The macro diet isn’t a necessarily a “diet” in the same sense as other calorie restrictive diets. Macro eating is a way specific way to balance your food intake and influence your body composition. You may have also heard it referred to as “If it Fits your Macros” (IIFYM), or even flexible dieting.
What are Macros?
Macro is short for macronutrient. Macronutrients consist of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
Protein helps build and maintain muscle and keeps us lean.
Fats are vital for brain function, they store energy, keep us warm, and protect our organs.
Carbohydrates provide our bodies with the key components for making energy to perform basic functions such as digestion, and also more intense activity such as exercise.
Does this involve counting calories?
The calories derived from macronutrients is dependent upon the macro. Carbs and protein are 4 calories per gram, and fat is denser at 9 calories per gram. So, while you aren’t counting calories when you are tracking macros, you are controlling caloric intake. When macros are calculated for a client, we first determine roughly how many calories they require based upon goals (fat loss, performance, muscle gain), height, weight, and energy expenditure.
Why couldn't I just count calories?
If you have specific goals that are more performance based, (say you are a CrossFitter and you want to perform better in workouts), you are going to want to make sure you eat a macronutrient ratio that supports this goal. So tracking macros helps you ensure you eat a macronutrient ratio of (carbs) to support that high intensity workout.
Where does the macro tracking come into play?
After determining the daily caloric intake, the percentage of fat, protein, and carbs is determined based upon goals and body type. So the goal here is to not only meet the daily caloric need, but to eat the calories in the macronutrient ratio selected to meet your goals. For example, it is not uncommon to have a macronutrient ratio of 40% carbs, 30% fat and 30% protein per the total caloric intake. The most important piece here is meeting the protein ratio, and generally as long as carbs and fat are somewhat near their ratio, the goal is met. PS-Consistently eating under calories here doesn’t mean better or faster results. The goal is to eat the intended calories on a daily basis.
This sounds complicated, is it for me?
Truthfully, I don’t know if it is for you unless we first discuss your goals, and I learn more about you, which includes learning about your relationship with food, your current lifestyle habits, what has/hasn’t worked for you in the past, etc. Macro counting is actually considered to be an advanced method that is used with those individuals considered to have their lifestyle and nutrition dialed in and ready to elevate it to the next level to meet their goals. While it is an advanced method, it can work for anyone that is committed to trying this. Macro counting is generally not recommended for those that may have a past history is disordered eating.
How long would I do this for?
This really depends upon your goals, but macro tracking is not intended to be done long term. Once you do this for a few months and your goals are met, you can use what you learned to loosely continue eating in this manner.
Can I eat whatever I want?
The answer to this is yes … Flexible eating is flexible. …. But ...
You can incorporate any foods into your meal plan. You will find that it can be harder to meet goals when you incorporate too many lower quality foods, such as pop tarts, pizza, or donuts, that you may then have to limit the foods you eat the rest of the day to end up with the correct ratio of macronutrients (you can eat your daily caloric expenditure for fat in one quick meal).
But this isn’t to say that you can’t take the day off and enjoy yourself once in a while. If you have a birthday party for example, you may eat a bit less during the day and then enjoy yourself at the party and then the next day get back on track. As long as you are consistent with tracking and meeting your daily goals, you will still meet your goals. We are not necessarily needing perfection all the time, just be consistent most of the time. I say that because striving for perfection is no fun and can make it stressful. That isn’t a place you necessarily want to be if you want to be successful.
While counting macros I heard you can eat a lot more food and still lose weight. How does that work?
When you are switching from a more traditional diet that may include more refined carbohydrates and lower quality foods to a diet that is more nutrient dense, you can eat a lot more food. Fruits and veggies are generally lower calorie and low carb so you can eat a ton and the volume will fill you up. Protein is prioritized as well and the volume of protein can be tough to get in at times so it is important to incorporate it with each meal / snack.
Do I have to balance my macros with each meal?
No, you don’t have to. What matters is achieving the established macro balance at the end of the day. However, eating more balanced meals with all macronutrients in each meal may make you feel better overall and it helps ensure you’ll meet your macros at the end of the day. I recommend being somewhat balance per meal as to not have an excess of any one macronutrient at the end of the day.
It feels like I’m eating so many carbs. Won’t I get fat?
But carbs make you fat.
No they don’t. Excess calories do.
There you have it. Macro eating in a nutshell. Most people just switching from standard American diet can simply benefit from incorporating better quality foods into their diet, making better lifestyle choices, and making progress over time. Consistency, not perfection is the key and most will see the results they are looking for.