Macros are the key pieces to your nutritional puzzle. Macros, or macronutrients, make up the total calories you ingest during the day to keep you functioning as a human. Macronutrients can be broken down in simpler terms to carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Each macro provides the necessary building blocks you need to fuel your fitness and everyday life.
Why do you need to know about macros? You need to know about macronutrients to maintain weight, lose weight, gain weight, and otherwise, lead a healthy lifestyle. You can avoid counting macros with intuitive eating, but unless you are already in a place where know what’s good for you to eat and what you should be avoiding, in addition to knowing how much to eat, understanding macros and counting them each day could help you hit your health and fitness goals in the kitchen.
Getting a basic understanding of what macronutrients are and how counting them can help you hit goals can be difficult, especially at the beginning. When a fellow bikini competitor asked me if I was counting macros several years ago and was going to ‘reverse’ out of my diet plan, I kind of glossed over, like a deer in headlights. It’s not like I didn’t have a basic understanding of fitness nutrition, but this seemed all too overwhelming of a question at the time. Going back to the basics, which I will cover for you here, helps. Now, counting macros is second nature to me. I count every little bit of food that I eat and beverage I drink. There is quite a bit of freedom when it comes to counting your macros. If it fits into the macro goals, you can eat it. Of course, don’t go crazy with your choices.
What are the different macros?
Macronutrients can be broken down by each of the three main macros – carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Each macronutrient provides essential building blocks for you nutritionally, and the ratio to which you consume these macronutrients makes a difference.
Carbohydrates are not bad, despite what you might have read or seen. Carbohydrates consist of foods that are can be sugary, starchy, and high fiber foods. Think breads, pastas, starchy vegetables like potatoes, beans, legumes, and fruits. The sugars and starches in carbohydrates break down into glucose in the body, which can be used right away for energy or stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles for energy use later. Generally, carbohydrates will make up approximately 45 to 65 percent of your daily caloric intake. Each gram of carbohydrates provides four (4) calories of your daily intake. To count your daily carbohydrates, you can count the number of grams of carbohydrates in a certain food and multiply that number by 4 to obtain the carbohydrate calories derived from that food. You don’t need to count both calories and grams. I sometimes just like to know.
Proteins are the building blocks for your muscles and pretty much your entire body. Proteins are composed of amino acids chains that help your cells repair and rebuild throughout the day. Proteins help carry oxygen in the blood and repair your muscles after a workout. You need protein. The Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for protein intake suggest that 0.8 gram per kilogram of body weight per day is what is required to survive. However, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends getting 1.2 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight daily. The difference is significant. Most individuals can keep it simple and plan for approximately 1.0 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. Each protein gram provides four (4) calories of your total daily caloric intake. A good range for daily caloric intake of protein is 15 to 35% or by following the above recommendations from ACSM. When in doubt, talk to a professional.
Getting that much protein in one day is hard if you’re not already eating enough. If you find you do not have enough energy throughout the day and are not seeing results in the gym, take a look at your protein intake daily. You may be under-feeding your body. Increase your protein slowing until you hit your mark. Then, watch your body thrive.
Let’s not forget fats. Fats are good. Butter, avocado, olive oil, nuts, and ice cream. LOL! Each fat gram gives you nine (9) calories of your total daily caloric intake, which is significantly higher than the other two macronutrients. So, you have to be careful with your fat intake throughout the day. Don’t go too nuts! LOL, again! Fats are essential to healthy living. Choosing the right fats at the right time takes practice. Don’t deny yourself fats. Your daily bodily functions require fat. Too little fat intake can disturb hormonal balances in your body, increase inflammation, and make you feel, well, icky. Butter and cooking oils are two of the easiest ways to add a good portion of healthy fats to your diet. Yes, butter is a healthy fat. Just like nuts – almonds and cashews are two of my favorites. It’s important that you measure fats carefully, just like the other macros.
Measuring your macros
Measuring your food is an important piece to the macro puzzle. If you don’t have a food scale, get one today. I ordered mine from Amazon for about $25. I used to measure everything in ounces and cups and tablespoons because that seems to be how much of the food packaging is labeled. Recently, I switched to measuring everything I can in grams except for my proteins like pork, chicken, and beef. Measuring in grams gives a more accurate accounting of your food. It doesn’t matter too much whether you measure raw or cooked but you should be consistent. I measure cooked.
It's so important that you track your food intake daily. How do you know what you’re eating if you don’t track it? Some people tell me that they mostly know what they’re eating, yet don’t measure their food. Once they start tracking their food, and I mean tracking every little bit of food and beverage consumed all day long, there are some surprised people. It’s amazing how a little snack here and a little snack there and not properly measuring your food using a food scale can disrupt the actual food intake. Some are eating too little, or underfed, and others eat way too much.
There are plenty of apps to help you track your food intake. I used My Fitness Pal, which is a free app with premium option upgrade. I use premium for additional nutrient data. The choice is yours. You just need to pick one and use it daily. Once you start tracking for a couple of weeks, you can make adjustments. However, you can’t make adjustments unless you know what you’re doing now.
Reach out to me if you’re looking for more tips on tracking your macronutrients. In a future post, I will walk you through my typical day of eating.