MACROS: Are They Worth Counting?
For more than 10 years I have created individual meal plans for people with different fitness and body goals. As a nutritionist I believe eating healthy whole foods in the right amounts allow you to have enough energy to perform daily tasks and reach your fitness goals. Meal plans are great because it takes all the guess work out and allows for eating the right foods. While some people prefer to be told what to eat and do not mind eating the same things every day it’s not for everyone. One thing I’ve learned over the years is variety and flexibility helps people stick to their meal plan and not give up when they can see they have not completely fallen off the grid. Even more empowering is learning how to create your own meal plans with the right tools and turning it into a lifestyle you can enjoy.
Let me ask you a question. How many times have you found yourself on a “diet” that was hard to stick to and you fell off only to feel defeated and go off eating whatever you wanted the rest of the day? Or since you “already fell off,” you made a deal with yourself to start fresh on Monday? Believe me, I have been there. If you were eating for your macros you would track your unhealthy meal, look at your total macros and adjust the remainder of your food. Once you learn which foods you can exchange and eat you will be able to plan events, parties, and prepare your meals in advance. Before I continue let me explain what macros are for those that have recently joined the healthy eating world. Macros or macronutrients are the foods we eat, protein, carbohydrates, and fat. They each play multiple roles in our nourishment and when eaten in the right amounts can help you reach your health and fitness goals. The focus is to eat the amount of grams for each macro and not stress over the calories because your total macros end up meeting your total calorie goal. Understanding serving sizes of foods is a necessity. It can be overwhelming at first but with patience and consistency it becomes easier. If you’ve ever looked at a nutrition label it gives you a breakdown of each macro nutrient in one serving of the food item.
I started counting my macros a few years after I started competing in bodybuilding. Realizing I was not eating enough I took the scientific approach and calculated the amount of calories I needed to eat to gain muscle in my off season. The number took me by surprise and thought it was too much food but I knew I had to give it a chance to reach my goals. At first I was frustrated trying to figure out what muscle growing foods would total 250 grams of carbs in a day. Then I had to figure out the amounts and look up nutrient facts to be accurate. I felt like I was in a new math class! I finally looked into using a food logging app that had a database with most of the nutrition facts for the foods I was eating and as I logged each meal it totaled the grams for each macronutrient. This made tracking my macros easier and it saved my favorite foods, meals, and recipes. I tried multiple apps and found Lose It to be my favorite with My Fitness Pal running a close second. Let’s be honest, it was a lot of work but at the end of the day this method has kept me in check during my off season. You don’t have to be a fitness competitor to count your macros, you just have to be ready to learn how to mange your nutrition. In my experience as a nutritionist my clients that track and log their food see better results than when they do not.
So, by now you are asking “How does this work?” or “How do I figure out what my macros are?” The first thing you need to establish are your fitness goals. Are you trying to lose weight? Lean out? Gain muscle? Once you know this we can can calculate your needs. First, calculate your BMR basal metabolic rate. The formula used by most apps and nutritionists is the Harris-Benedict equation.
Men BMR = (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) + 5
Women BMR = (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) – 161
Then you need to establish your total daily energy expenditure by multiplying your BMR by activity level.
Little to no exercise Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.2
Light exercise (1–3 days per week) Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.375
Moderate exercise (3–5 days per week) Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.55
Heavy exercise (6–7 days per week) Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.725
Very heavy exercise (twice per day, extra heavy workouts) Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.9