Counting Macros. What is it? And Why it matters.
I think by now people understand the whole “get in the gym” and just do it thing. BUT, what most people fail to do correctly is eat right. And no, I don’t mean “eat right” as in “eat clean.” I mean it in the sense that we don’t eat for our goals. You’d be surprised how many people think that just adding in a few gym sessions per week or throwing in P90x once in a blue moon will get them the physique that they want so bad. Working out in and of itself isn’t some miracle. In fact, YOU DON’T NEED TO WORKOUT TO LOSE WEIGHT. “Really? So you’re telling me that I don’t need to workout to lose body fat?!?!” Yep. (but to get RIPPED, you absolutely do. More on that later.) To lose body fat, you simply have to burn more calories than you consume. Let’s begin…
It’s all in the math
“Oh no! I hate math.” Too bad, if you want to get the body you so desire you’ll have to know a couple of things. First, a CALORIE (abbeviated Cal, not cal) is a unit of energy. More specifically, 1 calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise 1 kilogram of water 1 Celcius degree. That’s why it’s called burning calories, you are literally extracting energy from your food.
“Ok, well that sounds all scientific, but so what.”
Glad you asked. The food we eat is composed of three main or macro nutrients (we’ll say macros for short). They are PROTEIN, CARBOHYDRATES, and FAT.
Protein is literally the king of macros and the most essential in my book. Protein is important for numerous bodily functions such as muscle growth and muscle repair. The body needs a certain (physiological) level in order to maintain muscle mass. Under that amount, muscle breakdown occurs and mass is lost. Therefore our aim is to keep protein high enough so that we maintain our muscle mass while shedding body fat. In America, most people consume way less protein than they do carbs and fats. Sources of protein are numerous, but the usually we think of animal based sources such as red meat, poultry, and fish. Although not impossible by any stretch, vegetarians have a more difficult road (at first) nailing protein down (typically, they resort to soy products).
Carbs serve as the body’s most readily available source of energy during exercise. They are essentially broken down and stored in muscle tissue as glycogen to be used as energy or stored as fat. We can talk more about simple and complex carbs later.
What about fats? Contrary to popular belief, fats are CRUCIAL to proper bodily function. They help keep our exterior healthy and our interior well cushioned (think organs here). There are several fats that are labeled “essential” that the body does not make on it’s own and they have to be eaten (think fish, nuts, and the like). While I’m here, we tend to hear “good fats” used liberally these days, but that doesn’t mean handfuls and handfuls of walnuts are OK for you to eat. “But why?”
Macros aren’t created equally. Each of these macros have a specific energy content. Protein and carbs each account for 4 calories per gram while fats account for 9 calories per gram and we’ll use these values to track calories.
“So what do these have to do with me and eating for my goals?”
We count macros in order to hit our caloric goals as well as our physique goals (Remember we learned that all macros are created equal). Let’s start with a simple example. Say we are following the Fat Shredder diet from the P90X Nutrition Guide and starting at 1900 calories/day. The Fat Shredder diet calls from 50 percent of calories coming from protein, 30 percent from carbs, and 20 percent from fat. (Don’t get all caught up in the percentage breakdown yet, we’ll get to that later) Anyway, let’s do the math: 1900cals*50%=950 calories/4 cals/gram=237.5 grams of protein. 1900cals*30%=570cals/4 cals/gram=142.5 grams carbs. 1900cals*20%=380cals/4cals/gram=42.2grams fats. (We’d round up all these to the nearest gram and then try to hit proteins/carbs within 2 grams a day and fats within 5 grams.) That’s it! That’s all there is to counting macros. We pick a calorie count, determine the macro breakdown, and aim to hit those macros every day. Want to see how it’s done? Check out this video breaking down the calculations:
Determining your caloric needs
It can be pretty frustrating trying to figure out how many calories you need to eat to lose, maintain, or gain weight. Really there’s too much information out there to get confused. And how exactly should we break down our macros? First let me say that the best way to diet is to eat as many calories as you can while still making progress. If you can lose body fat at 2000 calories why would you jump straight to 1600? This wouldn’t leave you very much to cut from once you hit a plateau (and you will). I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but fast body fat loss is a dangerous game. If you already know what your maintenance caloric intake is then great! Simply put yourself into a little bit of a deficit and track away, but if you have no idea here’s a good starting point:
There are a ton of calculators out there, but I’ve found this one to work pretty well. To start, take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by 14 if you are extremely active (day-to-day life not counting workouts) and 12 if you are sedentary (or 13 for somewhere in between). So for example, I would be 175*12=2100 calories. I know from experience and tracking for a while that this is really close to what my body needs for maintenance. *Everyone is different, but generally this is a good starting point.
Now that you know your daily caloric intake it’s time to break it down to macronutrients. Typically we hear of macronutrients being used as percentages such as 40p/30c/30f which mean 40% of cals
from protein, 30% from carbs, and 30% from fat. The problem with percentages is that it can mean wildly different amounts for different people so here we will use multipliers of our body weight (in pounds).
“So how do I break it down?” Let’s start with an example. Take a 165 pound man who is mostly sedentary. He should start with 165×12=2000 calories/day. We’ll begin with protein since it is the most important macronutrient. Generally 1gram/pound of bodyweight is a great starting point (you can go higher, say 1.5grams/lb). At his current body weight our guy should eat 165 grams of protein per day which equates to 165*4=660 cals. Depending on where you look, you’ll find a wild variety of opinions about carbohydrate intake. That number can depend on a number of factors such as how well you tolerate carbs, how much you like carbs over fats, your body makeup, and how physically active you are. The amount that I see most often is 1.0-1.3 grams/lb. So we’ll take 1.3 (I like carbs lol) which is 1.3*165=215 (rounded) grams/day. That’s 215*4=860 calories. Now we’re left with fats to cover the remaining 480 calories or (480cals/9cals/gram)=53 grams/day. That’s all there is to it. There’s a ton of app out there to help you track and even let you scan food labels. I find that MyFitnessPal is the easiest to use.
“Is counting macros a license to eat whatever I want?”
Some may think that counting macros or IIFYM (if it fits you macros) is a license to go out and eat whatever you want as long as it fits, but to actually hit these numbers you’ll have to eat a well-balanced diet including vegetables and fruits. Don’t get me wrong, I eat pop tarts, pizza, caramel popcorn, etc., but I make sure to get all my fruits and vegetables for the day also (gotta love that SHAKEOLOGY). Outside of hitting your macros, you also need to be hitting your daily allotment of vitamins and minerals aka micronutrients (SHAKEOLOGY to the resuce again!). Deficiencies in these can cause hormonal imbalances and make you feel sluggish/tired along with a myriad of other health problems so make sure you get these in the recommended amounts.
Anyway, that’s about all there is to how I approach tracking nutrition. Play around with it and see what happens and don’t hesitate to ask me any questions. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ll help point you in the right direction. And remember,