By Jimmy Warden
Have you been wanting to change your eating habits, but wanting to find something sustainable? Have you tried eating completely “clean” foods and caved in after a couple of days or weeks? Are you not completely willing to give up all the carbs in your life? If this is the case, it might be time for you to start tracking your macronutrients.
What are macronutrients?
Macronutrients are the three largest nutrients that our body uses in order to maintain functioning. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. They all offer a different purpose than the others, but they are all vitally important in order to sustain and maintain balance in healthy eating. As you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve heard of eating styles that might not incorporate all of the macronutrients like keto or carnivore, so if you if you follow one of those regiments and it works for you, keep going! I’ve tried my hand at keto, and for me, it wasn’t sustainable. I have found that the most sustainable is tracking macros.
Why should I track my macros?
Tracking macros allows for more sustainability because it allows for more flexibility, too. To track macros means that each day you are targeting a certain caloric intake, along with targeting a certain amount of macronutrients. For example, I recently started tracking my macros again and my targets are 224 grams of carbohydrates, 224 grams of protein, and 85 grams of fat, for a total of 2,560 calories per day.
By having a specific, consistent caloric intake each day, this gives you a more precise way of reaching body composition goals. It becomes more precise because you know exactly what you’re putting into your body each day and you know how much it truly is. For example, you might be able to fit a 400-calorie piece of cake into your macros that has 20 grams of fat, 53 carbohydrates, and 2 grams of protein if you’ve “hit your numbers” up to that point. This means with your other food intake you’ve reached the alloted amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats for your daily calories, and the cake provides the opportunity to fill in the “missing amounts” to “hit your numbers”. When our macro measurements are precise, we are more likely to reach our body composition goals because we are not overindulging in any macronutrient area, which could hold people back from reaching their body composition goals.
No, this doesn’t mean we can just eat cake and sweets all day, but rather tracking tracking gives us a little bit of “wiggle room”. A lot of experts refer to tracking macros as flexible dieting because it allows for some indulging in sweets or other foods most people consider unhealthy. The catch 22 is that in order to indulge, it is best that we’ve already made sure to reach the alloted numbers of macronutrients to allow the flexible choice to be the “missing piece” to finish out our food intake for the day. This implies that we should be making a majority of healthy choices throughout the day by eating macronutrient (and micronutrient) dense foods like chicken, eggs, greek yogurt, beef, fish, sweet potatoes, rice, oatmeal, and a variety of other vegetables and fruits.
Is losing weight or gaining weight as simple as tracking macros?
Just because a person starts tracking macros doesn’t mean that they’ll immediately get the results that they are looking for. First, it is important to have an idea of how many calories they burn in a day, so that they can create a caloric surplus or a caloric deficit. The surplus or deficit vaires on the individual’s goals. If the goal is to gain weight, surplus it is! If the goal is to lose weight, deficit it is! When someone is in a caloric surplus, that means that they are eating more calories than they are burning, which will result in weight gain. When someone is in a caloric deficit, that means that they are consuming less calories than they are burning, which will result in weight loss. This process of change is best done in a methodical manner if the goal is consistent and steady weight gain or loss because it will allow your body to adapt slowly over time, rather than completely shocking the system, and forcing into a physical state that it’s not ready for. When this happens, energy and mood levels have the potential to lower significantly because your body is expending a lot of energy to digest a lot more food than what it’s used to (when in surplus) or it is trying hard to generate similar levels of energy to what it was used to generating when eating more food (when in deficit).
How do I get started?
In order to get started, the first is estimating how many calories you burn in a day. The way you can do this is to calculate your basal metabolic rate, also known as BMR. According to Medical News Today, “you can calculate your BMR by using the forumals below. A person uses inches for height, pounds for weight, and years for age in the following formulas:
- For men: 66 + (6.2 x weight) + (12.7 x height) – (6.76 x age)
- For women: 655.1 + (4.35 x weight) + (4.7 x height) – (4.7 x age)”
Once the BMR is calculated, multiply against your average daily. Points are awarded based on how active you are.
Points for activity levels are as follows:
- 1.2 points for a person who does little to no exercise
- 1.37 points for a slightly active person who does light exercise 1–3 days a week
- 1.55 points for a moderately active person who performs moderate exercise 3–5 days a week
- 1.725 points for a very active person who exercises hard 6–7 days a week
- 1.9 points for an extra active person who either has a physically demanding job or has a particularly challenging exercise routine
For example, to calculate how many calories a 37-year-old, 6-foot-tall, and 170-pound man who is moderately active burns, the formula would look like:
(66 + (6.2 x 170) + (12.7 x 72) – (6.76 x 37)) x 1.55 = 2,663 calories/day
This formula shows that a man of this age, height, weight, and activity level can consume 2,663 calories and maintain his current weight. He could increase or decrease weight by consuming more or less than this amount over the course of several days.
Once this is calculated, the easiest way to start tracking is by using an app on your phone, or you could simply write your foods down in a notebook if that suits your fancy more. For apps, I would highly recommend MyFitnessPal and Carbon Coach (I don’t know if this one is free or not, so if you’re not willing to pay for it, stick with the free apps).
The next thing to keep in mind are your goals! Once you have a baseline of how many calories you burn on average per day, you can either consume more or less of that number depending on your goals and your timeline for those goals. Remember, start slow! If you burn 2,500 calories a day and you’re hoping to gain or lose weight, my recommendation would be to add or subtract 100 calories to start, but if you’re trying to get much quicker results one way or the other, you can change that number. Just keep in mind, the volatility in which you change your caloric intake creates a potential for volatility in your energy and mood.
Lastly, think of what type of foods you like to eat! Do you carbohydrates better than fats? Fats better than carbohydrates? Prefer to get your protein through non-meat sources? These are all questions worth considering because they will directly affect how you want to set up your macro breakdown. If you like carbs more than fats, perhaps you want 50% of your calories to come from carbs, 30% to come from protein, and 20% to come from fat. If you like fats more than carbs, maybe you want to have 40% of your calories to come from fat, 35% from protein, and 25% from carbohydrates. If you’re not really sure where to start, ask someone who has more knowledge! It is okay to ask these types of questions because they can help you reach whatever body composition goals you are trying to achieve.
Just remember it is a “long game” when in comes to body change, so have patience, and know that if you have patience, time is your ally. Happy tracking!