Please note this post is purely based upon my research and experiences. I’m not a dietician and I encourage you to make sure any change in diet/lifestyle suits your needs before undertaking it.
I told you in this post how I’d lost 10lbs by following a calorie restricted diet. Following on from that I decided it was time to switch my focus. I moved away from pure calorie counting and began macro counting instead.
Since then I’ve lost a further 12lbs which I’m still a little bit incredulous about! I’m leaner, fitter and feel healthier than at any other time that I can remember. Macro counting has been truly transformational for me.
I mentioned my macro counting on Instagram and lots of you got in touch to ask me to share more information. Here goes!
Macronutrients (macros for short) make up the bulk of what we eat to survive and for our body to function. There are three types:*
*Actually there is a fourth: alcohol. Sadly there’s no nutritional value in that one so I’m going to focus on the main three!
Each macronutrient has a role to play in a healthy diet. Protein is used by the body to create and maintain tissues like muscle, skin and hair. Carbohydrates provides the bodies’ main source of energy, whilst fat is essential for eye, heart and brain health. Fat also cushions our organs to keep them protected.
The number of calories within each gram of a macro differs:
This means that 50g of a food mostly made up of carbohydrates equates to roughly 200 calories. However the same portion size of 50g in fat equates to 450 calories.
Your body burns through a certain amount of calories per day to keep it running. This is called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) and is basically calories. If you eat less than this, your weight will reduce over time. If you eat more than this, you’ll increase your weight.
With macros, instead of counting the overall calories consumed you focus on eating set proportions of carbohydrate, protein and fat and count these values instead. If calculated correctly, when you eat the right amount of macro grams this will equate to your overall target calories.
Here’s an example: You’ve worked out that you have an overall total daily expenditure of 1800 calories. You decide to aim for 25% protein, 25% fat and 50% carbohydrates per day. This converts to 112g protein, 50g fat and 225g carbohydrates. It’s these gram values that you would count rather than the calories.
Eating the right proportion of each macro per day can help you to address any deficiencies that may exist in your diet, creating a more healthy balance. This in turn might produce positive effects such as more even energy levels throughout the day and feeling more satiated. Depending on the proportions you decide upon, you could also set more specific targets. For example building muscle, losing body fat or increasing your endurance or performance in a sport.
Another reason for counting macros is that it helps you to learn how the food that you eat affects your body.
In my case I used to suffer from tummy discomfort and bloating around bed time. I had mistakenly thought that this was down to eating carbohydrates and so for years I restricted these. When I moved to macro counting I had to embrace eating more carbohydrates. In counterbalance I was eating less fat and protein. To my surprise I began to feel better almost immediately and my problem with bloating has almost completely gone now.
There are lots of free guides and online calculators to help you work out what your daily macro targets should be. MyFitnessPal will give you a basic target too. These all tend use your weight, height, activity level and goals.
Here are a couple:
There are various different methods of calculating macros so results will vary depending upon which one you choose to use. They all base the calculations on a couple of key factors however:
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) – how many calories your body needs in order to function in a restive state.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) – how many calories your body needs on a daily basis when your activity level is factored in.
You’ll also need to provide your main goal. This will determine your final calorie target and macro splits.
What you’ll end up with is an overall percentage of the macros that you want to hit, converted into macro grams.
Alternatively you can enlist the help of a professional such as a dietician or nutritionist. I purchased the Live Like Louise Macro Plan (link here) which I highly recommend. I have a weekly check in to discuss how I’m getting on and receive feedback to help me stay on track.
This has worked really well for me because my needs and goals have changed as time has gone on. I’m now in a ‘reverse dieting’ stage. This means that my macro split and daily targets are being regularly adjusted to gradually increase what I’m eating. Changing your intake too fast can affect your metabolism and lead to weight gain, so having a nutritionist support me through this phase has been invaluable.
I am sure that there are other apps that you can use to count and track your macros but I log everything into MyFitnessPal. I have moved onto the Premium version now as it has some handy features for macro counting including:
If you are eating ready made meals then all you need to do is scan the barcode into the app and the likelihood is that MFP will already have the macros recorded in their database.
However if you are eating home made meals then you will need to create recipes. You can save yourself a bit of time by importing web based recipes directly into the app. I am a stickler for accuracy though so wherever possible I avoid using the generic items that it brings up in the database. If the ingredient I am using has a barcode I’ll always scan it in myself. It’s time consuming but you get used to it.
From then on it’s a case of building up daily meal plans within the app to hit your macros.
What you choose to ‘spend’ your macros on is up to you as nothing is restricted or off limits. This is known widely as ‘IIFYM’ or ‘If It Fits Your Macros’. Obviously filling your plate with nutritious wholefoods is going to keep you full for longer than if you chow down on junk food, but the point is, you get to decide!
I save up a portion of my macros for a treat every single day, usually hot chocolate and a cookie. My body’s reaction to my change in lifestyle shows that moderation is better than restriction.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to hit all 3 of your macro targets perfectly each day. As a general rule of thumb I focus on hitting my protein target within a few grams either way. Then I try and get as close to my carbohydrate and fat targets without exceeding either one. This can be tough sometimes of course. However I’ve got the results I want so it’s been worth the discipline.
I plan what I’m going to eat in advance and I batch cook meals for the freezer. This way I never get caught out.
When it comes to meal planning, here’s the approach that works for me:
I eat the same breakfast every day so that goes in first. Next I input what I fancy for tea. At this point I check my macros to see how many grams I have left under each. If my dinner is high in protein for dinner then I’ll pick a lunch that levels things out.
I find it much easier to meal plan and count macros successfully when I make my food from scratch. You can’t change the nutritional content in a premade meal, all you can do is adjust the portion size. However if you’re cooking recipes and recording them in MyFitnessPal then you can play about with the ingredients and serving sizes.
Usually small tweaks are all that’s needed to ensure that I can eat what I want. For example if I’m making soup and the carbohydrates would exceed my allowance I’ll reduce the potato and add some vegetables. I reduce the fat content simply by substituting some of the oil for water or stock. If the recommended portion size on the packet doesn’t work, I adjust it up or down until it does!
Counting macros takes time and effort but you also learn a lot very quickly. I can now reel off which foods are mostly carbs, those high in fat and the best plant based protein sources. Over time this has helped me to speed up my meal planning considerably. I tend to spend 45 mins to an hour on a Sunday planning out the next 7 days. This then helps me to write my shopping list for the week too!
I hope I’ve helped to explain macros without bombarding you with too much science!
However if you want to learn more, I’d recommend the following resources which I found very useful:
Nutrition 101: Calories, Carbs, Fat Salt and Sugar | The Deliciously Ella Podcast
How I Meal Plan as a Vegan Athlete | The Sculpted Vegan
These all contain macro splits which makes them easy to choose from!
If this has been helpful or you want to know more about macros please comment below!