created equally. When it comes to nutrition, we’re all unique snowflakes and need to be treated as such. 🙂
That being said, if you want more information on how to calculate your macros for yourself, click HERE for details.
Check you tomorrow!
Riley Phelps, MS CSCS