Why Track Your Macros?

Why Track Your Macros?

October 14, 2017

Many people have heard of the term “Macros” and “flexible dieting.” If you haven’t heard of them, they may be the missing piece that will unlock all of your fitness goals. Unfortunately, most people don’t count them, even if they should.

 

What are macros?

Let’s start with calories. A calorie is a unit of energy. All foods contain calories and all of our daily activities- exercising, walking to work, breathing- burn calories. Unless you’re a laborer or professional athlete, most of your daily calories will be used by the body just required to stay alive.

At a high level, the basics of weight loss and weight gain are straightforward. When you eat more calories than you use (which is known as a “caloric surplus”) you gain weight. When you use more calories than you eat (in which case you’re in a “caloric deficit”) you will lose weight.

 

K now the fun stuff, MACROS!

Macronutrients, are one of the following three substances that makeup all food- protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Macronutrients contain calories, a different amount for each macronutrient.

More specifically, there are 4 calories in each gram of protein, 9 calories in each gram of fat, and 4 calories in each gram of carbohydrates.

So what’s the hype about counting macros vs counting calories?

When most people start on a diet, they only count calories, not macros. Unfortunately, this often leaves people prone to the many side effects of dieting- feeling hungry, lacking energy, and being irritable to only name a few.

Hitting your macros, alone or in combination with counting calories, allows you to counteract these side effects. With the right macros, you will remain full all day, stay energetic, and build muscle to give you that “toned” look.

 

Is this magic?! No, its science.

 

HOW to hit your macros?

Hit your macros with 80% whole foods

From a physiological perspective, it doesn’t really matter whether foods are so-called “clean” or “unclean” when it comes to fat loss. Your macros should be hit using a majority of whole foods. The rule is that 80% of your macros should come from unprocessed, whole foods. Think chicken, beef,brown rice, quinoa, couscous.

Let’s say that your daily macros are 150g protein, 65g fat, 130g carbs. You’ll want to get within +/- 5g or so for each macro by the end of the day. At the end of the day, your macros might look like this:

 

My day of macros.

Those macros are close enough. Some of you might become frustrated trying to hit your macros. That is, trying to hit your protein amounts might surge carbohydrates or fat amounts way beyond your targets.

First off, like anything else, hitting your macros is a skill. It takes time to get better at it.

That being said, here’s one strategy that you can use if you have trouble with your macro ratios – balancing foods.

“Balancing” foods

“Balancing foods” are foods that will increase carbs, protein, or fat without increasing the other macronutrients very much. They’re great at the end of the day if you still have a certain amount of one macro to go, but your other macros are close to their limit.

I tend to only count the dominant macronutrient in balancing foods. This is because you’ll find that the other macronutrients are in trace amounts and only counting the dominant macronutrient will help make them truly a balancer. Save yourself the headache of these trace macronutrients.

Balancing foods for various macronutrients:

Protein:

  • Whey protein (25g protein/scoop)

  • Casein protein (25g protein/scoop)

  • Chicken breast (8g protein/cooked oz.)

  • Egg whites (3g protein/egg white)

Carbohydrates:

  • White rice (45g carbs/cooked cup)

  • Bread (25g carbs/slice)

  • Candy (mmmm… depends on the candy. Have fun with this one.)

  • Fruit (25g for a medium piece)

Fats:

  • Olive oil (13g/tbsp. This REALLY helps boost satiety.)

  • Coconut oil (13g/tbsp.)

  • Butter (Yep.)

  • Bacon (Yep. Just count the fat content. Have fun.)

 

“Free” Foods

Free foods are foods that are so negligible in calories and so voluminous in nature that it’s not worth the mental hassle to count them. The inclusion of fibrous vegetables into your meals will also help increase the satiety from that meal over a longer period of time, so they can make or break a diet.

Free foods include:

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Kale

  • Spinach

  • Okra

  • Fresh green beans

  • Asparagus

  • Any calorie-free beverage

  • Any <= 5 calorie gum

  • Sugar free jello (no added calories)

Mmmmm… free foods… Ok, one last concept I want to throw at you guys before we discuss personas.

 

Estimating Your Macros – A Cheat Sheet

When eating out, you often won’t have a digital scale or measuring cups on hand. Even if you did, it’s not the politest thing in the world to measure your meat in public. (hehe, measure your meat…)

In times like these, you’ll need to stick to a few rules that allow you to gauge just how much you’re eating. I’ve listed these rules in the cheat sheet below. You can either simply add the accompanying dominant macros to the right OR plug the portion sizes into your favorite macro calculator on the fly.

