By Ali Johnson
You may recall in our previous post on nutrition that we briefly touched on the idea of “tracking” or “counting” macronutrients (or macros) as a way to maintain a healthy diet. Whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, or just be healthy, tracking your macros can be a great way to meet your fitness goals. If you take the time to educate yourself on how to count macros, it can be a very sustainable way to live a healthy lifestyle. You’re not cutting out entire food groups, depriving yourself of dessert, or trying to survive off a limited number of calories; you should never feel hungry, and having a brownie or a cheeseburger every once in awhile doesn’t mean your diet is wasted for the day. There’s a reason counting macros is also known as “flexible dieting”; your diet should fit in with your lifestyle, not the other way around.
What are macros?
Carbs usually contain 4 calories per gram and make up the bulk of most people’s diets. Carbs are essential for your body to produce energy; they typically get broken down into glucose (blood sugar) which your body either uses immediately for energy or stores in your liver and your muscles. Carbs should make up around 40-60% of your diet.
Fats typically contain 9 calories per gram. Your body needs fat to survive; fat helps you maintain your body temperature, produce hormones, and absorb nutrients. That’s why it’s never a good idea to completely cut fat out of your diet. Instead, try to incorporate healthy fats such as nuts, avocado, oil, butter, meat, and fish. It’s typically recommended to devote 20-30% of your diet to fat.
Protein also contains 4 calories per gram. Your body needs protein to build muscle, produce hormones, tissues, and enzymes, and to maintain immune function. How much protein you consume should be directly based on your fitness goals, body composition, age, and health. People typically factor in anywhere from 10-40% of their diet in protein.
How to count macros
The first thing you need to do is determine your Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR. This will tell you the amount of calories your body needs to consume on a daily basis if you’re not exercising. Then, factor in your level of activity (how many calories you burn in a typical workout) and you should be able to come up with a target calorie count. You can calculate your BMR using this formula, or you can get an InBody scan at CF3P and receive a custom report on your current level of health.
You can then divide up your calories into carbs, fat, and protein based on your fitness goals. If your goal is to lose fat but retain muscle, you can start with the 4-4-2 method: 40% of your calories for protein, 40% for carbs, and 20% for fat. Start with that, and then adjust depending on your results. You’ll need to make a change as you lose weight (your body won’t need as many calories to fuel it) as well as if your activity level changes.
Utilizing an app like My Fitness Pal makes counting macros incredibly easy; you can use the app to set your calories and determine your macros, and then as you enter your food the app will automatically total how many grams of fat, carbs, and protein you’ve consumed and subtract it from your total so you can see what you have remaining for the rest of the day. I find it easiest to plan and enter in my dinners first, since they’re usually the highest in calories, and then I can plan my breakfast, lunch, and snacks based on the macros I have remaining.
Benefits of counting macros
Counting macros is a great way to learn about food and portion control.
This method of dieting forces you to look at the labels and nutrition information on the food you’re consuming, as well as serving sizes. If you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to weigh your portions so you can see exactly what 100 grams of broccoli looks like- people tend to eat way more than a typical portion size without realizing it. If you’re eating broccoli that’s not a problem, but if you think you’re measuring out 2 tablespoons of peanut butter when really you’re eating closer to 4, that’s an extra 200 calories that could explain why you’re not losing weight. Tracking macros will give you a feel for which foods are nutrient-dense vs. calorie dense, and can overall help you understand what and how much you should be eating. It can also help you learn to choose whole food over processed food.
It’s customizable based on your goals and lifestyle.
Your macros should be customized based on the fitness goals you’re trying to reach; if you want to gain more muscle, you’ll want to increase your calories and protein count. If you’re trying to lose weight, you should eat in a calorie deficit and limit the amount of fat in your diet. One of the great things about counting macros it that you can change your numbers based on your results. If you’re eating a certain number of calories but you still feel hungry, you should absolutely increase them; but try increasing by adding more protein into your diet, not more fat. Or if you feel like you’re forcing yourself to eat, consider decreasing your daily calorie allotment by cutting out some carbs. You should absolutely revisit your macros and your goals periodically to make sure everything is still working for you, and then make changes accordingly.
Counting macros is a great way to lose weight, build muscle, learn about nutrition and portion control, achieve your fitness goals, and overall live a healthy lifestyle. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really not that complicated…especially if you learn to use an app or program to help you track. Additionally, meal delivery services like Plated calculate the calorie and macro count for you so you can easily input it into your guide. But if you really want a no-fuss way to start counting macros and losing weight, check out CF3P’s nutrition program; they’ll start by giving you an InBody Scan so you know exactly where you’re at in terms of your health, and then they’ll work with you to develop both nutrition and fitness goals. Finally, they’ll provide you with custom meal plans (including grocery lists) created especially for you to ensure you meet your goals. Let them do the planning while you put in the work!