Last week I decided to put a little more focus into what I was eating by starting to count macros. Counting macros can have many benefits such as losing fat (which is why I am doing it now), gaining muscle, becoming a better athlete, or speeding up your metabolism. Just counting calories is much less efficient than counting macros when trying to achieve a goal obtained through your diet. I have had a lot of success reaching my goals in the past by counting macros and have suggested it to others. But when I have shared this with others, many didn’t even know what a macro was. Which is why I am writing this post. I intend to explain the basics of what a macro is and how to count them. Also, I will provide some tools that will help you to get started!
What is a Macro?
Macro is the shortened word for macronutrient. A macronutrient is a substance that the human body needs in large amounts in order to function properly. There are three different types of macronutrients needed to survive; carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Each macronutrient provides the body with energy given in calories. There is one more substance that is considered a macronutrient, but it is not essential to life like the other three. The fourth macronutrient is alcohol, which also provides the body with calories that are called empty calories. An empty calorie provides the body with energy but no or very little nutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, etc.) In other words, empty calories help the body in no way other than to gain fat. Below is each macronutrient with the amount of energy it provides per gram.
- 1g of Carbohydrate = 4 calories
- 1g of Protein = 4 calories
- 1g of Fat = 9 calories
- 1g of Alcohol = 7 calories
Making Sense of a Food Label. (If you know this, skip to the next section.)
Using the quick oats label above I will explain how to calculate the total calories. The serving size for the oats is a 1/2 cup, which is equal to 150 calories. So, for every half cup there are 150 calories, made up of 3g of fat, 27g of carb, and 5g of protein. We are only looking at the fats, carbs, and proteins on the label when finding calories because they are our three macros that contribute energy (if there was alcohol in oats we’d look at that too.) Due to the fact that there are 4 calories per gram of carb you would multiply 4 by the amount of carbs there are in the oats. Protein also has 4 calories per gram so you would multiply the amount of protein by 4 calories. Lastly, you would multiply the amount of fats by 9 because there are 9 calories per gram of fat.
- Carbohydrate: 4 x 27g = 108 calories
- Protein: 4 x 5g = 20 calories
- Fat: 9 x 3g = 27 calories
Next you would add the amount of calories each macronutrient provides together to find the total amount of calories.
- 108 + 20 + 27 = 155 calories
Now you may be wondering why the amount of calories we just found does not add up to how many total calories per serving that is noted on the label. This is because the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) have a set rounding system in which companies use when creating their food labels. In other words most of the foods you eat will not have the exact macronutrients and calories in them as listed (no need to worry though because the amounts are pretty close!) If you’re interested in checking out what the rounding rules are you can take a look at this page.
What is Counting Macros?
Counting macros simply put is just keeping track of the amount of carbs, fats, and proteins you consume in a day. People count macros in order to optimize results that they are aiming to achieve by the diet (meaning the kinds of foods they eat; not a restriction of food) that they are on. The amount of each macro you consume all depends on what outcomes you are looking for. Amounts will vary from person to person because no one is built the same nor do their bodies work the same.
Keeping track of how many macros are in each of the foods you eat throughout the day may seem time-consuming and a hassle to do… luckily, there are different apps and websites that can be used that do all of the calculating for you. My favorite app that I use on my iPhone is MyFitnessPal. All you need to do is add the item of food into the app by either scanning the bar code on the wrapper or by typing in its name along with how much of the food you’re eating. The app does the rest! Below are some screen shots of the app so you can get a better idea of what it looks like (these are not my macros, they are made up.)
After entering your personal information and your goals, MyFitnessPal will automatically regulate the amount of calories and amount of each macro you should be eating to reach your goal. The amount of macros that the app provides is just a standard split of macros. You can customize it to your preferences by changing the amount of each. For example, if you want a higher amount of protein than the app suggests and less carbs you can raise the protein amount and lower the carb amount. The app tells you all of the macronutrients and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) as well as other things like the amount of cholesterol in each of the foods you enter.
Unless you’re prepping for a bodybuilding show, you don’t need to fret about eating exactly the correct amount of macros. When you first start out you may be shocked with the amount of fats or carbs in certain foods. Don’t get stressed out or give up, the more you stick with it the easier it becomes!
If you have any questions regarding the information provided, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email from my contact page! I will be posting more in depth about some of the content mentioned in this post as well.