A big reason I started this practice of setting a monthly goal intention was to hold myself accountable to learning, growing and bettering myself all year long, not just at the beginning of the year for like 30 days or until I got distracted by a million other things that life throws at us. I thought setting a goal each month would re-focus and force me to really take the time out to zero in on something I could be doing better or maybe something I have been meaning to explore or try to implement into my own health and fitness journey. Well May’s intention falls into the later category of something I have been really interested in learning about and potentially introducing to my new(ish) healthy lifestyle, and that is the idea behind counting macros.
If you are even remotely involved in the health and fitness world, chances are you have heard the term macros at some point and probably also know that people count and track them as part of their nutrition program. That right there was the extent of my knowledge on the subject before I sat down to write this post. I knew enough to know counting macros was a way to track how much of what nutrients you were eating at any given sitting but not much else. As I have mentioned before, my main focus these days is to really get my nutrition in line. I have found, fallen in love with, and gotten great results from a pretty full-proof workout program that I can do at home which has really saved me considering the current circumstances we are living under (for more info on these workouts click here!), so I have really turned my attention to bettering how and what I am eating. While I have cleaned up my diet substantially since my drive thru for every meal day’s, I feel like I am still pretty far away from where I want to be. With my workout program, there is no guess work. I show up, press play and the platform takes literally all of the researching, planning and guesswork out of my hands. Unfortunately, when it comes to my nutrition, being left to my own devices hasn’t been working out as well for me.
One of my main goals for this year is to build more muscle. In order to do that I knew for sure I was going to have to up my protein intake and balance out how many carbs I have been eating. The problem was I had no idea how many grams of proteins, carbs, fat, etc. I was actually taking in and what my target numbers should be. Enter tracking my macros! I had heard plenty of people talking about doing this as a way to ensure they are getting the proper mix of nutrients to meet their own goals so I figured this would be a good place to start to get myself on track and take a more scientific approach to my own nutrition.
I thought I would share here today a basic overview of what I learned through doing my own research in case you all might be interested in this topic of counting and tracking macros as well. Let start at the beginning with….
What are macros?
The term macros itself is short for MACRONUTRIENTS. Macronutrients are in essence tiny little molecules that our bodies rely on to give us energy and are what make up the calorie content of our food. The three main categories of macros that you want to be aware of are:
YOU NEED CARBS! Let me say that again….YOUR BODY NEEDS CARBS! They are not the enemy and should not be treated as such. Here again it is time for a disclaimer….when I talk about stuff like this I am referring to most people. If you have underlying medical conditions, food allergies, are on some certain types of medication, etc. this may not apply to you, but in general what I am talking about applies to the majority of the population. Ok, back to carbs. While carbs often get a bad rap as a major contributor to all of our weight gaining issues, really they are the most important energy source our body has. When we take them in, our bodies break them down into sugar and we use that to fuel just about everything we do, especially those high intensity workouts that I have really grown to love. On top of giving us all that energy they also make us happy! 😊 Yep, carbs are linked to the production of serotonin in our bodies which as you may have guessed is the hormone that makes us feel happy! Now of course there are good carbs and not so good carbs. For instance, fruits, veggies, beans, lentil = good carbs. Cookies, candy, fruity beverages, chips, french fries = bad carbs. Put the good in, get the good energy, happy feelings out!
Fantastic for building muscle but did you know it also does some other pretty cool and not to mention important things for our bodies? Like what you, ask? Well it helps to transport oxygen through our bloodstream which creates energy for us. It also helps to build and repair our tissues and muscles, makes enzymes in our bodies which power our chemical reactions like hormone production and release and also regulates blood sugar to prevent insulin spikes. Not to mention protein is a building block of such things like our hair, nails, bones and even skin. As a bonus, eating protein even makes us feel fuller with less food! When we ingest protein it actually slows our digestion down, keeping the food in us for longer and then of course in turn making us feel fuller longer.
Fat, just like carbs, gets a bad wrap but we do need to intake a certain amount of it to keep our bodies happy. It has some of the same benefits that protein does in that it helps to stabilize blood sugar and is also slower to digest which keeps us fuller longer. Now fat does have a higher calorie count than both protein and carbohydrates so you have to be careful not to over do it, but it does also help in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K which in turn does promote healthy weight loss. Fat also does wonders to keep our bodies insulated and our temperatures maintained as well as our hormones regulated and in addition it helps to promote brain and nerve health. Sources of good fat are nuts, avocado and fatty fishes.
How do you go about counting them?
Counting macros can be a little tricky but a good place to start is knowing how many calories are in 1 gram of each of the three types. The breakdown goes like this:
Now that we know that, another good piece of information to keep in mind is the general recommendations for how much of each nutrient to try to shoot for each day. While individual goals may differ from person to person depending on what you are trying to achieve, in general it is recommended that adults aim for the following:
Now, for instance, if you are like me and are focused on building more muscle while staying lean, you might want to shoot for something more like this:
If you are simply focused on losing weight, this is what is recommended:
So let’s say you shoot to intake about 2000 calories a days. If you were following the guidelines that I am for adjusting your macros to gain more muscle, that would mean that 40% of your 2000 calories should come from protein, 35% from carbs and 25% from fat. Once you decide on that, the next step is to break down those percentages into how many grams of each nutrient that equates to, which would look something like this:
Carbs: .40% x 2000 calories = 800 calories from carbs
Protein: .35% x 2000 calories = 700 calories from protein
Fat: .25% x 2000 calories = 500 calories from fat
But wait, there’s more….you then have to take the total calories and divide them by how many calories per gram each nutrient has in it to get how many grams you should be eating each day.
