June 23rd, 2017
counting macros for beginners

What Are Macros? Counting Macronutrients Made Simple

What you need to know

-ALL calories come from macronutrients PROTEIN, CARBS & FAT (and the nonessential alcohol).

-Some foods are combinations of protein/carbs/fat (eggs, salmon, yogurt).

-Things such as sodium and vitamins do NOT contain calories.

-Pay attention to food labels, whatever is listed on the nutrition label is for ONE serving.

-Balance and portion control are key.

-Build your meals around protein.

-Consider your current health status and goals before deciding how much of each macronutrient to consume daily.

What are macros? And how do I use them to hit my fitness goals?

I’m sure at least once you’ve heard someone talk about ‘macros’. Being so embedded in the fitness world, it’s everyday language to a fitness enthusiast. For example, IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) is an extremely popular and effective nutrition program right now. However, it’s a foreign concept to those who are new to fitness and nutrition!

Knowing what macronutrients are and the roles they play in your body will help you tremendously in understanding how to fuel your body properly to reach your goals.

What are calories and macros?

what are macros
Lets begin with calories, this is a term more commonly thrown around and generally associated with weight loss and weight gain. So what is a calorie?

A calorie is simply a unit of measurement used to calculate the amount of energy a certain food or drink provides.

Now, calories are made up of three different macronutrients: PROTEIN, CARBS and FAT.

**Alcohol is technically a macronutrient too but it is NOT essential/doesn’t provide useful calories. I will explain shortly.

Protein

IIFYM foods high in protein
PROTEIN has 4 calories per gram. So, say you have 20 grams of pure protein- that equals 80 calories. (20×4 = 80)

What does protein do/why is it important?

Basically, including protein in your diet will help you maintain and/or build lean muscle, regulate hormones and keep metabolic processes in check. In fact, protein requires more energy for our bodies to digest than fat or carbs, ultimately burning more calories in the digestion process alone. This is why protein is so crucial when trying to lose weight.

Good sources of pure protein:

Lean poultry
Lean beef
Fish
Eggwhites
Plain Nonfat greek yogurt
Protein Powder

*These are just examples of the purest forms of protein, things such as eggs, chicken thighs and ribeye all have decent protein as well but they also contain fat. This is NOT bad it’s just for a simpler explanation purposes.

How much protein do you need daily?

1-1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight is a good baseline. For example, I weigh 135lbs, so I aim to get at least 135g of protein per day. Simple enough, right?

Carbohydrates

IIFYM foods high in carbohydrates
CARBOHYDRATES also have 4 calories per gram, so say something contains 25 grams of carbs-that equals 100 calories. (4×25=100)

What do carbs do/why are they important?

Carbs get a bad wrap, when in reality they are extremely important. To clear things up a little, CARBS DO NOT MAKE YOU FAT. Eating an excess of ANY macronutrient will make you fat.

Moving on. Carbohydrates are the number one source of fuel for your brain and body.

Carbs are the macronutrient that provides fiber as well. Fiber is very important to consume because it regulates digestion, is great for heart health/blood pressure and raises good cholesterol (HDL) while lowering bad cholesterol (LDL).

Carbohydrates also play a crucial role in building muscle. It’s all about eating them based around your goals and body’s needs, like any other macronutrient.

Good sources of carbs:

Potatoes
Rice
Oatmeal
Fruit
Beans

Carbs are also in many things that are typical favorites, such as: donuts, pasta, cereal and essentially any processed snack.

Also, SUGAR is a source of carbohydrate. Many people separate sugar as it’s own entity. Sugar is a carbohydrate. For example, 25g of sugar is 25g of carbs. So say you drank a can of coke (insert picture of coke label) 39 carbs coming directly from sugar.

I am not one to tell you there are foods you should never eat because I preach balance. BUT, it’s important that you are aware that there are certain foods that provide more nutritional value than others and should include them in your diet more often than not.

For example, a medium sweet potato and a serving of sour patch kids (16 kids) are both sources of carbohydrates that will give you essentially the same amount of calories (140).

A sweet potato will give you more sustained energy, satiety and nutrients (vitamins and minerals) that your body needs. Whereas the sour patch kids will make you mouth happy, temporarily spike your blood sugar levels and definitely not fill you up at all. Also, good luck only eating 16 sour patch kids ; )

My point is, they offer about the same amount of carbs/calories which at the end of the day your body cant tell the difference between but one will benefit you more than the other in terms of energy levels, satiety and overall well being if you choose it more often than the other.

