If you are into fitness culture at all, chances are you have heard the term, “counting macros” at least a time or two. While it is a relatively simple idea, it can be confusing if you’ve never done it before. Within this article, we will be walking through the benefits of counting macros and how to start counting them yourself.
To start off, it is important that we know just what macros are. “Macros” is short for macronutrients, and there are three types–carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. While everyone needs some of each of these nutrients to prosper, our bodies may not require the same amount. This is where counting macros can be of benefit to your specific body type and fitness goals. But how do we know how much of each nutrient our bodies need? Well, first we have to understand the benefits of each nutrient and what it does for our body.
Carbohydrates, or carbs, have gained kind of a bad rap within recent years. With many diets trying to cut out carbs completely, it gives off the impression that carbs are bad for weight-loss and should be avoided at all costs. This is simply not true. Carbohydrates are a major source of energy for our bodies, and while figuring out the right amount to eat for your fitness goals is important, cutting them out completely is not necessary.
Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram and are mainly broken down in the body as glucose. This can be used as immediate energy or stored for later use within the liver and muscles.
The best carbohydrates to feed your body are whole grains and unprocessed foods such as brown rice, popcorn, oats, and 100% whole wheat products.
Fats are another highly debated macronutrient within the field of health. They have the most calories per gram of macronutrient, coming in at 9 calories per gram.
Fats are essential for many function of the body. They aid in vitamin absorption, heart health, and even help to fight inflammation.
The best fats to introduce into your diet are called “unsaturated fats.” These include nuts, seeds, fish, and tofu.
Proteins have become a favorite in the fitness world. With a whole slew of protein powders and supplements, it can be difficult to navigate how much we actually need to take in of this macronutrient. Like carbs, proteins also have 4 calories per gram of macronutrient.
Major health organizations have suggested that our daily intake of protein be somewhere within 10 to 35 percent of our total calorie intake. While this may be true for the majority of people, it is still necessary to determine for yourself how much protein you need to take in to match your health and fitness goals.
Some great sources of protein are lean meats, quinoa, eggs, tofu, and lentils.
How to Count Your Macros
Now that we have a better understanding of each of the macronutrients, we can jump into how to start counting them. There are three crucial steps that I have listed below that can help get you started.
1-Determine your Desired Outcome
First, you will need to determine what your goals are. Are you striving to lose some belly fat? Gain muscle? Lower your blood sugar? Determining what outcome you want will help you to better tailor a plan that allows you to begin hitting those goals.
Once you have your outcome in mind, you can build an eating plan that meets those needs. For example, if you are a runner looking to increase distance runs, you may want to form a diet rich in carbohydrates. While someone looking to decrease belly fat and control blood sugar would want to lean more towards less fats and equal amounts of carbs and proteins.
The main health institutes have come up with some daily intake recommendations for macronutrients. Those recommendations are:
- Carbohydrates: 46-65% of daily calories
- Fats: 20-35% of daily calories
- Proteins: 10-35% of daily calories
These recommendations can and should be adjusted based on your body type, your body needs, and your current fitness goals.
2-Calculate Your Body’s Calorie Needs
Our bodies burn calories all day every day, but the amount of calories burned depends on a few factors. One of these factors is known as Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). Simply put, RMR is the number of calories your body burns while at rest. This includes calories burned from breathing, blood circulation, neurological functions, and organ functions.
To calculate RMR, you can use the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation. The equations for males and females are:
- Men: (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) + 5
- Women: (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) – 161
Once you input your specific height and weight, it will give you the number of daily calories needed to maintain all regular body functions.
On top of that, you can then go on to add in additional calories needed for maintaining while engaging in differing levels of daily activity. This will give you your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
- Sedentary: x 1.2 (limited exercise)
- Lightly Active: x 1.375 (light exercise less than three days per week)
- Moderately Active: x 1.55 (moderate exercise most days of the week)
- Very Active: x 1.725 (hard exercise every day)
- Extremely Active: x 1.9 (strenuous exercise two or more times per day)
Once your TDEE is calculated, you can then choose to add or subtract calories in order to reach your desired fitness results.
3-Begin Counting Your Macros
Once you have these calculations made, and you have decided what percentage of each macronutrient you need to take in, you can put it all together to begin counting macros.
Below is an example of a 2000-calorie based meal plan consisting of 35% carbs, 30% fat, and 35% protein.
- 4 calories per gram
- 35% of 2,000 calories = 700 calories of carbs per day
- Total grams of carbs allowed per day = 700/4 = 175 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
- 4 calories per gram
- 35% of 2,000 calories = 700 calories of protein per day
- Total grams of protein allowed per day = 700/4 = 175 grams
With this example, you would be intaking 175 grams of carbohydrates, 67 grams of fats, and 175 grams of proteins. In order to calculate this easily, you can purchase a food scale from Amazon, or wherever you choose to do your shopping. There are quite a few to choose from, and they are fairly inexpensive (coming in around $15).
Now that we know how to count macros, let’s talk about why it may be a good idea for you. Counting macros definitely isn’t for everyone. It can be a particularly bad idea for those who have struggled with eating disorders in the past. It is never a good idea to obsess over weight loss and food intake, and my best advice for anyone going into this would be to give yourself some lenience and know that you are infinitely more important than any set of numbers.
With that being said, there can be some major benefits to counting macros as well. Counting macros can help you to better understand where calories come from and that they are not all created equal. Each macronutrient has its own amount of calories per gram, and each macro has different benefits for the body. Better understanding the amounts you are putting into your body, and the effect each one has, can help you to reach your desired results faster and more effectively.
Regardless of what meal plan or diet you choose, I hope this article was of benefit to you. Thank you for reading, and don’t forget to subscribe. You can also follow Mind and Body on Instagram @MindandBodyBlog for more health and wellness tips!