Food is vital for life, and eating can be delicious and fun. The majority of the world takes easy access to food for granted. We are surrounded by packets of calories. Unfortunately, quantity does not necessarily mean quality, and convenience often wins out over wisdom. Keeping track of what goes into our bodies is more important than ever. Counting macros is one way to do this.
Reaching such goals is difficult in our modern environment. McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurant chains are part of a global industry worth more than 900 billion dollars. The convenience this industry provides is certainly welcome in our busy, fast-paced lives. Cultivating a healthy lifestyle means we need to properly manage our consumption of foods that have been heavily processed with fat, salt, and sugar. Counting macronutrients is one way of taking back control of the foods we eat and of our health. Join me today, and let’s explore the ins and outs of tracking your macros.
What are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients are what our bodies use to build muscle, skin, and bones. They are the building blocks of every structure in our bodies, and they are also our primary source of energy.
There are three kinds of macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Carbohydrates directly provide us with the energy our bodies need to function. Simple carbohydrates raise our blood sugar levels relatively quickly. In contrast, complex carbohydrates are composed of longer chains of molecules and fiber that are harder to break down. The additional digestion time helps keep blood sugar levels more stable. The added fiber keeps us feeling full for a longer period of time. Therefore, complex carbs help us maintain a better energy balance and, consequently, are considered healthier.
Protein is usually associated with building muscle. While this is true, this macronutrient serves as a building block for practically every component of our body—everything from our hair and nails to our enzymes and antibodies. Protein in our diet not only ensures we get these amino acids but also helps us feel full. What is protein good for in terms of dieting? It is similar to fiber, because when you eat protein, it helps you feel more full. This increase in satiety helps me lose weight since I don’t feel the need to eat as much.
Fat is primarily seen as a bad thing, but it performs many vital roles. It’s an essential part of some structures in the body, it’s used to transport and store certain vitamins, and it’s needed for proper signaling in the nervous system. The key to healthy fat intake is keeping an eye on the kinds of fat you consume. Saturated fats and trans fats should be avoided because they contribute to high levels of cholesterol.
How to Count Macros
There are several ways you can go about calculating calories and macros to fit your goals. One of the first steps is to figure out the total number of calories you need on a daily basis. This number will vary from person to person due to a variety of factors like gender, height, weight, and age. Calculating this number will give you an idea of how many calories you burn at rest. You then have to multiply this baseline number by a number that will increase as your level of activity increases.
Once you calculate the total number of calories you need per day, you need to consider your goals. The percentage of each macronutrient that you need to consume on a daily basis will depend on your unique health or fitness goals. If you’re looking to build muscle, your breakdown might be 40–60% carbs, 25–35% protein, and 15–25% fat. If you’re looking to promote weight loss instead, you will need to significantly decrease the carbs percentage while increasing the fat and protein percentages.
The ratio you choose will be used to calculate the number of grams you need to consume. Each gram of a macronutrient corresponds to a number of calories. Carbohydrates and proteins provide you with four calories per gram, while fat provides you with nine. Knowing the specific number of grams that you need to eat allows you to plan your meals accordingly. If you want to be as accurate as possible, you will need to weigh and measure your portions. Finally, you will have to keep track of your macros in each meal. Although this may seem tedious and time-consuming, there are apps that can help.
The Pros of Counting Macros
Before the idea of counting macros caught on, people who wanted to reach a goal like losing weight or gaining muscle mass would simply rely on counting calories. The concept makes sense in principle. If you eat more calories than you burn, you have a caloric excess that can be used to build muscle or gain fat. Conversely, a caloric deficit means you are burning more calories than you eat, which leads to weight loss. You could meet your calorie intake goals by just eating whatever food you wanted and making sure you didn’t go over.
Macro counting is different in that it encourages you to assess the kinds of food you put into your body. In terms of raw energy needs, a calorie from vegetables is equivalent to a calorie from junk food. Vegetables absorb slower than simple carbs, leading to lower blood sugar levels and less chance of an insulin spike or sugar crash. A serving of vegetables is a healthier way to meet your carbohydrate goals while providing you with micronutrients as well.
This increased awareness does not mean that you can’t be flexible while counting macros. In fact, the flexibility of this diet is what makes it attractive to most people. You don’t have to stop eating certain foods, and you can even eat a treat occasionally. The ability to have more freedom in what you eat helps to keep cravings at bay, especially when you’re aiming at a reward.
The Cons of Counting Macros
Your emotions play a large role in metabolism. Depending on your mood and stress level, your body can turn your metabolism up and down, making you burn or conserve energy based on how you feel.
What kind of energy you burn also depends on your emotional state. High levels of cortisol, a side effect of negative stress, tells your body to reduce the size of your muscles and store more fat. Testosterone, on the other hand, tells your body to burn fat and build muscle. Testosterone is a sex hormone that is released when we feel confident and secure. So how many calories you need, and what kind, will change based on how you feel from day to day.
Keeping track of every gram of a macronutrient you eat is time intensive and can be a source of stress. Although there is some wiggle room, the point is to be as accurate as possible in order to stay within your ratios and see results. Due to these factors, many people counting macros tend to stick with the same foods to make the process easier. This lack of variety could hurt your nutrition in the long run.
Practicality also becomes an issue when you want to eat out. Restaurant menus are not broken down in detailed lists of ingredients and their corresponding calories. It’s also easy to forget to keep track when you’re out enjoying yourself with family or friends. Nobody wants to add an entry to their food journal when ordering drinks at a club.
Keeping track of your macros in situations like these may cause you stress and anxiety, and in some cases can even lead to eating disorders. So while counting macros can help, you should be careful and remember that it’s part of a much larger picture.
The Bottom Line on the Macrobiotic Diet
The most important thing for you to do regarding your diet is to find what works for you. Keeping track of how much you eat and what kinds of foods you are eating is generally a good idea. For some people, recording the number and type of calories they eat is fun and rewarding. Others would rather spend an extra hour working out instead of writing everything down. There are many effective ways to stay in shape. Experiment around, find out what works for you and makes you feel good, and stick with whatever you find easiest.
Macronutrients are crucial in the day-to-day functions of our bodies. Each kind of macronutrient serves a variety of purposes with regards to the needs of our bodies. Counting macros can be an effective way of gaining muscle, losing weight, or reaching another goal. In contrast to intuitive eating, counting macros provides you with a structure with specific numbers that you must keep in mind. Although the process of arriving at these numbers is laborious, it is worth the effort if it leads to a more health-conscious diet. Despite the benefits, counting macros may not work for everybody, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. If you’re tired of fad diets that never seem to work, I recommend you try counting your macros and see if it helps.