There's a lot of buzz around macros right now. As you’ll learn, this topic can to be a bit of a rabbit-hole. My goal with this post is to give you an overview of what macros are, what it means to ‘count your macros’ and why it may support your nutritional goals.
OVERVIEW: MACROS + MICROS
Macros refers to macronutrients, of which there are three: protein, fat and carbohydrates. Macronutrients make up the majority of caloric intake in our diets. They are the major groups of nutrients our bodies need to stay fueled. Each plays a different role in providing us with nutrients, calories and energy. They are called macronutrients because our bodies require them in large amounts in order to fuel, grow, recover, and feel our best.
The counterpart of macronutrients is micronutrients. Micros don’t get talked about nearly as much as macros because your body doesn’t need the large caloric intake of micros like it does with macros, however they are just as important.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that help maintain optimal body function in tandem with macros. They include vitamins A, B, C through K and minerals, such as iron, zinc and magnesium. Each of these plays a role in your body’s cellular function, physical and mental wellbeing and your metabolism. A good rule of thumb for making sure your body is getting all of the micronutrients it needs is to make sure your diet is contains variety. Many micronutrients are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. So make sure you’re eating different colors of fruits and vegetables to keep things varied.
BREAKDOWN OF MACROS
Now, let’s get back to macros. Each macronutrient can be found in most every food. The ratio of macros a food is comprised of gives us insight into how that food will fuel our bodies and what types of nutrients that food is providing us with. Let’s take rice for example. Rice is considered a carbohydrate because it’s caloric breakdown is about 85% carbs, 7% fat and 8% protein. In this case, carbs are the primary macronutrient that serves your body when you eat rice. Another example is avocados. Avocados are about 75% fat, 20% carbs, and 5% protein, meaning they are a fat-based food.
In terms of calories, this is how macros measure up:
1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
So, what do you do with all of this information? You may have heard of people ‘counting their macros’. All this means is that they are following a specific caloric intake by weighing and measuring their food. In essence, it’s the same as counting calories, however, the focus is placed on the types of foods you’re eating and the ratio of macronutrients making up your meals.
Counting macros supports many different goals; you may count them to lose weight or gain weight. You may count them to give you a clearer picture of what you’re actually eating on a daily basis. You may count them to better fuel your workouts or aid in recovery.
Some reasons why counting macros is effective:
It gives you a really good idea of what you're eating and how much versus what you should be eating based on your goals
If you're a person of routine and regimen (I know I certainly am) a specific macro program gives you very clear guidelines on what to eat.
To ensure you're properly fueling your body before and after your workouts - this is HUGE for recovery (read this post for more tips on recovery)
If you’re interested in counting macros, I first recommend figuring out what your nutritional goals are and why you think counting macros will get you there. Once you know your reason, I think it’s best to have a plan or follow a specific program that best aligns with your goal(s).
WAYS TO COUNT MACROS
There are a number of nutrition programs that use macro-counting. Some programs are based on a total daily count. This means that you're given one big number each for protein, fat, and carbs to consume in some form or fashion throughout the day. The reason I'm not a fan of programs like this is because many people get to the end of the day and are trying to fit in a meal with an odd number of leftover numbers to complete their count.
Other programs give you a breakdown of macros per meal based on the time of day that you train. And some programs simply follow a ratio that each meal you eat should be made up of. Below are a few (of the many) programs to check out:
RP Strength | RP stands for Renaissance Periodization; their major claim is that their program is completely based on science. In short, this program is template-based dependant on your goals. Each meal is laid out for a particular day as well as the macronutrient amount for each meal and the timing of every single meal depending on physical activity.
This is actually the program that I follow. I’ve been following it consistently since last September and I have seen great results in my physique and energy levels.
The Zone Diet | This plan is based on the 40/30/30 idea that each meal is made up of 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% fat. The link will take you to an article from the CrossFit Journal, as Zone is one of CrossFit’s recommendations for nutrition. Zone focuses on eating balanced meals using ‘blocks’ and doesn’t take nutrient-timing into consideration, like RP does.
Flexible Dieting | This is also known as IIFYM, or If It Fits Your Macros. This plan is based more on caloric intake with a focus on macro ratios in comparison to your daily activity. The other two plans above also put an emphasis on the types of food you eat (whole, fresh food), where as flexible dieting does not.
Keep in mind, these are just a few of the many programs out there for counting macros. At the end of the day, your personal goals in regards to nutrition and physical activity will determine what’s best for you and your body.
Interested in counting macros? Stay tuned for the rest of the posts in this month-long series all about macros. In the coming weeks I'll be taking a closer look at each macro and breaking down its role in your diet, when it's best to eat each one, and good sources of each.
Questions about macros? Ask me in the comments below or shoot me an email!