If losing pounds and gaining muscle is what you’re aiming at, it might be time to pay closer attention to macro nutrients.
These days, we’re basically spoilt for choice when it comes to (supposedly) healthy diets. Besides the confusion caused by ever-changing trends (So, is red meat unhealthy now? Or was that last year? How about coffee?), many diets might be overly restrictive for a lot of people. So, if you’re looking for something with a proven track record and an inherent flexibility to help you maintain a healthy diet, you might want to consider macro counting.
The concept of “counting macros” initially gained significant traction among bodybuilders preparing for competition, but has since gone mainstream and is extremely popular among those looking to shed kilos and/or gain muscle mass. It might not be for everybody, but the benefits are definitely worth considering. A word of warning before we begin, however: Macro counting requires a lot of self-discipline.
Obviously, a short explanation about “macros” might be useful. Here, macros refer to macronutrients, which are energy-providing substances that the body needs in large quantities. There are three macronutrients: Carbohydrates (including starches but also sugar and fiber), fats and proteins.
Actually counting your macros entails several steps. First you need to figure out your calorie needs—the complete explanation of which can take up an entire article. There’s an equation you could use, called the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation, which takes into account your gender, weight, height and age to calculate the number of calories you need for a day. This is then multiplied by an activity factor which is based on how sedentary or active you normally are.
But, hey, it’s 2020 and there are a ton of mobile apps and websites that can help you do this. Simply look up “BMR calculator” and you’ll easily find what you need.
THE GOLDEN RATIO
The next step is deciding the ideal ratio between the three macronutrients. Most major health organizations suggest getting 45 to 65 percent of your calories from carbs, 20 to 35 percent from fats and 10 to 35 from protein. The exact ratio that’s best for you depends mostly on what your overall fitness goals are and you can easily fine tune these basic numbers.
For instance, when your aim is losing body fat, a ratio of 35 percent carbs, 30 fat and 35 protein can be pretty good. On the flip side, if you’re a marathon runner who relies on endurance, a higher percentage for carbs is definitely called for. Ultimately, though, the ideal ratio is the one that you can maintain—and this means adjusting those numbers as you go along to better fit your body’s needs.
Now comes the part where that earlier warning about discipline really kicks in: tracking your macros. Basically, this means keeping a log of the food you eat. Some people like to do it old school and keep a written journal; some go the extra mile and buy a small digital scale to weigh each food item. But, of course, there are plenty of mobile apps or online services such as MyFitnessPal and My Macros + that can help you hit your macro targets.
THE UPS AND DOWNS
Every healthy eating system comes with its own set of challenges. With macro counting, it is the simple fact that a lot of extra work is required for every meal. It’s also easy to fall into a trap of eating unhealthy food as long as you stay within your limits for each macronutrient.
That being said, if you can stick to the routine and pay attention to what you eat, the benefits may significantly outweigh the effort expended. For one, counting macros—specifically, trying to stay within the range you’ve set for each macronutrient—can lead you to recognize healthier, nutrient-dense food items. Counting macros has also been proven to be quite effective not only for weight loss, but also for weight long-term maintenance once you’ve reached your target. Finally, when you have a rather specific target—say, building muscle mass—counting macros can help you stay on target.
There’s no such thing as a surefire, 100-percent guaranteed diet plan. And macro counting adds quite a bit of math and hassle to it. But, once again, as a long-term plan, it can definitely help anybody lead a healthier and fulfilling life.
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