A complete guide to macro-based dieting
Updated: Apr 13, 2021
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Macros-based dieting has become a widely popular type of diet that many Athlete Enthusiasts follow. This popular diet’s other famous names are counting macros, flexible dieting, or If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM). Rather than focusing on and counting endless calories, IIFYM focuses on hitting specific macronutrient targets. Macronutrients consist of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
These three macronutrients make up the primary fuel sources that our bodies need to run efficiently. Without these, or not in the correct quality, our bodies would struggle to operate correctly. It would be as though your car needed an oil change, but you continued to drive it despite the light indicator.
When I was introduced to this type of diet, I was already doing CrossFit for three years. Within those three years, I lost some weight and put on noticeable muscle. But I still wanted to get leaner and more defined. But. It. Just. Wasn’t. Happening. I wasn’t starving myself, but I would skip breakfast or lunch, maybe have a banana before going to the gym. Once dinner rolled around, I would take 2 or 3 servings because why not? I barely ate today- I should be good.
Does this sound like some of you? I wasn’t fueling my body or brain appropriately. It was apparent in my mood and mental health, and also, my workouts were suffering. My thought process looked like this; the less I eat + the more I workout = the more weight I lose. Boy, was I wrong.
I remember a gym member coming into the gym; I ran up to her and said, “Kelly, you look amazing! What are you doing?” She went into the details about “Flexible Dieting” and that she loved. It helped her form a new relationship with food. After Kelly became certified, I signed right up!
Macronutritent: Consists of Proteins, Fats, and Carbohydrates
Micronutritent: Vitamins and minerals. Important for daily functioning and living.
Calorie: A unit of energy
Daily Target: Your specific numbers for carbohydrates, fats, and proteins based on gender, age, goals, current activity level, and body type.
Gram/oz/lbs: Unit of measurement (mass)
Cup/Tablespoon/ Teaspoon ect: Unit of measurement (volume)
Where to Start
Most people would say “at the beginning”, but where exactly is that? Before you jump right into the act of counting macros there are a few things that should be done first:
You will need your daily target numbers for Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats. There are 2 different ways that you can obtain those:1️⃣ Use a generic calculator that will ask you a few questions about your body composition, and lift style; 2️⃣ Hire a nutrition coach that can tailor the target goals directly to you, that can monitor your progress, and adjust when necessary.
👉You will need to download a food tracker, such as MyFitness Pal™ or Cronometer ™ (you can read the differences in my last blog post).
👉To be completely invested in following a macros-based diet, you will also need a food scale that has the ability to weigh food in grams, oz, and lbs . Amazon is a great place to find one that does the job and is affordable (around $12-Check it out).
👉Ok….I have my numbers (or hired a nutrition coach), I bought a food scale, and download a food tracking app, now what?
Setting your daily target numbers up in the app is going to set you up for success. Each app is slightly different from how you can input your target numbers. Make sure that you input them correctly.
Go to the main menu (the 3 horizontal lines in the top left corner)
Click on “goals” (halfway down)
Under Nutrition Goals>Calories, Carbs, Protein, and Fat Goals
Click on each Macronutrient and adjust the number to reflect your daily goal
Go to the “settings” (bottom right corner)
Click on “Macronutrient Targets”(under the Target section)
Make sure that the “Tracking carbs as” is set to “Total Carbs” & “Set Macros using” is set to “Fixed Values”
The fixed values will allow you to customize your daily calorie intake, protein, carbohydrate, and fat.
You are now all set to start counting macros! It is essential to understand that there is a learning curve with all new diets, and this one is no different. Placing your food scale in a visible and accessible spot in your kitchen will encourage you to utilize it and so that it does not get thrown in the back of a cabinet somewhere. Utilizing portion size Tupperware will be handy when meal prepping days in advance (tip: using food labels on your Tupperware to write your macros on can be helpful-You can find them on Amazon here).
I described what a macronutrient is above. I am sure you are asking yourself, but what does that mean?
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of carbs=4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
So if I have a food that has 21 grams of protein, that contributes to 84 of the total calories (21×4=84)
Learning about macros based diet also changed my relationship with food and helped me realized that food is not the enemy. I was so inspired by how Kelly changed my nutritional perspective that it became my passion for helping others.
Tricks and Tips
Here are a few tips to be successful before we dive into how to count macros.
⭐Plan, Plan, and Plan. Learning to strategically plan out your week (or at the very least, the next day) is going to not only help you meet your daily targets, but you will be less likely to become stressed or overwhelmed with what to eat.
⭐Become a creature of habit! Having the same foods or meals day after day can become very mundane. But in the first few weeks of macros counting, it can be helpful. It will not only help you build a routine but takes a lot of the guesswork out when it comes to meal prepping, cooking, and logging.
⭐Have a way of tracking progress. Weighing yourself daily or at least four times per week will give you a good indication of the progress made. A lot of us tend to get caught up with the number on the scale. But, Did you know that your body can fluctuate 2-5 lbs per day! So, taking the average per week will help keep you on track and instill motivation. Have a friend or family member take body measurements for you as another indicator. Lastly, taking progress pictures (either weekly or every other week) will help you see the little changes in your body that you won’t notice on the day-to-day. And lastly, note how you feel. How is your energy level; are you tired or sluggish; are you bloated; how are you sleeping. All of these questions will help you in determining your progress in achieving your goals.
⭐Macros ≠ social life. Just because you are tracking macros DOES NOT mean to give up your social life! Being on a new diet can undoubtedly present its challenges. Here are a few ways to overcome the anxiety of going out to eat with friends, attending a BBQ, party, or other events.
