It seems like the entire universe is talking about “macros.” Like if you are not counting yours you must be doing something wrong right? The answer to that is, well, maybe.
One of the basic downfalls of most “diets” is that with basic calorie counting, you are not taking into account what you are eating, just how many calories you are consuming. Here’s why that matters: if you eat a lot of high-calorie or low-satiating foods, you are likely either feeling the pinch of your waistband or worse feeling hangry--maybe both. Until you switch to the “right” foods (foods that let you feel full while maintaining a healthy caloric intake), it’s difficult to reach or maintain a healthy weight. Who can’t flash back to the days where you were living on plain rice cakes and Slim Fast shakes hoping that the scale would budge while you could barely form words during your 3:00 pm meeting? Hell maybe that’s you today! So if you’ve been there/are there but you are ready to love on your body with smart nutrition, you’ll want to make fast friends with macros.
Okay, so what are Macros?
Nutrients can be divided into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. It doesn’t take a dietician to know that macronutrients are those that the body needs in larger amounts than say micronutrients which the body needs but in much smaller amounts. Macronutrients (or “Macros”) are linked to calories (energy) and include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Micronutrients include vitamins (think Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, the B-Complex, and Folic Acid) and minerals (like calcium, potassium, sodium, iron, and zinc).
So which macros should I eat?
The short answer is: all of them. Each macro has a different function and caloric load. For example:
- Carbohydrates are the energy macro. They fuel high intensity exercise, help preserve muscle mass and serve as fuel for that big brain of yours. 1g of Carbs = 4 calories
- Proteins are the build and repair macros. They are essential for all tissue structure (think organs, muscles, nails, skin, bones, blood even), are part of cell plasma membranes, are involved in metabolic, transport and hormone systems, make up enzymes which regulate metabolic performance and are involved in acid/base balance to maintain a neutral (not toxic) environment in our bodies. 1g of Proteins = 4 calories
- Fats serve as our endure and sustain macros. They provide energy reserve, act as insulation and protect vital organs, while helping to transport fat soluble vitamins. 1g Fats = 9 calories
Now you might read those equations and decide to eliminate all fats from your diet immediately, like it’s 1985. First, good luck with that. Second, don’t. Unlike many high-carb foods, proteins and fats make you feel full. And like proteins and carbs, your body needs them. Speaking of carbs, unless you live in a hole, you’ve heard everyone raving about low-carb everything. But don’t try to eliminate those either. Why? Because crashing and burning before you even hit your commute home is not your best you.
So what do I do with my macros?
While you shouldn’t try to eliminate any macro group, like my history of hairstyles, not all calories are equally helpful. Think of food like money. What you want is a good return on investment. You want to consume foods that make your body feel good and full. Because vanity aside, binging all the time leads to serious health problems and starving all the time is like living in a prison. So instead, eat like an investor. Let's do a quick calculation with soda.
What’s the ROI on soda? Shitty. It’s caloric dense (lots of calories), no meaningful micronutrients, super high carbs, and no protein or fats. Zero feeling of fullness. At 155 calories per can of soda, you could have instead had 3.25 ounces of chicken (about the size of your cell phone), a handful of almonds, or even a couple of sweet potatoes (which is a slower digesting complex carb, instead of soda’s fast digesting simple carb). So eat those and ditch the low-ROI items like soda, cupcakes and potato chips. And yes, this is the part where we tell you to abandon that junky poser protein bar you have been eating that has less protein and more calories and fat than a Milky Way disguised as “health food” and get real about what foods can give your body the sustained energy it needs.
Stop terrorizing your body. Science is on your side. If you get the proportions right, aka start eating more of the right thing, focusing on macros can help you determine which combination of carbohydrate, protein, fat serves your body best for your desired energy, weight and health levels. Creating and then hitting these Macro targets can help you get to or maintain a healthy weight without feeling like you are punishing yourself. ‘Cause on the real, you cannot simultaneously hate and punish your body and love and care for your body. So stop starving your body. Feed it. Free yourself from the constant struggle and feed it like you’re an investor, investing in bites that will build you up, not let you down.
Figuring out the optimal ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in the diet is highly individualized. It can depend on exercise or training regimen, age, sex and personal goals. Macros are most easily counted by downloading a mobile app, such as MyFitnessPal, which utilizes both the USDA and restaurant nutritional information for easy calculations.
Do you have a favorite app for food/exercise, life happens, etc? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below.
Photo by Jessica Bristow on Unsplash