So, have your sour patch kids once in a while but you should be choosing a more nutrient dense, fiber rich carb sources a majority of the time.

**Intra and post workout nutrition is a whole different story in this circumstance but the purpose of this post is for general concepts.

How much carbohydrates do you need daily?

Again, generally speaking anywhere from .75-2 grams per pound of bodyweight but this really depends on activity level, age, height, weight and goals.

I’ll use myself for an example again. 135lbs, 24 years old, lifting 5/6 days a week with no cardio and my goals are essentially maintenance right now so I am eating 140g protein and 200g of carbs, which is about 1.5 my bodyweight.

If I we’re trying to put on muscle I’d bump it up to 250-270g carbs daily which would be about 2x my bodyweight. Again, it all depends on where you are at now and where you want to be.

Fat

IIFYM foods high in fats
FAT unlike carbs and protein, fat has 9 calories per gram, which is why you have probably noticed foods such as olive oil and butter have a fairly high calorie content.

For example, 1 tbsp of olive oil has 14g of fat making it 126 calories (9×14=126). Seems like a lot of calories for such a small amount of something, right? Yes but just like protein and carbs, your body needs fat.

What do fats do/why are they important?

Similar to carbs, fats are another source for energy. In fact, fats provide more than twice the amount of energy per gram than carbs. Fat also helps absorb certain vitamins and minerals.

For example, vitamins A,D,E and K are all fat soluble, meaning they can only be absorbed with fat present. Fat is also crucial in hormone regulation, brain function and heart health.

Good sources of fat:

Nut butters
Avocado
Oils-olive, sesame etc
Nuts

**Saturated fat is NOT bad for you. This is a common misconception that I would like to clear up.

Many of the ‘problems’ associated with saturated fat are NOT independent. They are usually the product of a diet high in saturated fat combined with a diet high in sugar and processed carbs.

So, if you’re eating salty crunchies (that’s a term I like to use for processed snacks such as Doritos, cheez-its etc), soda and Big Macs more often than whole, nutrient dense foods, chances are you’re going to have some cholesterol and blood pressure issues. Duh.

Moral of the story: eat a balance of fats, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated with a wholesome diet and you will be golden. The key is balance here. Oh, and do stay away from trans fats, I can’t vouch for those guys.

How much fats do I need daily?

Like I mentioned with carbs, it depends on activity level, age, height, weight and goals. Generally speaking about .3-.7 grams per pound of bodyweight.

I’ll use myself again, so I weigh 135lbs and am at 150g protein 200g of carbs and 55g of fat for maintenance goals. So right now, I am at .4g per pound of bodyweight.

Alcohol

alcohol
Image: Pond5
ALCOHOL is technically a macronutrient, however your body does not need it so that’s why it’s often left out of the equation. Alcohol provides 7 calories per gram.

What does alcohol do/why is it important?

Well, it makes awkward situations more tolerable, gives you the ability to enjoy events you regret agreeing to, injects you with courage to say or do things you wouldn’t usually say or do. And lastly, it gives you instant confidence and ability to make BFF’s with people you usually hide from.

Good sources of alcohol:

Just so I am clear, alcohol is NOT an essential macronutrient, it is simply considered one because it provides calories. (It’s basically a stand in macronutrient). I just want to give you better options if you do choose to drink/explain how it works.

Wine
Light Beer
Stout Beer (surpisingly low in calories- IPA’s are typically the most calorie dense)
Clear Liquor (mixed with diet soda or soda water.)

Basically, if you are trying to lose weight, avoid heavy beers, mixed drinks, cocktails, pool drinks (margaritas, pina coladas etc). Those especially are SO high in sugar, which will be detrimental to weight loss. When drinking AND eating stick to something high in protein and low in carbs and fat. Here’s why:

When alcohol is present in the body, it takes priority for metabolism, which essentially halts burning fat or carbs. SO alcohol isn’t stored as fat but it causes other macronutrients to be stored in the body because it takes precedence.

Amy Currie

Amy is a Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist out of Portland, Maine. Through her brand Fit Justice, she strives to give people the tools to live a happy, healthy and balanced life. She works to help people visualize and conquer health and fitness from all aspects [ physical, mental and social ]. Proper education and habit building are major concepts behind Fit Justice. Health and fitness is incredibly diverse and Amy believes that this should be embraced and applied on an individual level. Follow her on instagram (@amy__currie)

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