 

CHEAT SHEET

Lean Proteins

For lean proteins, including chicken/turkey breast (skinless), super lean cuts of steak, and lean fish, use this rule:

3 ounces is the size of a deck of playing cards.

Three ounces of lean poultry or beef will come out to 25g protein. Three ounces of fish will come out to 20g of protein.

This rule also works for fattier cuts of protein with this one modification – add HALF of that amount in fat. So a deck of cards of fatty-ish steak will be 25g protein and 12g fat.

Of course, like I said, you can always just plug those amounts into your trusty app.

Starchy Carbohydrates

This one’s easy. For any COOKED lean carbohydrate, such as cooked rice, cooked pasta, cooked couscous, use this rule:

Half a cup is equivalent to half a fist OR – for those of you self-conscious about your abnormally-sized hands – the size of a tennis ball. This is equivalent to 20g of carbs.

Fruit

A medium piece of fruit is 25g of carbs.

Added fats / breading

Perhaps that piece of chicken breast from the Italian restaurant had an abnormally bright “sheen” on it because it was cooked in oil (damn lying menu lied and said it was “grilled”). How much additional fat do you have to track?

In a totally unscientific test, I looked at the amount of additional fat that existed in parallel fried vs. baked recipes on MyFitnessPal’s food database. The additional amount of fat on fried vs. non-fried counterparts never exceeded 13g.

SO… If what you were eating tastes like it had some fats added to the cooking process, go ahead and add 13g of fat – the equivalent to a tbsp. of oil.

Furthermore, If there was some breading, go ahead and add 25g of carbs. This will allow you to remain relatively conservative in your estimations.

 

Alcohol

Technically alcohol is a macronutrient all on its own, but most people don’t have an alcohol macro budget. The easiest way to work in alcohol is to substitute each with 10g of fat + the amount of carbohydrates in that drink. (This is just one of many ways you could go about working in alcohol.)

For example, a glass of red wine would count as 10g fat, 3g carbs. A serving of whiskey would only be 10g of fat.

 

Envision foods as their individual components

The main “overwhelmingness” stems from the fact that many people visualize their intake as “full meals” rather than their individual components.

When you think about a typical “meal” eaten by Americans, what comes to mind? Burgers, pizza, General Tso chicken. To complicate matters, these are probably meals that you must simultaneously cook for your family and fit into your diet.

Instead of thinking in “meals”, I want you to think of your food as component parts.

Burgers are bun + burger patty. Pizza is dough + cheese + sauce + meat. General Tso is… well… no one really knows what the hell is in there.

Anyway, let’s zoom in on the example of a “burger and fries” meal. I want you to break down this meal into its individual components along with their macronutrients, namely:

  • The hamburger patty… protein + fat

  • The hamburger bun… carbs

  • French fries… carbs + fat

If this is starting to overwhelm you already, take a deep breath and stick with me. I promise it will all make sense soon. I am simply trying to get you to see that meals can be broken up into individual components.

 

Stock up on ready-to-eat protein-dominant, carb-dominant, or fat-dominant “components”

The second thing that you will want to do is surround yourself with a few ready-made proteins, carb, or fat dominant “components” that you can consume at any point in the day.

Let me explain what I mean by this.

By “protein/fat/carb” dominant, I mean that a majority of that item’s calories are taken up by that macronutrient.

I also use the term “components” here, because these cannot be broken up any further.

Protein-dominant components include:

  • Deli meat (chicken, ham, roast beef, turkey)

  • String cheese

  • Beef jerky

  • Ready-made chicken/turkey/tuna.

  • Whey protein

  • Casein protein

 

Carb-dominant components include:

  • Multigrain/wheat bread, bagels, etc.

  • Quick oats (not necessarily ready-to-go, but microwaveable)

  • Fruit

  • Couscous (not necessarily ready-to-go, but microwaveable)

 

Fat-dominant components include:

  • Peanut butter

  • Olive/coconut oil

  • Heavy cream

  • Sour cream

  • Salad dressing

 

Your pantry should be stocked with these items. You can probably see where I’m going here.

For meals that you prepare from scratch:

 

  1. a) Always break things up into components.

Only prepare meals that can be broken up into these component forms:

Lean Protein + Fat + Starch + Steamed fibrous vegetables

OR

Fatty Protein + Starch + Steamed fibrous vegetables

  1. b) Use cooking methods that don’t add any additional calories to your meal.

Lean and fatty proteins should be grilled, baked, fried/sautéed in non-calorie spray, steamed, etc.

