You’ve likely heard of macros before. What some interpret as a fad movement, the concept is deep-rooted in science and basic nutrition. Now is the time to understand what it’s all about!
Are macros reserved for bodybuilders or can the concept of tracking intake be applied to the everyday man looking to pursue holistic fitness goals?
Simply put, macros are the fundamental basis of nutrition and apply to everyone: your mother, grandmother, and best friend regardless of how interested in fitness they are! Macros are an innate component of every single food you eat, and the reason you look the way you do is essentially due to macros…you just may not know it yet. Let’s take a closer look.
Macros is short for “macronutrients,” consisting of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. These are the three major building blocks every food item is broken down into.
I’ll spare you the science on what your body does with each for now; just know your body needs each in certain quantities in order to function optimally. For example, complete absence of fat doesn’t serve your body well as we rely on fats for hormone production and other vital daily functions.
Problems arise due to a disproportionate ratio and quantity of macronutrients that enter your body, i.e. you’re not eating enough protein and more than enough fat. Or, not enough of all three aka underconsumption.
Our body is a well-oiled machine; what goes in has a direct correlation to how we feel and look. Our physiology can’t be fooled, no matter how much you might hope as you clean up that entire pizza box! In my opinion, it’s somewhat ignorant to not pay attention to the composition of what we put in our bodies, as nutrition has a direct link to the onset of illnesses including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and more. Your nutrition dictates your entire life experience, playing a direct role in your contribution to society and relationships with others.
To summarize: priming your body with the right ratio and quality of nutrients leads to heightened physiologic and cognitive functioning. Are you still willing to wing it?
Why You Struggle to Reach Your Goals
You’ve likely heard the adage that lists percentages of how important nutrition is, i.e. “it’s 80% nutrition, bro.” While we don’t have an exact percentage, we know it’s high and understand how vital of a role nutrition plays. This is more than likely what’s stalling your progress in the gym. Whether it’s undereating, overeating, or eating the wrong ratio of macronutrients, taking control of your intake is the missing link to propel you toward where you want to be.
I’m not saying you need to become a macro-tracking beast! However a bit of consciousness in this department goes a long way, and you WILL notice immediate changes not only in your physique but in how you feel.
Definitions and Calculations
Let’s get some definitions down:
BMR vs. TDEE
We will focus on TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) to achieve the most accurate data. To put it simply, if your TDEE comes out to 2500 calories, and you’re looking to LOSE weight, you want to subtract 15-20% from this number (a safe amount that will not result in a drastic loss of weight, which is never desirable), to give you the total amount of calories you should consume per day.
Calories in vs. Calories Out
An oversimplified but essentially accurate concept: if you’re eating more than the amount of calories you’re burning per day (caloric surplus), you will gain weight aka “bulking.” Some people are in a permanent bulking stage, which is unfortunate! We want to help you avoid this.
If you’re eating less than the amount of calories your body is burning each day (caloric deficit), you will lose weight and be “cutting.”
Figure out your TDEE first (below), then adjust your calories accordingly based on your goals. This is how you achieve control of your weight.
Note: The above TDEE calculation is based on a fairly consistent level of activity. If you are all over the place with training and go weeks on end without any serious exercise, your TDEE is inconsistent and therefore your overall numbers may be slightly skewed. It’s therefore best to establish a consistent exercise regimen!
Calories per Macronutrient
Let’s apply the above chart to nutrition facts for a PopTart. To understand where the caloric value came from, start with your macronutrients:
Protein: 2g x 4 cal/g = 8 cal
Carbohydrates: 33g x 4 cal/g = 132 cal
Fats: 5g x 9cal/g = 45 cal/g
8+132+45 = 185 calories
Wait..doesn’t the label say 190 calories? There will likely always be minor discrepancies due to rounding. Legally, companies can round their numbers either up or down for simplicity i.e. 7.4g protein becomes 7. This usually doesn’t factor in too much for you to worry about.
One example where it may become relevant is when you use non-stick cooking spray that is supposed to be 0g fat, but actually may have 0.4g fat, and you keep spraying and spraying. Ahh! Legally, companies can round anything less than 0.5 down to 0. Where this is REALLY scary is when you see a product that has an absurdly high amount of servings. Say the product had 0.9g of fat per serving, which would technically have to be rounded up to 1. Instead, the company doubles the amount of servings to be able to divide 0.9 in half to yield 0.45, so that they can list 0g of fat and 0 calories. Super sneaky! Something to be aware of.
General Guidelines for Setting your Macros
Protein should be about 0.7 g/lb of bodyweight at a MINIMUM. This should be higher if you are looking to maintain or build quality muscle (closer to 1.0-1.3g/lb).
Fats: This ranges immensely depending on your belief system. Based on my research, I believe in a high percentage of your diet coming from healthy fats. Starting out somewhere in the 30-50% range is a good idea. Trust me: quality, healthy fats will actually promote lipolysis (help you lean up) and simultaneously keep you on track toward comprehensive health and longevity.