If you are going out to eat
1️⃣Plan where you will be going (or choose a few different paces, if you are undecided). Google the menu and know what you are going to order and if any modifications are needed. Depending on where you go, the nutritional information may be listed!
2️⃣Automatically adding 1 TBSP of olive oil is a great buffer. When you go out to eat, most things are cooked in oil or butter, whether we see it or not. Adding this into your tracker will take this into account, decreasing the risk that you will go over your daily fat target.
3️⃣If you know that you are socially going out, consuming foods low in carbohydrates and fats and higher in protein during the day will help keep you on track.
4️⃣What I am about to say may sound odd, but I do it ALL THE TIME. Bring your condiments. For example, when I go out for Mexican, I would weigh and pack (in soufflé cups) my cheese, guacamole, sour cream, salsa, etc. This was huge for me! I knew what I am eating; the quantity and quality.
5️⃣Ask Questions! When you go out to eat, don’t be afraid to ask questions. How many oz is the broccoli? How many oz is the fish? What is the brand of bread? What is the lean-to-fat ratio of the burger meat? If your server doesn’t know, the kitchen staff will. The clarification is to ensure accurate tracking.
Alcohol doesn’t really “fit” into any specific macronutrient because the body metabolizes it differently. How I discussed above, how many grams is equal to 1 calorie; Well, 1 gram of alcohol is equal to 7 calories.
However, since alcohol is not a macronutrient, you must convert it to “fats” or “carbohydrates.” This concept is done by taking the drink’s total calories and dividing it by either 4 (for carbohydrates) or 9 (for fats). Look at the below example:
1️ can of Truly is equal to 100 calories and “3 grams” of carbohydrates (according to the nutritional label).
To convert to carbohydrates: 100 (total calories)/4 (calories per 1 gram of carbohydrate) =25 grams
To convert to fat: 100 (total calories)/9 (calories per 1 gram of fat)=11.11 grams (round to 11)
Don’t go by the carbohydrates on the nutritional label. The liver views alcohol as a toxin and therefore processes alcohol before any other macronutrient. As a result, once the body processes alcohol, it will then begin to process carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Once alcohol enters the body, it becomes the liver’s primary mission to detoxify it, slowing down the burning (metabolizing) of fat and storing it as fat.
Ok, now that we have a foundation on the preparations needed to start counting macros and a basic understanding how macronutrients are calculated and where the calorie come from, we can dive a bit into how to actually count your macros.
Best Macro Counting Practices
Like I mentioned above in the tricks and tips, planning your meals and becoming familiarized with your food tracker will set you up to be successful. You want to ensure that you are weighing and tracking EVERYTHING that you consume!
I know what you are saying… But Brittany, Everything? I take a multivitamin.. that too?
And my answer is yes, even multivitamins. A calorie is a calorie no matter where it comes from. Most multivitamins have fillers, or a different substance in them, which a lot of the time is equal to carbohydrates (macronutrient) that we having to take into account. Here are so things to keep in mind: 👇
Becoming familiar with your food tracker is important. Refer to the How-To guide for Chronometer™ and MyFitness Pal™ here.
During your first week
When first starting macros add your favorites foods and recipes for easy access.
Make sure that you weigh your foods in grams instead of using measuring tools. Measuring tools only capture the volume, and there is too much of a variance.
One serving of peanut butter is 2 TBSP = 32 grams. But if I weighed 2 TBSP, it won’t always equal 32 grams; it might equal 34 or 35 grams. This variance doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if that happens all day, every day, day after day. You could easily consume +/- 100-300 calories, which might hinder your overall goals.
It is as easy as it sounds: 👇
Does this really work?
And the answer is yes! If you stick it. Look at it this way; I know I said this earlier, that a calorie is a calorie, but all calories aren’t created equal. Looking at macronutrient values alone, someone could have 1700 calories worth of cookies (or about 12 homemade chocolate chip cookies), which would look like 234 grams of carbs, 93 grams of fat, and only a measly 21 grams of protein. Or someone could have 1700 calories worth of broccoli, which is roughly 6,100 grams! In terms of macros, this would look like; 305 grams of carbs (which about 1/2 is from fiber), 27 grams of fat, and 164 grams of protein. Now, neither one of these options is ideal, but both paint a significantly different picture. It would be SO easy to eat 12 homemade chocolate chip cookies in one day, but who would eat 6,100 grams of broccoli.
But what about a cheat meal?
That is the glory of IIFYM; there is no “cheat meal.” If you want that piece of chocolate and you can fit it into your macros, go ahead; if you wish to have that peanut butter and fluff sandwich and you can make it work, great; If that sweet potato or pizza is calling your name, make it work. You aren’t depriving your body and pretending like your craving doesn’t exist. If someone says, don’t eat this, or you can’t have that (especially concerning diets), the urge to eat that food is strong. Even if you don’t particularly like that type of food, you may crave it.
Is this a rigid diet to follow?
My answer is no if you dedicate yourself to it. Anything is hard if you don’t have the desire, commitment, or patience. In my opinion, the first two weeks are the hardest.
Do I really need a nutrition coach?
No, you don’t. There are several free calculators out there, with one of them being here. But a nutrition coach is there to guide you, support you, suggestions if you become stuck, monitor your progress, and make adjustments. Nutrition is a science, and there are many other variables, including; medications, hormones, and genetic make-up, that determine the rate that someone can lose weight.
A person following a macros-based diet with a specific goal of losing weight may want to change that goal over time. Being able to communicate with a coach who can adjust their numbers and monitor them is beneficial in ensuring that he or she is consuming the correct ratio of macronutrients. Interested in 1:1 coaching?