The concept of counting macros can seem a little overwhelming. When you think about counting your macronutrients, most people have depressing visions of food scales and meticulously counting out an exact serving of almonds. In reality, it doesn’t have to be so daunting. Here’s what you need to know about counting macros.
Macros refers to the three major macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. Counting calories can help you in your overall journey to losing or gaining weight. But tracking your macros helps you determine what your calories are made up. Why is this important? Well if you have specific physique or fitness goals, knowing how your body is acquiring fuel and what it’s being composed of is important.
Now you could ask six different health and fitness professionals for a recommended macronutrient breakdown and you’d probably get six different recommendations. A typical individual looking to build muscle and cut fat would want to shoot for a breakdown of 30-40% carbohydrates, 30-40% protein*, and 30-40% fats. Most experts would recommend cycling through to figure out how your body reacts and what works best. You may find that having a higher carbohydrate percentage and lower fat percentage suits you best while having higher protein and fat percentages might work best for someone else.
Now you can weigh your food and get technical but here are the facts:
Protein is an essential part of your diet and especially to gaining and defining muscle. When beginning the macronutrient tracking process, most people are surprised at how difficult it can be to get the proper amount of protein. Protein is key to your body performing well and building muscle.
Good sources of protein
- Lean meats (chicken, beef, turkey, etc.)
- Fresh fish
- Deli meat (turkey and ham)**
- Dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt)
- Beans and legumes
- Protein powders
Carbohydrates get a bad rap. They have the stigma of being the enemy of healthy and fit individuals, when in actuality they’re a necessary part of a healthy diet. Carbohydrates are a vital energy source and imperative for active individuals. And while most people think of carbs as breads and pastas, they’re actually found in items like dairy, fruits, vegetables and more. The important part of the carbohydrate debate is to fuel yourself with complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs are digested slower and are less likely to get stored as fat.
Good sources of carbohydrates
- Whole grain breads and pastas
- Vegetables and fruits
- Brown rice
- Grains: quinoa, lentils, oats, etc.
Like carbohydrates, the health industry has had a vendetta against fats when in reality, fat is not the enemy. Good fats, like some monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are a great source of energy and aid the body in absorbing essential vitamins and minerals.
Good sources of fat
- Olive oil, avocado oil, canola oil, peanut oil, etc.
- Nuts: almonds, brazil nuts, peanuts, walnuts, etc.
- Salmon, tuna and other kinds of fish
- Seeds: flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
Figuring out what foods provide a good source of each macronutrient is the first step. Tracking is where it can get complicated. Now you can track manually by weighing your food using a food scale. However, most trainers and fitness experts rely on modern methods that, while perhaps not as accurate, make the process a lot less stressful. Apps like Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal or Lose It! make it easy to input everything you eat and drink throughout the day. You can set up your macro goals and it’ll alert you when you’re close to hitting your recommended daily values. They can even help track foods you consume while eating out.
Another essential part of creating the physique and body composition you desire is proper hydration. Keeping hydrated helps flush your body of excess toxins and by-products from your food. Plus, it aids your body in digesting your food properly and absorbing essential nutrients.
Something to keep in mind: tracking your macronutrients can be important to hitting certain goals you may have for your overall health. But don’t take the fun out of food. Tracking macronutrients too intensely can create an unhealthy relationship with food. Use knowledge about your macro intake to learn about food. If you exceed your fat percentage every so often, don’t stress.
Have fun and be healthy!
*Keep in mind that too much protein can actually have a negative effect on the body (ex: kidney damage).
**Opt for nitrate free or no nitrates added deli meat