If you live in the gym or even just belong to a gym or are in tune with the health community, chances are you’ve heard of the term “counting macros.” Used mainly by people looking to either shed some excess weight or gain muscle mass, counting your daily macronutrients (macros) can help you reach these health goals. It essentially just means you are keeping track of the calories and the types of foods you eat in order to achieve your health goals.
Once you get the hang of it, counting your daily intake of macros is relatively simple, however, it can be confusing if you’re just starting out and aren’t sure where to look for information or don’t yet know all the abbreviations and terms used. So, to help you on your way, below we have provided you with a step by step guide on macros…
What are Macros?
To be able to do this properly and be to fully informed, you need to know what macros are and why some people will need a different macronutrient ratio to others.
The main three macronutrients you want to keep track of are…
Each offering a different, yet VERY important element to your health and well-being. Unless told by a medical professional otherwise, you should be consuming some of each on a daily basis.
Carbs provide 4 calories per gram and typically make up the largest portion of people’s calorie intake. Carbohydrates include – sugar, starch and fibre.
Most carbs will get broken down into glucose (blood sugar) which your body will either use for energy in the here and now, so as you do your workout at the gym or will store as glycogen (the storage form of glucose) in your liver and muscles to use for energy at a later time when it feels you need it.
Most major health organisations have suggested you consume around 45–65% of your daily calories from carbs (unless you are on the Keto diet) and can be found in foods such as – grains, starchy vegetables (potatoes), beans, dairy products and fruits.
Fats have the most calories per gram of all macronutrients, providing 9 calories per gram. Your body needs these fats for energy and critical functions such as – hormone production, nutrient absorption and body temperature maintenance so make sure you don’t cut them out completely!
The typical macronutrient recommendations for fats range from approx 20–35% of your total calories in a normal diet. Start off with them being somewhere in this region and see how it goes for you. This is just a guide and it will differ from person to person based on activity level, height, eight and just generally people being different with different needs. Fats can be found in foods like – oils, butter, avocado, nuts, meat and fatty fish.
Protein is vital for processes such as – immune function, the building of muscle tissue, hormones and enzymes. Proteins provide 4 calories per gram.
It is recommended that your daily protein intake should comprise of around 10–35% of your total calories, more so if you are looking to build and gain more muscle. Examples of protein-rich foods include – eggs, meat, poultry, fish, tofu, beans and lentils.
How to count macronutrients
Learning how to count macronutrients is super easy to do these days with the help of fitness tracking apps such as MyFitnessPal where you log in all your food from that day and it works out your macronutrient split based on what you have tracked that day.
Figuring out your calories / macros
In order to calculate your overall calorie needs, you need to determine your resting energy expenditure (REE) and non-resting energy expenditure (NREE).
REE refers to the number of calories a person burns at rest, so general everyday living – breathing, internal organ movement…etc, while NREE indicates the calories you have burned during activity and digestion – so what your body has used during your workout, walking to and from the gym and the energy expended digesting your lunch/dinner…etc
Adding together your REE calories and NREE calories, gives you the total number of calories burned in a day, also known as total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). In order to determine your overall calorie expenditure, and therefore what you need to put into your body to maintain your current weight, you can simply use an online calorie calculator which does most of the work for you.
Once you have worked out YOUR calorie needs, try it for a week using the results you were given by the calculator and see how you go. You may find you need to add or subtract some calories from your results total for it to work better for you and depending on your goal – loose weight, maintain weight or gain weight.
In other words, those of you trying to lose weight should consume fewer calories than they expend, so if you burn 2,000 calories a day, you will need to eat less than this if you want to loose weight. While those looking to gain weight/muscle mass, should eat more than they burn each day – calories burned – 2,000, you must eat 2,000+ to gain weight.
