What is Macro Counting?
I’ve mentioned health, nutrition and counting macros a bit here and there and I wanna dig into some nutrition basics and what my take on what “living a healthy life” (when it comes to nutrition) looks like. To do this, I’m gonna share more about macronutrients. What are macronutrients? Why do they matter? Why could counting them help you reach your health goals? Hold tight!
I am a nutrition coach and I am lucky enough to post up from the comfort of my office, couch (we all have those days), coffee shop…you name it. I am SO incredibly blessed to have a job that allows me this flexibility of time and place. Today, I’m sharing some nutrition basics with you!
The trick to acing your nutrition is learning what your unique body needs based on your goals, your lifestyle and your preferences. At the end of the day, what works for you will be something that you enjoy doing (at least most of the time!), that keeps you feeling strong and confident in your skin and that allows you to enjoy the things that are most important to you. Crash diets and quick fixes are just that – quick and hard to maintain because they leave no time for the learning and habit development that is necessary for long-term sustainability.
Why Count Macros?
A really great place to start is simply learning more about what is in your food. Why? Because awareness will give you the power to make knowledgeable decisions about where and when eating certain foods fits into your goals. Many people only start paying attention to nutrition when they have goals of losing or gaining weight but you can also use nutrition to optimize how you feel in your skin from day-to-day and this is really where the magic happens.
There is no right or wrong way to start building a foundation of “food knowledge” but one of the most accurate ways to do so is to count macros.
A lot of people hear “counting macros” and automatically go into freakout mode for a few reasons. They’ve probably heard one, two or a combination of these things:
- Is really hard and complicated
- It takes a lot of time, effort and energy
- It can lead to obsessive food habits and mindsets
I am here to tell you that these things don’t need to be true. I am also here to tell you that different things work for different people and that counting macros is kind of like reading a textbook. It is the super-specific, nitty-gritty, down and dirty of nutrition. And, once you’ve read the textbook and feel comfortable with the info, you can put it away and begin to put that knowledge into practice. It doesn’t need to be forever but it can be a great tool in learning and tweaking food habits.
You’re likely wondering… “What are macros? How are macros different than calories and why does counting macros often lead to more health success than just counting calories?” I’ve got you.
What are Macros, Anyway?
The three macros (or, macronutrients) are proteins, carbohydrates, and dietary fats. Every food you eat is made up of one or a combination of these three components. Let’s break em’ down, shall we?
There are 4 calories in every gram of protein.
What does protein do? Protein helps keep your muscles strong by giving them the fuel they need to recover from workouts and day-to-day activities. It also plays a really important role in making hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters in your body. It keeps you feeling full because it takes a long time for your body to break down.
Where can you find protein? Meat products (chicken, turkey, beef, etc.), eggs, seafood, dairy products (yogurt and cottage cheese are my favs!) and if you’re in a pinch, you can also get quick protein from a shake! Small amounts are found in legumes, nuts, seeds, and some carb sources.
There are 4 calories in every gram of carbohydrates.
What do carbs do? Carbs are a quick source of energy and your body’s first go-to when you’re hitting a hard workout (or gettin’ after some tough day-to-day activities). They help protein optimize your recovery and provide your body with fiber which keeps your gut healthy!
Where can you find carbs? Carbs are found in fruits, veggies, and grains. Small amounts are also found in legumes, nuts, and seeds.
There are 9 calories in every gram of fat.
What do dietary fats do? Fat slows down the digestion of the other foods you eat it with. This means they help keep you feeling nice and full. Dietary fats play a HUGE role in hormone creation and regulation and the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Where can you find dietary fat? Cooking oils (coconut, olive oil, avocado oil), butter, ghee, nuts (and nut butter), seeds, egg yolks, avocados, and olives. Some fat is also found in protein products, especially fattier meat cuts.
Why Count Macros?
As you can see, each macro plays a unique role in your body and contributes differently to your overall health. This is why counting macros is a more specific, often more advantageous way to “count calories”. If you have specific goals, manipulating the ratio of proteins, carbs, and fats you eat each day can be a great way to reach your goals faster.
Before I began counting my macros, I was like many of the women I now have the privilege of coaching. I was not eating enough of the basics I needed for my health: protein and veggies. Counting my macros has taught me what my healthy, balanced plate looks like, improved my performance and recovery and continues to allow me to make informed choices about what I put in my body with or without my food tracking app.
Speaking of food tracking apps, there are a few other things I want you to keep in mind, let’s do a quick Q&A.
Counting Macros Q&A
Q: What is the best macro tracking app?
A: I’ve found that the best macro tracking app is MyFitnessPal (MFP). It has a vast collection of verified entries (the ones with the green checkmarks!) and preloaded foods that make tracking quick and easy.
Q: Isn’t tracking macros basically just fitting junk foods into my macro targets?
A: IIFYM (if it fits your macros) BLEW UP when macro tracking first became popular. It was common to see pictures of junk food with the hashtag #IIFYM but the reality is that to actually hit a healthy set of macro targets, those treats need to be moderated because filling an entire day with junk makes it really tough to hit protein targets and get enough fiber, vitamins, and minerals for overall health.
So, instead of IIFYM, I want you to think “RFFYM” or, “real food fits your macros”. Real foods are foods that you can “pick from a tree, pull from the ground or kill with a stick”. In other words, whole, un/minimally processed foods.
Q: I’m nervous about becoming food-obsessed…HELP!
A: I totally feel you… I was worried about the same exact thing. And in the spirit of total honesty, I DEFINITELY went through a period of time when I was more food-obsessed. The first thing to keep in mind is that ANYTHING feels a little bit time consuming (or, obsessive) when you first get going. There is a learning curve with tracking macros and as you start learning about what is in your food and start playing around with it, it is normal to feel a bit distracted. The more you commit to learning and pushing through that curve, the more natural it will become.
Once I worked through it, I found that counting macros allowed me to become less food-obsessed. WHAT? HOW?
It helped me diminish “good food” vs. “bad food” dichotomies and allowed me to mindfully and confidently plan in a few treats in and ENJOY them guilt-free. Before finding WAG and macro tracking, I used to stress about every little thing I put in my body. I was “being good” when I ate healthy foods and “being bad” when I ate anything deemed “unhealthy” (treat foods like cookies, candy, cake, etc).
Tracking has brought me freedom through the structure. As someone who comes from a disordered eating background, tracking taught me about balance. Foods are no longer “good” or “bad” because I learned to view them in the context of an entire intake. Knowing what is in my food gives me the ability to plan ahead for treats and enjoy them in moderation.
*Remember, healthythankyoumoreplease is an opinion-based site and should not be considered or substituted for medical or therapeutic advice. If you are worried that you’re suffering from obsessive food thoughts or disordered eating behaviors, please see a qualified professional!
Q: Is counting macros the best way to reach my goals?
A: The short answer is “no”. The long(er) answer is that at the end of the day, the BIGGEST thing you can do for your health is to start practicing getting more “real food” into your routine. Going back to the question above, maybe YOUR optimal version of health isn’t necessary that real food fits your macros. Maybe it is that real food fits your estimating, your intuitive eating, or your version of holding yourself accountable to your nutrition choices. Often times, feeling confident about these things can come from a background in macro tracking because it lays the groundwork for healthy, balanced, informed nutrition choices.
At the end of the day, real food fits your unique goals, no matter what they are!