We are currently living in a period of time when worldwide obesity rates have never been as high as they are today, yet we are also in an age where knowledge and technology make it easier than ever for people to lead a healthy well-balanced lifestyle.
One personal training tool that is now readily available to the public without the need for expert knowledge is tracking macros/counting calories. Calorie restricting diets went mainstream when the Atkins diet was popularised however this was not a sustainable approach to weight loss in the long term.
Crash diets work but only because of a calorie deficit, having someone consume 1,200 calories or less a day will obviously see fat loss, however, a sustainable approach simply requires a calorie deficit (this does not have to be a drastic one either).
Tracking macros is the tool that anyone can use when looking to lose weight or make healthier lifestyle choices.
What is a Macro
A macro (macronutrient) is a nutrient that is vital for human function. There are a number of macro and micronutrients that are essential for your diet however the three main ones that are tracked for body composition are Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates.
Each of these macronutrients performs different functions for the body. Protein, for example, is the building block of muscles so it is essential for repair and growth, fats and carbs are the body's primary fuel source and amongst other functions, they are essential for fueling a workout.
Tracking these macronutrients is essential for body composition because not all calories are created equally. You will have seen phrases like ‘dirty’ and ‘clean’ foods, viewing food like this will cause a psychologically damaging relationship with food. Instead, you want to look at food in terms of nutrient density and make up 80% of your diet with these nutrient-dense foods, leaving 20% for the less nutrient-dense treats.
Eggs and nuts are a good example of nutrient-dense foods as they are high in protein and essential fats. Sweet potato is also high in terms of carbohydrates per gram of potato so classes as nutrient-dense. A packet of crisps, in contrast, is heavily processed and has a much lower macronutrient count per gram.
A good rule of thumb when looking for nutrient-dense foods is to select foods that have had minimal processing and manufacturing. Foods that have been grown or alive at some point (meat/fish) should be a priority for 80% if your diet.
Starting Macro Split
A macro split is how many calories you consume from each macronutrient group each day. This is not a set figure for everyone and is decided by body composition, lifestyle, and training goals.
To work out a macro split you first need to work out your maintenance calorie target. This is the daily amount of calories that you need to consume just to cover your everyday activity.
The best way to find this is to use an online calculator, search for a maintenance calorie calculator and plenty of results will show up.
Once you have this there are a few generic macro rules that you can follow which are ideal for starting out.
Protein - 1g of protein per 1lb bodyweight. This means for a male weighing 200lbs you would need to consume 200g of protein per day.
*1g protein = 4 calories
Fat - 0.45g of fat per 1lb of bodyweight. Again if you weigh 200lbs then you would need to consume 90g fat per day.
*1g fat = 9 calories
Carbohydrates - Make up from your remaining calories based on your maintenance calorie target that you worked out earlier. If your target is 2,400 calories, then you have 800kcal from protein (200g x 4), 810kcal from fats (90g x 9) this leaves you 790kcal to have from carbs. Divide this by 4 and your carb intake will be 197.5g of carbs per day.
*1g carbohydrate = 4 calories
How to Track Macros
Now that you have a good idea of the food sources you should be aiming for and what your calorie and macro split should be then it’s time to actually track your macros daily.
Now that you know what you need to consume each day you can simply log this on a notepad and do the math manually. All food comes with nutrition information though this can be time-consuming if you are just starting.
Therefore the best option is to take advantage of technology and download and app (MyFitnessPal is the best option). An app will let you scan the barcode of a food and keep track of your daily calories and macro breakdown with minimal effort from you. You can even set goals and look at simple graphs that show your breakdown.
This makes it incredibly easy to now watch what you eat daily and track it. The best thing you can do is test it for a week eating the meals and snacks that you normally would see just how far off from your targets you actually are. It will definitely show the benefit of swapping out small changes like a full-fat coke for a zero-sugar option or better still a protein shake.
About the Author
Simon Byrne is a Health and Fitness writer producing content for the supplement industry for the last 5 years with a focus on improving body composition. He is a certified Nutritionist through Precision Nutrition (PNL1) and a Level 3 Fitness Instructor.