Having followed athletes’ journeys in the bodybuilding industry for some years now, I remember the first time I heard them referencing ‘counting macros’ and wondering what they were talking about, why it was so important to their training and how the hell they stuck to tracking everything they ate for 12+ weeks with such precision.
I quickly learnt that macronutrients are a great resource when it comes to fat loss, prepping for a show or introducing yourself to the world of nutrition. However, there is also a balance to be struck that should probably err on the side of having an understanding of them rather than religiously counting them for a healthy and balanced diet.
With this in mind, I thought it would be helpful to put together a guide introducing you to macronutrients in the hope they help with your own journey.
What Are Macros?
Macronutrients, or macros for short, are three primary food groups: Protein, Carbs and Fats.
Nutritional studies show that it is not only the number of calories we consume each day but the calory split within each of these three key macro food groups that contribute significantly to our fat loss or gain, as well as our overall health. That’s because a calory is a measure of energy, but different types of food provide your body with different levels of energy. So, you could use your whole day’s calory allowance on a dinner of one large Dominos pizza, Diet Coke and dessert, or eat healthier for a whole day, including meals and snacks. Sounds pretty crazy when I put it like that, right?
Within macronutrients are micronutrients (micros). Essentially, micros consider the nutritional value of the foods you’re eating. This helps you to choose fresher more wholesome foods over processed, high-sugar or high-saturate options. We’ll focus on these more in a future post.
For example; chocolate, pizza, wholegrain rice and broccoli are mainly formed of carbohydrates, but it’s easy to see that constantly choosing chocolate and pizza over whole grain rice and broccoli is a quick route to an unhappy and unhealthy body.
Why Do I Need Macros?
Each type of food delivers its own unique set of vitamins and minerals to our bodies that are put to use in a variety of ways. Whether it’s levelling out our blood sugars, supporting positive gut health, boosting our immune system or ensuring our hair, skin and nails are looking luscious, the types of food we eat play a large part in how we function each day.
Protein is vital for repairing muscle, skin and bone, which is why you’ll likely associate it with bodybuilders and also answers why protein shakes and protein balls are all the rage. It also plays a role in supporting the immune system.
Complex carbohydrates are our bodies main source of energy, so the thought that ‘carbs are the enemy’ is a truly dangerous misconception. Our bodies break down the carbs we eat into Glucose, which can be both used immediately for energy or stored for later. Many nutritious vitamins and minerals can also be found in carb-rich foods.
Last but certainly not least are fats, which absorb vitamins and provide us with essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot make themselves. Certain nuts, olive oils and foods such as avocado and salmon contain high levels of healthy fats. Whereas saturated and trans fats that can be found in processed and fast foods are the ones we should refrain from more often than not.
How Do I Workout my Macro Split?
Now we have a better understanding of Macros, it’s time to break them down into your ideal split. This will be different for everyone as our bodies are unique. It will also depend on where you currently are with your weight and fitness compared with where you’d like to be.
Ideally, you’ll work with a personal trainer, nutritionist or specialist coach to help you work out the right macro split for you as their experience can avoid any health complications and ensure you’re still able to function efficiently and safely.
If you’re curious and would like to explore this a little more, you can work out your own macro split with a calculation. You’ll need to know:
- Your recommended calory intake per day. You can use a calculator like this one: https://www.active.com/fitness/calculators/calories
- Your ideal daily split. It’s recommended that to stay lean and build muscle you want a 40%/30%/30% protein/carbs/fat split.
Now, you need to equate the following:
- Total daily calories x percentage split
- Then divide the total by 4 for protein and carbs, and 9 for fats for grams of each macro (this will be displayed on food packaging and be tracked in apps like MyFitnessPal.
If you’ve just had horrific flashbacks to your high-school maths lessons, don’t worry. There are plenty of free macro calculators online. Simply type it in your search bar and you’ll find many to choose from. See my working example below for a step-by-step guide.
Protein: 2,100 * 0.4 = 840 callories / 4 = 210g
Carbs: 2,100 * 0.3 = 630 callories / 4 = 157g
Fat: 2,100 * 0.3 = 630 callories / 9 = 70g
I hope you find this useful. Please note that this is an overview and introduction to macronutrients. This should not substitute speaking with a doctor or your own professional coach, as they will be able to take into account your personal health history for safe training and eating habits.