Counting Your Macros: The Pros and Cons
Being around people who keep track of their macros—meaning their protein, carbohydrates and fat macronutrient grams—can be annoying, socially awkward, painful and obnoxious for their friends and family.
They pull out their food scale at a restaurant and plop their steak atop the scale before shaving it down to the appropriate weight. Or they pull out their phone and punch some numbers into an app before deciding whether or not ordering another drink fits their remaining daily macros. Or you go for lunch with them and they decide to only eat only five chips with guacamole because they are saving up for a big dinner that night. Like I said, obnoxious.
Macro counters do come across as unhealthily obsessed with their numbers. And many are, especially the chronic ones.
HOWEVER, there is some great benefit to counting macros —even if just for a month or two—that can help you develop a better relationship with food in the long term.
Real quick, an explanation of macro counting:
• First you need to figure out how much you need to be eating of each macronutrient: this includes protein, fat and carbohydrates. This depends a lot on your age, gender, body composition, fitness routine, but predominantly on your body composition goals. For example, are you looking to gain weight, lose weigh etc…There are tons of sites that help you figure out a good macronutrient plan for you, including Healthy Eater (https://healthyeater.com/flexible-dieting-calculator) and Beyond Macros (http://beyondmacros.com/macronutrients-crossfit-everything-need-know/). That being said, we think the best way to figure out a good plan is to reach out to your coach, who can work with you to create a plan, as the websites I have dabbled with often promote higher-carbohydrate ratios than we think most people should be eating. As for tracking your macros once you get going, a popular way is through MyFitnessPal (https://www.myfitnesspal.com), but there are many others, as well.
• Understanding macros: Carbohydrates and proteins are 4 calories per gram, while fat is 9 calories per gram. If you drink alcohol while counting macros, booze is 7 calories per gram. The idea is you can eat whatever you want as long as they fit your daily macros numbers targets.
• Putting it into practice: Let’s take a look at a very healthy (hope you sense the sarcasm) food: A Pop Tart! A pop-tart has 200 calories. It contains 5 grams of fat (5 x 9 means 45 calories of the total pop-tart calories are fat calories). It has 2 grams of protein (thus 8 calories come from protein) and a whopping 38 grams of carbs (meaning 152 calories in the pop-tart come from carbs). This means if your total carb calories for the day are 150 calories, then one pop-tart are the only carbs you can eat. So yes, you can eat the pop tart if you’re counting your macros, but you probably wouldn’t because it would screw the rest of your day if you’re being strict about your macro count.
OK, now to the benefits of learning to count your macros (at least for a little while):
• Generate Awareness
Have you ever been to a wedding or Christmas party where they’re walking around serving Hors D’Oeuvres all night? You take a little nibble here, a little nibble there, and all of a sudden you’ve lost complete track of how much you ate, but you know it was too much!
The same is kind of true of regular life: People often don’t realize how much they’re eating, especially if you’re a big snacker, or you find yourself finishing off your kids’ leftovers. Not to mention forgetting about things like alcohol, or that your early morning latte has a ton of calories.
Actually bearing down and counting exactly what you’re eating each day will help you adapt to a more reasonable amount of food consumption.
• Familiarize yourself with protein portion sizes
Though you might need to start out by diligently weighing your protein on a food scale, eventually you’ll be able to eyeball it and will be able to lose the scale and have a better idea of what an 8 oz. piece of protein looks like, for example. Often times, people discover they haven’t been eating as much protein as they thought they were, so weighing it until you’re more familiar with protein sizes can make a big difference in you reaching your target goals.
I haven’t spoken to anyone who didn’t see pretty quick results when he/she committed to counting macros properly. You WILL lose weight if you have done an effective job figuring out exactly how much protein, fat and carbs your body needs to be healthy!
• Less Restrictive than other diets
Many diets are so restrictive in terms of the breadth of the food you can eat. Think Keto or Paleo. Generally speaking, you’re still going to want to be eating whole, unprocessed foods while counting your macros, and limit your sugar and refined carbohydrates, but should you have a social function, where you know there’s going to be less good food being served, you can still eat it as long as you work it into your macros for the day. We still don’t recommend pop tarts, though.
• Eliminates the Guilt
Because you CAN “cheat” while macro counting without feeling like you’re cheating, it helps eliminate the guilt you would feel on another diet when you decide to indulge in something you committed to avoid. This can help you develop and maintain a healthier relationship with food, and seems like a more sustainable way of living than some more restrictive, deprivation-style diets.