I received a great response to my post last week about my personal journey with CrossFit, so I decided to share more about my personal journey with counting macros - another topic I get a lot of questions about.
One thing I’ve learned about diet (diet in the sense of a specific way of eating, not dieting to lose weight) is that it is a constant work in progress. For me, and probably you, too, it has evolved over the years. As I learn more, as my goals change, as my training changes, as my priorities change, so does my nutrition.
If you followed along over the summer, I wrote several posts about macros and tracking your food. Some of you may already track your food, some of you may be curious. My intention with this week’s post is to share my experience with counting macros. Hopefully you’ll be able to take something away from my experience and apply it to your own journey. If anything, I want this post to emphasize that nutrition and diet aren’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all deal. They are very personal to your goals and your lifestyle and they’re something that will continue to adapt over time.
GETTING STARTED WITH MACROS
Chris and I have been tracking our food for over a year now. But, I remember when Chris presented the idea to me and I was NOT about it. I clearly love food and have a big interest in nutrition. I’ve paid attention to what I eat for most of my life and even more so since starting CrossFit. And I was still resistant.
I was afraid to start tracking because it felt too controlled and I also probably didn’t want to be told that I was eating too much of something (like peanut butter) or that I needed to eat more. As much fun as it is to think about eating more, it has such a negative stigma in our society that for someone like me who is really health conscious, I had to remind myself that eating more (of the good stuff) would be ok and is actually a good thing.
USING A TEMPLATE
I started tracking macros using the Renaissance Periodization templates. The templates were really helpful in giving me a way to take baby steps. Starting with RP helped make macro tracking much more approachable for me. Instead of tracking every single nutrient in the foods I was eating, the templates coach you to count foods based on their primary macronutrient. For example, meat and fish are counted as protein; avocado, oils, nut-butters, etc. are counted as fats; and foods like rice and sweet potatoes are counted as carbs.
If you’re just getting into tracking with macros or need a place to start, I recommend the RP templates (or something similar) because it’s a good way to ease into it. Even though the templates are not 100% accurate, counting and tracking every bite of food you put into your mouth can be overwhelming and a HUGE step for anyone. Whether it’s RP or another resource, if you’re thinking about getting into tracking but aren’t quite sold on the idea, try a template.
Using the templates also helped me learn how to begin balancing my meals and timing my nutrients around my training. I was still eating the same meals every day, but I learned how to add more variety to my diet by planning out my meals more closely. I learned a lot about how to fuel better for my workouts. It also helped me pay more attention to how much I was eating in general and how much of certain foods. I was definitely eating too much peanut- butter, but I feel like that’s a universal problem, it’s not just me, right?!
After getting into a groove for about a month, I was convinced that tracking my food was helpful in maintaining a specific weight and improved my training by fueling my body better pre- and post-workout. And I really liked knowing that what I was eating at each meal was playing into a bigger plan for each day.
Chris and I stuck to RP with some minor tweaks here and there for about 16 months. And then the holidays happened and we got married.
After our wedding, Chris said he felt like it was time for us to tighten things up again, and I agreed. He suggested that we start tracking more closely. Part of me was really resistant - I didn’t want to count every. single. thing. But, leading up to the wedding I had noticed a shift in my energy and noticed it most during my training sessions. I had not been feeling great in my workouts. I attributed it to stress and exhaustion from work and the wedding. That was probably part of it, but I now know that a big part of it was that I wasn’t eating enough.
So, two days after our wedding, we committed to tracking our macros precisely for 30 days. We abandoned the templates and got more specific. Now we would be eating to fulfill daily total macro numbers and would be tracking every. single. thing. *(insert eye roll)*
As great as the templates were for helping me learn about tracking macros and easing my way into it, they are not exact. After consulting with my coach and a few nutrition-savvy friends, Chris and I tweaked our numbers, downloaded My Fitness Pal, and shook on it. 30 days strict...here we go.
30 DAYS LATER
We started the first day by weighing in and taking some before photos. We vowed to log everything that went into our mouths each day using My Fitness Pal and we would hold each other accountable along the way. We picked our end-date (February 3) and gave each other 2 free passes for social events we had planned in January. Other than that, we stuck to it.
The first week I noticed a huge improvement in how I felt during my workouts. I had more energy and felt like I had a little extra push during my conditioning pieces. I quickly learned that I had not been eating enough carbs the past several months and that is probably why I was feeling so depleted during my workouts. As I began laying out my meals each day, I also learned that I was eating a lot more fat than I thought I was. It was time to give up peanut-butter (again) and upgrade my protein sources to leaner cuts of meat and start eating more fish when possible.
As I increased my caloric intake (I am now eating about 700 more calories, including almost 100 more grams of carbs), I began feeling even more hungry. This was my indication that my body really did need more than I was giving it. I by no means was starving myself or anything like that, I just plain and simply wasn’t eating enough to support my training goals.
When it comes to food and training, for me, less is not more. It’s good to eat a lot, as long as it’s the right stuff. Carbs are not bad, they’re actually very good. And balanced sources of protein and fat within your meals goes a long way (read more about carbs, protein and fats in these posts). Listen to your body and be flexible to change.
Overall, like anything else, my personal nutrition has been a journey and it will continue to evolve. The perfectionist in me felt like I did something wrong or like I didn’t get it right the first time. But I know now that it isn’t like that at all. For me, it has all been one big experiment. Following the templates was an experiment and when it didn’t seem to be working anymore, I changed it. Now I am keeping close count on my macros to fulfill total daily numbers. It seems to be going great so far, but I know I will have to tweak my numbers along the way and that’s ok. There’s no right or wrong, but it’s most important to find what works for you and best serves your goals.