The word “macro” can be an instant turn–off. For those of you who are beginners to the world of nutrition and understanding how to correctly fuel your bodies, the whole concept can seem really daunting. You might find yourself turning away from the perceived complexity of how it all actually works. But no fear, as it is so much simpler than you may think. After breaking it down into bitesize pieces (pardon the pun), understanding macros can be really beneficial to your fitness goals. Let’s have a nibble shall we (sorry but you had that one coming).
What are macros?
Macro’s are an abbreviation for macronutrients which in simpler terms, refer to the three core nutrient groups:
Great, so you know what they are. Now let’s have a look into what they really do for the you and why it is really important to understand how to use these groups to correctly fuel your body instead of just blindly counting calories or enrolling on yet another fad diet.
Calorie counting vs macro’s
You may hear the term macro tossed around amongst the fitness fanatics like some sort of secret code but understanding what they mean to you and your diet is really simple and can really make a key difference to fuelling your fitness goals.
Let’s go back to the idea of calories. Yes, calories are important and by tracking them, you get a better understanding as to whether you are eating the correct amount to reach your goals, whether that be weight loss, maintenance or weight gain. In general terms, reducing or increasing calorie intake is a proven method for controlling your weight however, research has proven that the quality of calorie intake is also key to determining your own healthy weight goals. The quality of the foods you are consuming can be critical to ensure your goals are for life and not a short-term quick fix.
Tracking macronutrients can better ensure you are eating the right foods to really reach those goals, be it to lose weight, gain more muscle, make sure you are eating healthier and also to increase your performance during those workouts. That’s right, eating the right macros can get you fitting in that extra press-up you never thought possible.
What is so special about these food groups?
Let’s start with carbs. The alleged devil food group so many people avoid and also massively misunderstand. Carbohydrates are actually essential to everyday life and are the body’s preferred fuel source. As a source of fibre, they are also huge contributors to optimising gut health (which you need to make sure you look after). They are also vital to happiness, quite literally. Carbs play a crucial role in the production of serotonin which is the “happy” hormone, so yes that bagel WILL really make you smile, so let’s not ditch them! It is key that you are including carbs in your diet but ensuring this mostly includes the right types of carbs. Choosing more fruit, veggies (yep, they are carbs too), beans and pulses instead of cake is best where possible but that’s not to say you can’t have a little treat in moderation.
Next up is protein. And no, I’m not just meaning the shakes heard all too often rattling around the weights section of the gym, in the hands of the aspiring Dwayne Johnson’s. Protein is crucial to everyone’s diet. Without getting too bogged down with the science, this food group is crucial for cell maintenance and cell structure and repair (meaning muscle growth and recovery). It is also vital for healthy skin, hair, and nails as well as tissues, organs and the functions of the immune system. Protein is found in many everyday foods, in both animal products such as meat, dairy, eggs and fish and plant-based options including nuts, beans and seeds. Protein shakes are often championed as crucial to any muscle growth but in truth, studies show that unless you are at athlete level, and getting protein from the foods you are eating, the shakes aren’t necessary. And food sources should be prioritised over supplements, always.
Lastly, there are the fats. Many people veer for the low-fat diets that have long dominated trends. In reality, fats are crucial for dietary health and to bust a major myth, cannot solely lead to weight gain i.e. dietary fat is not the same as body fat. There are three main fat groups: saturated fatty acids, unsaturated fatty acids and trans fats. The unsaturated fats are what you may have previously heard defined as the “healthy fats” and are crucial to your heart and brain health. Again, these too play a key role in promoting hair and nail health. These can be found in foods such as oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds. Trans fats and saturated fats are the ones you may need to consider a little more and ensure you are consuming in moderation because of their negative impacts on cholesterol and heart health (look out for “of which saturates” content on your nutritional labels). So, avo–on–toast anyone?
Now you know why they are important; you need to make sure you are getting the right balance…
First things first, you have to work out how many calories your body needs on a day to day basis, otherwise known as your BMR- Basal Metabolic Rate. This is calculated based on your age, weight, height, gender and how active you are on a general basis. For women, using the Harris-Benedict equation, you can work this out from the following formula:
- BMR= 655 + (4.35 x your weight in pounds) + (4.7 x your height in inches) – (4.7 x age)
You then need to multiply this by your activity level which you can estimate from the following:
- Very inactive/ no exercise: 1.2
- Mildly active: 1.375
- Moderately active (3-5 sessions a week): 1.55
- Very active (6-7 sessions a week): 1.725
So, you have the calories, now for the macro split. If your goal is to stay lean whilst still building muscle, it is recommended to follow a split of 40% protein, 30% carbs and 30% fats and this can be tailored depending on your goals.
Getting a bit scientific again, macros are not created equally so remember that for every gram of protein and carb’s, your body will get four calories of energy but for every gram of fat, this provides nine calories per gram. Sounds a little confusing but basically, you get more energy from fat sources and less from protein and carbohydrate sources.
Breaking it down based on the split mentioned above, you need to multiply your calculated daily calorie intake (already worked out) by 0.4 for your proteins and 0.3 for your carbs and fats (40/30/30 split). Then you divide the resulting figures for protein and carbs by four and your fat figure by nine (based on energy per gram mentioned above). Here is an example to make it a little more relatable:
Consider a very active 22-year-old weighing 112 pounds at a height of 62 inches with a 2000 daily calorie intake looking for a 40% protein/30% carbs/30% fat split. The macro calculations would be as follows:
- Protein: 2000 x 0.4= 800/4 = 200g
- Carbohydrates: 2000 x 0.3= 600/4= 150g
- Fat: 2000 x 0.3= 600/9 = 66g
And there you have your estimated intake of each macro for the day.
Okay, you have got the stats but what on earth do you do now?
Now you have a step by step formula to working out your macros to better reach and fuel your health and fitness goals. A lot of you will be thinking, great, there are the stats but how on earth am I going to make sure I’m tracking it all?
The important thing to remember is it does not have to be to the last gram, this is absolutely a guideline and fitness should always be something that adds to your life, not something that dominates it. Use this calculation to plan what you are going to eat for the day and food prep is always a huge help. Get that apron on this Sunday and get some batch cooking action happening for the week ahead to make sure you are ready to go. This will help avoid any unnecessary snacking or panic lunches in your mad rush to get something down you in between back to back zoom calls.
There are also plenty of apps out there to help, a personal favourite being My Fitness Pal which easily lets you input what you’ve eaten throughout the day to give you a super easy breakdown of your macros too. Better understanding your macros will also help you to see that you really can have that cheeky chocolate bar you have been craving all morning and still stay on track, as this will just get factored into your macros for the day for you to work around. Stay in the know but without feeling like a slave to the trackers, this is your new pal helping you understand what is going into your body and helping you ensure it is performing to the best it possibly can.
Your body is amazing, celebrate that and give it the fuel it needs to succeed.
Happy Macro Counting!