They should NOT be breaded, fried, deep fried, marinated in super sugary or oily marinades, etc.

Instead, cook them with as many zero-calorie seasonings as you like. Soy sauce, rubs, marinades, are all fair game.

(Apologies to our vegetarian/vegan friends… I am not there yet, but will post just for you!)

As for carbohydrates – Brown rice, White rice, Couscous, Baked potatoes, and Baked sweet potatoes are some good examples. The key here is that there should ideally be no added fat to your carbohydrates. (This makes counting incredibly simple.)

 

Measure as you go throughout your day.

Here’s the most important part.

Rather than plan ahead meticulously, you’re going to slowly hit your targets as the day goes on instead, then balance everything at the end.

Let’s bring up our targets again for a refresher:

Let’s say you have to hit 200g of protein, 65g of fat, and 75g of carbohydrates for a rest day.

For example, for lunch, you may feel like a sandwich. You plop some meat on a scale and measure out 5 ounces. You put it between a toasted bagel and a slice of low fat cheese. Then, you log everything on MyFitnessPal.

You are at: 50g protein, 60g carbs, 10g fat.

It’s the middle of the day and you want to get closer to your numbers. You eat a container of cottage cheese, a tablespoon or peanut butter, and two scoops of whey.

You’re now at 150g protein, 75g carbs, 25g fat.

Uh oh! Your boss says that you have an important dinner with a client. Well, you need to hit 50g of protein and 40g of fat. You order the closest thing at the restaurant that you can find to balance your 50g of protein and 40g of fat.

There’s a lean fish option, but you’re not exactly sure how it’s cooked or how big the portions are. From a macronutrient ratio standpoint, you need protein and fat, so it looks like your best bet.

The fish comes out and it’s the size of “two decks of playing cards.” You recall that this means it’s 6oz and 40g. BOOM! It tasted a bit oily, however, even if it was a lean piece of fish. You go ahead and add 13g of fat to account for that.

You’ve nailed your protein and have about 27g of fat to go. You make this up using 2 orders of whiskey (recall you can substitute one drink with 20g of fat). You still technically have 7g of fat to go, but you decide to just call it quits today.

Ta da! You hit your macros. Now, there’s just one problem with winging every single day… Let’s see what that problem is and how to solve it.

 

Meal Portfolios

Here’s the problem with winging. It’s mentally exhausting. Each time you want to eat something, you have to decide what to eat, then add to your macros.

You have to constantly make decisions around food. This means that you have to constantly think about food. Constantly thinking about food, combined with a caloric deficit, might not be the best idea. (Have you ever watched The Food Network while you’re on a diet?)

In order to remove your mind away from food and make less mental decisions (which means more willpower and more self control), you can develop a meal portfolio.

A meal portfolio is a list of meals that you don’t have to think about and fit your macros in some way.

Similar to planning your macros, you’ll want to split them up into 2 or 3 meals, depending on preference.

Let’s say you prefer 2 meals and your macros today are 150g protein, 130g carbohydrates, and 60g fat.

That means each meal should be 75g protein, 65g carbohydrates, and 30g fat. Now, make a portfolio of meals that you can select from that hit this amount. For example, …

  • 1/2 scoop whey, 1 chipotle burrito bowl with double chicken/black beans/brown rice/very small dollop of sour cream

9 oz. cooked chicken, 1.5 cups cooked brown rice, 1.5 tbsp. olive oil

etc.…

You get the idea. Building a food portfolio can be rather fun! The only problem is that if you have a macro adjustment, you’ll have to adjust your entire portfolio, which can be a pain.

 

If this is your first time looking at macros, this might sound tedious. In some ways, it is.

But rest assured of the following:

  • This style of eating will soon become second nature.

  • As you get accustomed to this style of eating, your meals will become more advanced. You’ll be able to piece together components in a more sophisticated fashion and make meals that more closely resemble what you were eating before. (Although I strongly suspect that most people – after losing a ton of weight – will not want anything to do with their former styles of eating.)

  • Consider that the main difficulty of this part of dieting is in the macronutrient accounting.

 

That’s right. If you are complaining about something in this diet, it is the need to keep track of things.

No, you’re not complaining about being hungry all the time. You don’t have to push yourself in the gym to the point of collapse. You don’t have to get up every single morning to run.

Unlike most diets that do not work, the fact that the challenge is cerebral – and mastering the challenge will lead to success – should be something that you embrace.

 

If you need help contact fullerfitspo2@hotmail.com

Instagram- @fullernutrifuel

 

- Bree




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