What are macronutrients?
Macronutrients, also shortened to macros, are the three largest nutrient groups that make up your daily calories. If you want to gain, lose, or maintain your weight, you can adjust them accordingly, but, your body needs all of them in large amounts to function (hence the pre-fix macro.)
What does each macronutrient do?
Protein aids in the repair of muscle fibers, skin, and other bodily tissues, carries hormones in our bloodstream, regulates our metabolism, transports oxygen to our lungs, and helps to regulate our pH. Carbohydrates give us energy during exercise, fuel our central nervous system (aka our brain!), and provide us with dietary fiber for digestive health. Fats also provide energy to our bodies, promote cell growth, are necessary for the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, and help proteins carry out some of their functions.
What’s the difference between counting calories and macros?
When trying to lose weight, many people’s first instinct is to just decrease their calorie intake. To some, this may mean cutting out dessert after dinner, opting for a salad instead of fries, or reducing portion sizes at meals. While, yes, this can work, calories do not define healthy or balanced eating and this approach will more than likely leave you deficient in at least one of the three macronutrients. By counting your macros, you are controlling your calorie intake, however, counting your calories doesn’t mean that you’re meeting your macronutrient needs.
Tracking your macros is also known as flexible dieting as it doesn’t restrict any foods as long as they fit into your daily limits. By focusing on meeting your macro goals instead of calories, you will be eating more nutrient-dense meals, still have some wiggle room for your favorite foods, and consequently be fuller on fewer calories.
I’ll give you a visual: Say your basal metabolic rate (the calories your body needs just for basic body functions) is 1,600 calories and your total daily energy expenditure (daily calories burned based off of your BMR and activity level) is 1,800. You want to lose 1 pound a week, so you cut your calories to 1,300 a day.
Both of the meal plans I’ve listed below equal out to roughly 1,300 calories and if you were to follow either of them, you’d lose about the same amount of weight. However, the first one is calorie based and the second follows a balanced macro plan.
1 Strawberry Pop Tart (200 calories) Lunch Chick-Fil-A 8 Count Nuggets (260 calories) Side Salad (75 Calories) 1 Chick-fil-a Sauce (160 calories) ½ Packet Avocado Lime Ranch Dressing (145 calories)
Dinner 1 Cup Spaghetti Noodles (220 calories) ½ Cup Traditional Pasta Sauce (60 calories) 3 Oz 85% Lean Ground Beef (200 calories) Total calories: 1,321 104 G Carbs 67 G Fat 66 G Protein
Breakfast 6 Oz Plain Greek Yogurt (100 calories) 2 Tbsp Dark Chocolate Whole Grain Granola (83 calories) ¼ Cup Sliced Strawberries (12 calories)
Snack #1 2 cups Organic Popcorn (70 calories)
Lunch Chick-fil-a 12 Count Grilled Nuggets (210 calories) Small Waffle Fries (280 calories) 1 BBQ Sauce (54 Calories) Large Unsweetened Tea (0 Calories)
Snack #2 1 Medium Apple (80 calories) 1 Mini Dark Chocolate Bar (50 calories)
Dinner 1 Cup Cooked Spaghetti Squash (42 calories) 4 Oz 99% Lean Ground Turkey (152 calories) ½ Cup Traditional Pasta Sauce (60 calories)
Snack #3 ½ Cup Fat Free Cottage Cheese (80 calories) ¼ Cup Mixed Berries (20 calories) Total calories: 1,247 111 G Carbs 113 G Protein 31G Fat
So, sure, you could literally eat 1,300 calories of nothing but pizza every day and still lose weight but, it would obviously not be as filling as a nutrient dense diet based around your macros. Also, by neglecting your daily protein needs, some of the weight you’d be losing would probably be muscle mass. In order to properly fuel your body for optimum health you have to eat a healthy balance of all 3: carbs, protein, and fats.
There are some great apps that take the guesswork out of tracking your macros such as Carb Manager, which is the one that I use. Once you calculate how many calories you should be eating, you simply choose a ratio to follow, and it will tell you how many grams of each macronutrient you need per day. You can either search for your foods directly in the app or scan their barcode to log them which makes it super easy!
I follow the 40/40/20 ratio meaning that 40% of my calories come from carbs, 40% come from protein, and 20% comes from fats. This equals out to me needing about 150 grams of carbs and protein per day and 33 grams of fat.
Counting my macros is what really shifted my eating habits in the right direction and is what I’ve found to be sustainable for my lifestyle.
True change takes time but I promise it’s worth it!