“What are macros?” This is one of the most frequently asked questions by my clients; particularly posed by those who begin to focus on their diet for a healthy body.
If you have been searching for information on weight loss from people who are active in the fitness industry, you too have probably heard about macros or macronutrients. It might seem difficult at first to digest all the information you find on macronutrients because you’re not used to dealing with nutritional knowledge, but trust me it is not as hard as you think.
If you don’t know where to start and are struggling to find information on macronutrients that you can actually implement in your diet, you’re at the right place. In this guide, I have compiled all the information you need to begin with macros and control your diet. So, without further ado, let’s begin.
Macronutrients, or macros in short, is a bucket term that describes three types of nutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrates. Each nutrient is required by our body to function properly. Macronutrients are nutrients that have calories. Although according to that classification, alcohol could be considered a macronutrient as it does contain calories, but it is not nutritional and is not necessary for us to stay alive. That brings out the second important trait of macronutrients – they are food items that are necessary for us to stay alive.
Micronutrients (mineral and vitamins) augment macronutrients to meet our nutrition needs. They’re also an important element of our diet, but I won’t discuss them here as the focus is on macronutrients. So, let me break down each type of macronutrient.
Protein intake helps in building muscles or/and prevent muscle loss if you’re on a calorie deficit. Protein also allows you to recover more quickly from your exercise and workout. More energy is required to digest protein, thus it burns more calories through the process of digestion.
You can get protein from fish, eggs, meat and protein powders. If you’re vegetarian, you should consider plant sources for protein, but those sources won’t be sufficient. You won’t be able to get enough protein from plant sources and cannot expect to be as healthy as your companions.
I personally favor whole foods for protein like fish or meat, but since they’re expensive and take time to prepare, shakes or protein powders are a suitable supplement to make sure you get your required proteins. Check everything you eat for protein to ensure that it’s a good source for macronutrient even if someone has told you it is. Nuts and beans are commonly cited as good sources of protein, when in fact, nuts are all about fat while beans are mostly carbohydrate. For example, almonds are 73 percent fat and only 14 percent protein. This doesn’t mean you should not eat almonds, it means that you should not eat almonds thinking you’re consuming protein. Stay away from falling for marketing gimmicks that say “take nuts for protein”; they’re just for promotion and you must do your research for the real deal.
How much Protein Do You Need?
The protein that you should take depends on your body fat, weight and goals. If you want to bulk up, I recommend 0.7 to 1 gram per pound of your lean body mass. Lean body mass is the total weight of the body minus the fat. To calculate lean body mass, find your fat percentage and then subtract that from total body mass.
If you’re working for a cut and wish to keep your muscles maintained while losing fat, you’ll have to keep the protein consumption higher than 1g to ensure that lean mass is preserved. For cutting, I recommend 1 to 1.4 gram per pound of your lean body mass.
Some people say that consumption of too much protein can damage your kidneys, but that is not true. Some of my clients have personally asked me this question and I was shocked to hear this. Let me make it clear that there are no studies that support the claim that consuming too much protein damages kidneys or interrupts with its function. So hear me again, high intake protein won’t damage your kidneys. You might be wondering why there is an upper limit on protein range, then.
That’s because too much protein is not harmful, but it isn’t helpful either. Protein is expensive as well — meat and whey products are all pricey and if you consume them too much, they’ll crowd out other important macronutrients.
Contrary to what many people think, fat is not your enemy. People who claim that all products should be low fat are wrong and greatly mistaken.
Fat is essential for your body to keep everything running smoothly. The low fat mania was sparked by science and promoted by the ignorant media. Now, research has established that fat is a must for human body to live and required for vitamin absorption, hormone regulation and brain function. You might not want to hear this if you’re always on a low fat diet, but it is important that we highlight this side effect of not consuming enough fat. Low fat diet has been found to affect testosterone production and reduce sex drive.
It won’t be wrong if I said, carbohydrates fuel our brain and fat builds it. So, where do you get fat from?
Fatty meats, nuts, butter, oil and dairy products are best for quality fats. Another good source is avocados. You should note that there are both good and bad kinds of sources for fat. Saturated, monosaturated and polysaturated fats are fairly good, but hydrogenated fats and trans fats are poor sources and you should avoid them.
How Much Fat Do You Need?