Your ideal macronutrient breakdown
After determining how many calories to consume each day, the next step is to decide what macronutrient ratio works best for you. The typical macronutrient recommendations are as follows, but remember, this is just a guide, so this might not work for you…
- Carbs: 45–65% of total calories
- Fats: 20–35% of total calories
- Proteins: 10–35% of total calories
For example, say if you worked out on the calorie calculator you should be consuming 2,000 calories a day, this would be split between – carbs, fats and proteins, roughly matched to the above percentages. These percentages will be shown on apps like MyFitnessPal so you don’t need to work it out yourself.
Your ratio can be fine-tuned in order to achieve specific goals. For example, if a person who wants to obtain better blood sugar control and lose excess body fat, a meal plan consisting of 35% carbs, 30% fat and 35% protein might work slightly better.
Tracking your macros / calories
Now it’s time to start tracking your macros. The term “tracking macros” simply means logging the foods you eat on a website, app (like the one mentioned above) or in a food journal. To do this properly and effectively, you will want to get yourself a digital food scale to accurately track your food intake, especially if you are using an app to track. Keep in mind that it’s not necessary to hit your macro targets exactly. You can still meet your goals even if you go a few grams over or under each day.
Example of counting calories
Here’s an example of how to calculate macronutrients for a 2,000-calorie diet consisting of 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% fat.
- 4 calories per gram
- 40% of 2,000 calories = 800 calories of carbs per day
- Total grams of carbs allowed per day = 800/4 = 200 grams
- 4 calories per gram
- 30% of 2,000 calories = 600 calories of protein per day
- Total grams of protein allowed per day = 600/4 = 150 grams
- 9 calories per gram
- 30% of 2,000 calories = 600 calories of protein per day
- Total grams of fat allowed per day = 600/9 = 67 grams
In this example, your ideal daily intake would be 200 grams of carbs, 150 grams of protein and 67 grams of fat.
The benefits of knowing your macros
Macronutrient counting may provide several benefits including…
Diet quality – Counting macros can focus your attention more on to food quality rather than calorie content. For example, a small bowl of sugary cereal may have a similar number of calories as a large bowl of oats topped with berries and pumpkin seeds, but these meals will vary hugely in macronutrient content. Plus, by having the healthier option, you get to enjoy much larger portion sizes!
Counting macros may lead you to choosing healthier options if given the choice, in order to full-fill your set macronutrients.
However, it’s not all about healthy foods, some of the unhealthier foods may still fit into your macros and calories, it’s all about planning your meals ahead of time if you want to have a treat. Maybe if you want to have that pudding after dinner and you know it’s 300 calories, by planning ahead you can take this into consideration and have slightly less during the day to compensate.
Promotes healthy weight
Counting macros may be particularly useful if you are trying to loose weight because it sets out your specific dietary goals, making you focus more on what you are consuming on a daily basis.
Assist with specific goals
Counting macros is popular among athletes, gym lovers and those with specific health goals other than weight loss. Anyone looking to build more muscle will have a much greater protein need than people looking to drop excess body fat or to maintain their current weight so tracking their macros will help in making sure they are consuming enough to promote extra muscle growth.
Here are a few examples of healthy foods for each macronutrient…
- Grains, including oats, brown rice and quinoa
- Whole-wheat pasta
- Whole-grain bread
- Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash
- Fruits like berries, bananas, pineapple and apples
- Beans, lentils and peas
- Milk and yogurt
- Egg whites
- Milk and yogurt
- Protein powders
- Egg yolks
- Olive and avocado oils
- Nut butters
- Coconut oil
- Full-fat milk and yogurt
- Full-fat cheese
- Chia seeds
- Fatty fish like salmon & sardines
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed when you first start out but once you get the hang of it, it’ll feel like a breeze, so hang in there, you got this!
The most important steps in counting macros is knowing what your overall goal is and keeping that in mind but tweaking your calories on a week by week basis until you find a range of each of the macros that suits you and your goals. It may take time to find your sweet spot but keep at it , you’ll find it!
We hope you found this article interesting and useful to you. If you have any questions, please pop them below…
The Fitness Focus Team
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