Students and teachers alike are taught the axiom that the only stupid question is the one not asked. But to be honest, I feel a little stupid for having to ask, “What’s a macro?”
I keep seeing so many people who are getting amazing results by tracking their macros and I wasn’t even sure what that means. So I reached out to my friend Lindsay who uses flexible dieting as part of her training, she was able to teach me the basics and the information was so clear and easy to understand I wanted to share it with you. Here is her introductory lesson on understanding macros.
Hi my name is Lindsay and I began macro counting in August of 2015, and it’s been the best thing I have ever done for my nutrition and my body. I have seen such great changes in my physique, and I am so much more aware of the nutrient needs of my body. My good friend Candice, who is the woman behind HungryMotherRunner.com, got me interested in it. She is a fitness queen, so I was happy to get her advice. I have been an avid Crossfitter for almost 5 years, but this last summer I thought I’d train for a marathon. I was looking for a way to lose a few pounds and at the same time give my body the correct nutrients to help with my energy level for running. Flexible dieting was the way to go. I unfortunately got a stress fracture and was unable to race, so I again turned to more strength training and muscle shaping, and that’s where flexible dieting proved its worth again. By adjusting my macros I am able to give my body what it really needs to become more healthy and fit.
I don’t like the name “Flexible Dieting,” but it basically means that there are no foods you can’t have. There are no good or bad foods, just macro ratios. It is simply the tracking of macro-nutrients to achieve a body composition goal. When you “eat clean” you typically have a higher occurrence of binging later, but when you have the opportunity to “eat dirty” within your parameters, the cravings are lessened substantially.
First, what is a Macro? Macro is short for Macronutrients. There are macronutrients and micronutrients. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. Macronutrients are the proteins, fats and carbohydrates. These 3 nutrients are in EVERYTHING you eat and make up all the calories you put into your body. Tracking each of these nutrients is how you follow a Macro diet. And really it’s not a diet at all. It’s just putting the correct amounts of nutrients into your body to give it the best benefit and fuel. Consuming the right balance of protein, carbs and fat can help you maintain a healthy weight and optimize your energy levels. I call it food math, but don’t let that scare you. I hate math, and I love macro counting.
Next, macros are counted in grams. Protein and carbohydrates both contain 4 calories per gram, while fat provides 9 calories per gram. Calculating your calorie needs can help you determine how many grams of protein, carbs and fat you should consume each day. Calculate your calories here: www.calculator.net , www.my-calorie-counter.com or www.iifym.com . These calculators will give you your BMR (basal metabolic rate) and your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). Your BMR is the amount of calories you need to keep your body alive each day. Your TDEE is your BMR+the calories you use for daily activity. You will figure your macros based on your TDEE calories. If you are trying to lose weight, you can lower that number by 200-300 calories.
It’s important to know that if you haven’t ever tracked macros before and you are eating really low amounts of calories now, you will have to start with that amount of calories and slowly build your way back up the calorie ladder. This is called reverse dieting. You will NOT gain weight, it is the process of retraining your metabolism.
The grams of your Macros are broken into 3 percentages of your daily calories. I usually tell people who are just starting to track their Macros to set carbs at 40%, fats at 30%, and protein at 30%. So if I eat 1800 calories my carbs would be 720 cal, fat 540 cal, and protein 540 cal. In grams that would be 180 gms carbs (720 cal/4 carb cal), 60 gms fat (540 cal/9 fat cal), and 135 gms protein (540 cal/4 protein cal). You can tweak these numbers based on your exercise intensity, weight loss, or muscle building needs. Most people who exercise regularly should figure their protein to be their body weight in grams. So if you weigh 135, you should eat 135 grams of protein per day. That’s just a suggestion.
Additionally, using a food tracking app is the best way to track your Macros. You have to use a tracking app of some sort, it’s just too much information to store in your brain all day, so I use My Fitness Pal, the basic free app does the job. All the food you scan with a barcode is mostly accurate as far as nutrient labels go. If you use the food search when adding food to your diary, be aware of the accuracy of the nutritional info and macros. If you want to be most accurate, buy a food scale to measure your grams. It sounds tedious, and it kind of is, but it will be the most correct way to plug in your food.
Here’s how to view your macronutrients on My Fitness Pal, scroll down to the bottom of your Diary and click on Nutrition. There will be 3 tabs on top of the next page: Calories, Nutrients, and Macros. Don’t worry about the Calories tab. The Macro tab shows the percentage of your macros throughout the day in a pie graph. You can change this to a weekly view as well. I mainly focus on the Nutrients tab. This page shows your macros in grams on a line graph. It tracks what you’ve used, and what you have left of each macro goal.
Flexible dieting really does work. I’ve tried a lot of diets and most of them have worked as far as results go. But I’m a busy mom of 4 kids and sticking with restrictive diets isn’t feasible for months, let alone for the rest of my life. I needed something that would be a manageable lifestyle change where I could still live life and eat the foods I like, all while seeing results and being healthy. I was over the clean eating, junk eating, never ending binge-cycle. I would come so far, then ruin all my hard work. And the guilt, oh the guilt! There are many great ways out there to lose weight and feel good, but flexible dieting is far better in my opinion because I can lose or maintain my weight, gain muscle, and I can still have regular food without the guilt, because I make it fit my macros. Anyone can do it! Even you!
Final thoughts: Don’t get discouraged when you first start. It takes a while to get used to tracking and getting the right amounts of macros in. Be patient with it, you’ll get the hang of it. Hopefully this has been helpful. I am not a certified dietitian, nutritionist, or doctor, I’m a nurse, a Crossfitter, a runner, and a mom and Flexible Dieting has worked for me. If you have any further questions, I would be happy to help you get started. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or IGM me @fitness_food_friends. -Linds
Am I the only one who didn’t know what a macro was?
Have you ever tried flexible dieting?