The fat you need again depends on your fitness goals. If you want to bulk up, I recommend you aim for 20 to 30 percent fat in calories. For example, if you’re going for 2200 calories per day then 440 to 675 calories should come from fat. On the other hand, if you’re going for a cut, then you should keep it lighter. During a cut, you must keep your caloric intake low and since fat comes in at 9 calories per gram, you might get carried away from your target caloric intake if too much fat is consumed. But, you must not go extremely low either and maintain an adequate balance.
When on a cut, I recommend you go for .3 to .5 gram per pound of your lean body mass. This is enough to keep your caloric intake in check without impairing the essential functions of your body due to limited intake of fat.
Like other macronutrients, carbohydrates are also essential for our body. Like fats, carbs have a positive effect on our hormones. Additionally, they help to effectively replace muscle glycogen and if you’re a hard trainer who wants to excel at workouts, carb intake is a must to help you get through it. Nutrient-dense sources are best for carbohydrates.
Carbs are found in sugar, vegetables, starches and grains. Generally, there are two types of carbohydrates: simple carbs and complex carbs. Foods that are high in simple carbs include candy, jellies, sweeteners (honey, syrup), refined flour and jams. Vegetables, fruits, dairy and beans also contain simple carbs, but they come with mineral and vitamins too.
Complex carbohydrates mostly come in foods that contain healthy fats and/or protein as well as mineral and vitamins. Foods that are high in complex carbohydrates include rice, bread, pasta, vegetables, beans and whole grains.
Although fiber is a carb, it doesn’t really contribute to calories as the body doesn’t break it down and absorb it. When you look at a nutritional label on any food product, you can see that ‘sugar’ and ‘dietary fiber’ is listed under total carbohydrates.
How Much Carbs Do You Need?
Once you’ve figured out your intake of fat and protein, you just need enough carbs to fill out the remaining calories. Once you have added up your fat and protein, subtract the number you get from your target of daily calories. Then divide it by 4 since there are 4 calories per each gram of carb and you’ll have your carb intake.
There are two problems that you’ll normally encounter when counting your macronutrients. The first is that if you have no idea about what you’re searching for, what is important and what’s not, a nutrition label would be useless for you. The second issue is that many food products that we consume every day don’t really come with a nutrition label.
So, I’ll start with telling you about foods that have nutrition labels because they’re easier for calculating macros.
Macros from Nutrition Labels
So, what should you be looking for on a nutrition label? The three most important things to look for are protein, total fat and total carbohydrate. You must also consider the serving size for calculating of macros. Except for these three things, you can ignore almost everything else listed on the nutrition label.
So, now that I’ve established what you should look for in a nutrition label, you just need to count up the important things and multiply that by the number of servings. This is where you must consider the serving size. You’ll also need a food scale for accurate calculation. Some estimation figures can be used, but they’re not as accurate as those you can get from a food scale. You also cannot measure things by volume and number as those amounts vary wildly between different things of the same weight.
So, a food scale is an absolute must, if you want to get your macros right. I have seen that many people who argue that food scale is not necessary are those who like to skip workouts and not serious about their health. Remember, you’ll never make any progress, if you’re not serious and willing to spend a few bucks.
Marcos when there’s No Nutrition Label
So what can you do if there’s no nutrition label for counting macros? Turn to the internet for help. Some websites and applications are specifically built to help you figure out and track your macros and nutrition content. Check out Nutrition Data and Lose It. Look up your food, enter the amounts you are eating and you’ll get the results.
In some apps, you can even scan bar codes and get the nutritional information of the food that makes it easier for you to count macronutrients. In case you’re lazy and just don’t want to look up and measure properly, I’ll provide some basic estimation.
100g of raw meat or fish is about 20 gram of protein. Remember, the nutritional label always represents the weight of the raw meat and that will decrease when cooked.
70 gram of uncooked rice makes up about 50 gram of carbs. This is about half cup of uncooked rice.
I would say that Green vegetables’ carbohydrates are considered zero. They have some carbs, but when you’re counting the numbers, you don’t need to worry about them as they’re very small.
Don’t bother counting sauces if they’re water or vinegar based. But, if they’re fat based, then you should make sure that each spoon has 15 gram of fat. Same goes for butter, mayo or olive oil.
That’s it from my side. Hopefully, the detailed information I’ve provided about macronutrients will help you get started with them and you’ll be able to track macros in your diet. Remember, macros are important if you wish to achieve your fitness goals and you cannot hope to get your dream physique without focusing on macronutrients. Although the information I’ve provided is simple and can be easily understood, if you’re still finding it hard to calculate your macros (especially for food with no labels), contact me and I’ll answer all your questions. I am here when you need me, so don’t hesitate to get in touch for assistance.