Carbs: 800 calories ÷ 4 calories/gram = 200 grams
Protein: 700 calories ÷ 4 calories/gram = 175 grams
Fat: 500 calories ÷ 9 calories/gram = 56 grams
Whew ok, that was a lot of math and I am not a fan of math. It was my least favorite subject in school and the only class I ever got a C in. I’m ashamed of that till this day, but luckily for me we live in a world where instead of pulling out my #2 pencil and graphing calculator every time I want to track my macros, I can pick up my trusty smartphone and download any number of apps to do all the hard work for me! There are lots of app choices out to help you count and track your macros, but the top 3 I have come across in terms of popularity are:
- MyMacros+ (This is the one I use!)
The basic idea is that you enter in all your stats, like age, weight, activity level, etc. to get set up and then you record what you eat throughout the day. Out pops a nice little pie chart like the ones above that tell you where your numbers fell that day. The first couple days I started using the MyMacros+ app I was pretty surprised how far off target I was in terms of my protein intake. Even though I do consume a superfood protein shake a day and eat a good amount of fish and veggies I was still coming in lower than I needed to be to build the muscle I want. I have since started to sneak more protein rich items into my daily meal plan and am slowly getting closer to hitting my numbers.
Pluses and Minuses to Tracking Macros
- Much more purposeful eating – I am finding this is a HUGE benefit for me! I think a lot more about what I am going to eat now during the day because I know I will have to track it in my little app and I want my calories to count. It’s not that I didn’t want that before, but there is definitely another level of accountability when you are actually logging your food choices in and can see how well you are doing throughout the day.
- It’s sustainable and flexible without being restrictive – I can still eat things I like such as my dark chocolate and occasional glass of red wine so it doesn’t’ feel at all like I am dieting because well I simply am not. Where counting macros differs from counting calories is you not counting how many calories you are eating, instead you are focusing on what type of calories you intake to make sure you are getting the proper mix of nutrients. You can still indulge in treat foods if you build them properly into your count which is the part that makes this technique sustainable where traditional calorie-restrictive diets in my opinion are not.
- You can lose weight or gain muscle depending on how you tailor your numbers This is an actual tool to help you achieve your goals! Much like my workout programs that have been developed by actual fitness professionals and only require me to show up and press play, counting macros takes a scientific approach to nutrition and the guesswork out of it almost completely. I now know exactly how much of what I should be eating each day and if I find myself off track throughout the day I can load up on what I am missing and/or cut back on what I am getting too much of to keep myself aligned with my goals.
- Ensures you are getting the right mix of nutrients to maintain a healthy lifestyle – Tracking and counting macros is a great tool to ensure you are getting the right mix of nutrients in order to reach your weight loss and/or body goals. But aesthetics’ aside, getting the proper mix of nutrients is important for a variety of other health reasons as well. Hitting your macro goals each day ensures your immune system is functioning optimally (super important right now, don’t ya think?!), gives your metabolism a boost and also increases your energy levels. And just as a side note, while there are a variety of supplements you can take to help meet you numbers, it is always best to get your nutrients through food simply because you body can more easily and effectively absorb them.
- Potential to trigger disordered eating – If you have a history with or a tendency towards disordered eating, counting macros might not be a great idea. While it is not about restriction, you are focusing on the calories in everything you eat. Being that focused on food could be a slippery slope if you are someone who has struggled with an eating disorder in the past.
- If you don’t set proper goals you can end up missing the mark nutritionally speaking – Like I mentioned above, you can still build in food you enjoy eating as long as it fits into your numbers for the day. What you need to be careful of is that you are eating foods that not only fit into your goal numbers but are also good, quality sources of the nutrients you are aiming for. For instance, as I mentioned above there are good, complex carbs and bad carbs, good, healthy fats and bad fats. If you are eating the right amount of carbs but they are all coming from “junk” food like potato chips and cookies well then you really aren’t doing yourself much good. Try to eat as many whole foods as possible and stay as far away from the processed foods as you can!
- Be careful of nutrient deficiency – Much like eating the wrong kind of foods, you need to be careful your macro goals don’t lead you down a path where you are restricting one or several kinds of foods too much and in turn become deficient in certain nutrients. Nutrient deficiency can wreak all kinds of havoc on your body from causing fatigue to having brittle hair, nails and bones, to even causing personality changes and anxiety and depression. Make sure you are still eating a well-balanced diet while trying to keep in line with your goal numbers.
It’s always a good idea to speak with a doctor or nutritionist before starting any kind of eating/meal plan but I hope you were able to learn something about what macros are and how useful it can be to track and count them from the info above. I sure learned a lot writing this and as I have been tracking my own macros now for about a week I have learned a lot about how far having the right information at hand can go when trying to meet my own goals. I feel so much more empowered now to make better food choices simply because I am paying so much more attention to the quality of the food I am eating. I feel like with this new tool I am on track to eat more consistently, reach my goals quicker, and even get to know my body better. Knowledge is definitely power when it comes to our health you guys! The more you know the better able you are to live the healthiest, happiest and most fulfilling life possible!