Carbs will round out the rest of your calories in order to reach your total caloric value.
Sample Calculation for a 200 lb. male
TDEE from the calculator = 3200 calories. He is interested in maintaining his current mass, thus will be eating the same amount of calories daily.
Protein: 1.0g protein per lb of bodyweight = 200 g protein x 4cal/g = 800 calories
Fat: 40% of 3200 calories = 1280. Divide this by 9 to get 142g of fat/day.
Carbs: 3200 – [800 + 1280] = 1120 calories / 4cal/g = 280g
*If this individual wants to gain weight, he can increase calories above 3200. If he wants to lose weight, he can decrease below 3200.
Steps to Getting Started
You’re probably eager to get started and are wondering, how do I calculate the initial amount of calories I need based on my goals?! Well, there’s a pretty accurate calculator you can plug your information into, that can be found here:
Note: I have no affiliation with this website but respect what they do and the movement they have created, and am happy to share their mission with more people in an overall effort to improve more lives. I plugged my data in today and it was essentially spot on with my current training plan and macros, which was reassuring on many levels!
This calculator will provide you with the amount of calories you should be eating, and the breakdown of protein/carbs/fats per day.
Plug this information into My Fitness Pal (free app on your smartphone) and start tracking your intake! You’ll develop a system that works for you and if you’re anything like me, fall in love with the ability to transform your body with SCIENCE and achieve complete control over your physique! There is also an amazing feature where you can scan a barcode and the food item is almost always in the system already for more efficient tracking. Also, many restaurants and fast food items are in the database too. One of the best elements of this lifestyle is it allows you the freedom to eat out on occasion!
If you commit to tracking your intake, I assure you you’ll enter the best shape of your life. How fascinating to live in a world where you can essentially hack your body and reach a desired result?!
Take Home Points
- If you often wonder what separates you from the physique you’ve been eyeing, and are frustrated because you feel you genuinely put in in serious work with your training, I can almost guarantee it’s because those individuals are using the principles of “macro tracking” in one variation or another to achieve their goals. Long gone are the days of wondering why your workout yesterday doesn’t show up in the mirror, or why you haven’t been making steady progress for the last many years with your weight loss or strength gain visions. I will make a bold claim and say that no one in amazing shape arbitrarily eats what they want on a regular basis. Life and cheat meals DO happen; but the difference is, you can hop right back onto your plan the next day.
- Being and maintaining a fantastic physique involves consistency and planning to get to where you want to be. I promise it’s possible for you, too! There’s nothing separating you from others, aside from a bit of willpower and dedication.
- Your individual goals will dictate what your macronutrient spread looks like; they are not the same for everyone.
- Nutrition that works for YOUR body is largely trial and error! Set your numbers, give your diet a try for a couple of weeks. If you’re not seeing the results you want, or at the frequency desired, adjust your numbers in the appropriate direction. While nutrition is NOT an exact science and differs immensely per person in terms of metabolism, ability to adjust to food and diet, etc…this approach will get you very close.
- If you stay consistent and track your progress accordingly, you WILL see results. I didn’t start seeing true results in my physique until I took control of my nutrition using these principles. It is tedious at first but incredibly worth it once you find a system that works for you. At that point, it becomes an engrained daily habit you don’t even think about anymore.
- Alternative options: keep 75-80% of your diet “clean” and repetitive (i.e. lunch and dinner are the same everyday with macros pre-calculated), then use up your remaining 25% of calories with different foods each day for variety and spontaneity. This is only one way to do it, feel free to experiment! The overarching goal is to not exceed your individual macronutrient ceilings. Undereating isn’t a good idea either.
- Buy a food scale! You can’t track your macros if you don’t know what you’re eating. It’s not as scary as it sounds. I like The Sharper Image Precision Digital Food Scale.
- The best part about “hitting your macros” is you can still eat your favorite foods, as long as they’re accounted for. Now, realize this will be in moderation since going for the whole pack of cookies AND that ice cream pint will likely put you beyond your allotted fat percentage. But if Poptarts are your thing and can eat two a day, imagine how much more sustainable this lifestyle could be? You’re much less likely to be thrown off the wagon in a sea of cravings since you’re still enjoying your guilty pleasures on a regular basis. If it sounds too good to be true, I know how you feel because I was there too. Trust me though, it works!
- Since you have a good understanding of macros now, read the article Outsource your Meals for more advice on how to realistically make this work for you!
Join the IIFYM facebook group (If It Fits Your Macros). Lots of supportive community members and delectable recipes / life hacks to help you along your journey.
Finally, I offer personal training and coaching and would love to help you better understand these concepts to enable you to smash your goals! For dedicated one-on-one guidance including custom meal and training plans, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be in touch within a day.
Good luck with your pursuit for elevated nutrition; I believe in you!