When looking at losing weight and healthy eating, you may have run across the word “macro” and “tracking macros.” But what are they and why track them? If you have ever gone on a low carb or low-fat diet, increased your protein for muscle building, or carb-loaded before a distance race, you have been playing with macros. Keep reading to learn how to fine-tune your diet by counting macros.
Macros are macronutrients. The term macro means large. The body needs these nutrients to function and provide energy. You may be familiar with the term calories or as in counting calories. Macros are what make up the calories in food and can help you understand how all calories are not created equal. By learning more about macros, you will better understand where your calories are coming from and how they affect your body. Counting macros can help you focus more on how to fuel your body for better nutrition and fitness goals.
The three areas of nutrients concerning macros are fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Counting macros and not just calories are important. The calorie content in these three areas has a value.
Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram. Carbs are important for fueling daily activities, but they are not all created equal. Simple carbohydrates such as white bread, white flour, regular pasta, and sugary cereals will spike insulin levels which dictate how our body will use the food. It can be used immediately for energy or more likely stored as fat. Complex carbs generally digest slowly and keep insulin levels from spiking, allowing the food to convert into energy rather than storing it as fat. These types of carbohydrates include brown rice, whole wheat bread, quinoa, and whole-wheat pasta.
Proteins also contain 4 calories per gram. Protein is essential for building muscle, and lean muscle is the best tool to burn fat. According to a Harvard Medical School article, most Americans take in about 15% of their calories from protein. This may sound low, but it is well within daily recommended requirements. But if you are looking to maintain healthy weight and muscle while aging research has shown adding more protein to the diet may help. Common protein sources include chicken, ground turkey, lean red meats, pork, eggs, fish, and protein powder.
Fats contain 9 calories per gram. This is more than double the carbohydrates and proteins. No reason to be afraid because fat helps us absorb vitamins into the bloodstream. It’s also important for managing inflammation. Your body needs fat for energy and critical functions, such as hormone production, nutrient absorption, and body temperature maintenance. Excellent sources for unsaturated fats include avocado, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil. Stay away from trans-fats, found in fried and processed foods. Be watchful when consuming saturated fats from milk, cheese, and other animal products as they can be high in cholesterol.
Start with finding how many calories you should consume within a day. A calorie calculator can help you determine your needs and can be located online. The next step is to look at what macronutrient ratio works best for you. A macro calculator can help with specific ratios that may work best in your individual case. Calculator.net has a good one for both calories and macros with an option on if you want to maintain, gain, or lose weight.
Typical macronutrient recommendations for carbohydrates are 45-56% of total calories, proteins 10-35% of total calories, and fats 20-35% of total calories. Your ratio can be fine-tuned depending on your goals. Finding the right fit of protein, fat, and carbs can help establish your personal goals to build muscle or lose weight.
Plan and execute. The more you think about your food intake, the less surprised you will be by what you have consumed. Learn what a typical serving size is for portion control. Use an app to make tracking easier and save time on math calculations. Remember, patience helps when learning something new. Before you know it, you will recognize what your body needs and how it will stack up in your macro numbers. Don’t give up!
The benefits of tracking macros can help eliminate excess calories from your diet and result in weight loss. Tracking gives you a more solid nutrition program and in turn a more powerful impact on choices and calorie intake. Since we start losing muscle in our 30s, tracking macros can help you get enough protein to build and repair the body.
What you may like best about counting macros is the “not a one-size-fits-all strategy.” You are eating real food without depriving your body. You will want to keep in mind that quality is still the goal and not focus solely on the numbers. Keep looking at the food your body really needs. Always consult with your healthcare provider before beginning an exercise/meal restriction plan to ensure the health and wellness plan is right for you. Remember, it’s important to get whole grains, healthy fats, vegetables, and lean protein on your plate. Macro counting is just another way to help you find the right fit for your body.
Related Article: There is plenty of scientific evidence to support that fasting is beneficial to your overall health and even your cognitive function. If you’re thinking of doing a three-day fast, here’s a first-hand account of what you can expect.
Robin Anne Griffiths is a certified master development coach, personal trainer, behavior change consultant, and yoga instructor. She specializes as a movement instructor for senior populations. Her mission is to help with living a fuller and healthier life as you age. Her Better You Series is three unique programs tailored to help with positive changes in diet, fitness, and life direction. She works with groups and individuals on life transitions to create personal balance – physically and mentally. You can find more information at her website and read her blog.
Subscribe today for free to receive our weekly update and never miss an article.