FOOD

Counting Macros: What It Means And How To Do It

It’s an effective method for both losing weight and building muscle.

19/06/2017 3:04 PM AEST | Updated 19/06/2017 3:05 PM AEST
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Fats are an important component of counting macros.

If you follow any #fitspo accounts on Instagram, you might have seen personal trainers, bodybuilders and fitness experts talking about counting macros, or even detailing a full list of their macros for the day.

Counting macronutrients, while not a brand new approach, has really taken off over the past three or four years.

"Macronutrients are nutrients that are required in large amounts to provide the energy needed to maintain body functions and carry out the activities of daily life," Holly Louise, known as The Fit Pharmacist, told HuffPost Australia. Louise is a registered pharmacist, certified personal trainer, online coach and expert for Body Science.

"There are three macronutrients -- protein, carbohydrate and fat -- which are molecules contained in different amounts in all food and beverages. Each of these molecules have a corresponding caloric value which give the total caloric value of the food," Louise said.

The caloric value for each of the macronutrients are:

  • Protein = 4 calories per 1 gram;
  • Carbohydrate = 4 calories per 1 gram;
  • Fat = 9 calories per 1 gram;
  • Alcohol = 7 calories per 1 gram.

"Once you know how many calories you burn in a day and how many calories you consume in a day, it is easy to calculate your calorie intake in order to achieve your body composition goal, whether it be weight loss or weight gain. By taking it a step further by calculating and tracking your macronutrients specific to your body composition goal, you can target fat loss or muscle gain as opposed to just weight loss or weight gain," Louise said.

Louise uses counting macros as part of the new personalised programs she has formulated for Body Science. The idea behind the programs is to help people stay on track with their health and fitness with information and action points that are easy to follow.

To receive your own program, fill out the online health questionnaire. From your answers you'll be given a free training program and eating plan that is tailored to your needs, based around a 100-point system.

The concept for the 100-point systems came from the 100-point recovery systems that many football teams give to their players. It takes the guess work out of what they need to do for recovery. An example is you get 20 points for eating vegetables and a protein rich meal post-workout, 20 points for sleeping eight hours, and so on.

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Learning to read labels is important, and use an app like MyFitnessPal to track foods with no packing, such as fruit and vegetables.

"Rather than typical calorie counting (for example, eating 1800 calories per day), flexible dieters/macro counters track these macronutrients. Therefore, an example of someone weighing approximately 65kg and eating 1800 calories per day to achieve a specific goal may break this up into 140g of protein, 175g of carbohydrates and 60g of fat," Louise said.

While it sounds time consuming and complicated, counting macros is pretty easy once you get the gist of it.

"Anyone can count macros! The best thing you can do is start by educating yourself. This includes reading about the importance of protein, carbohydrates and fat in the diet and learning about which foods contain which macronutrients. Becoming familiar with nutrition labels on food packaging is also very helpful."

From there, Louise says the easiest way is to take it in stages.

Stage 1: Count Calories

Work out the amount of calories you should be eating each day in order to reach your specific body composition goal. You can get a fitness professional to calculate this for you or do it via an online calculator.

Stage 2: Count Calories And Protein

Continue to reach your calorie goal each day but also add in a protein target to hit as well. This amount will be specific to your body weight and muscle mass. These are the two most important factors in achieving a body composition goal, whether it be fat loss or muscle gain.

Stage 3: Count Protein, Carbohydrates And Fat

Continue tracking your calories and protein and start by adding a fat target too. By default, you will also be tracking your carbohydrates as the remaining macro.

"The easiest way to track your foods is via a food tracking app like MyFitnessPal. Practice makes perfect -- you will be a macro wizard in no time," Louise said.

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Calorie counting apps work with the bar code system to effortlessly keep track of what you're eating. Simple scan for a breakdown of that product's macros.

The upside of counting macros is that you can still eat the foods you love, they are just taken into account so that you don't go overboard.

"Counting macros follows the belief that there are no specific weight loss foods and allows you the flexibility to select foods at your own discretion depending on your preference while remaining accountable to your health and fitness goals. People that give counting macros a bad name are those they try to fit as many 'junk' foods as possible into their macros, with little regard to healthier foods like fruit and vegetables," Louise said.

"However, we must remember that food is more than a just a source of protein, carbohydrate, and fat – it is also our provider of vital micronutrients -- vitamins and minerals -- that support the many physiological functions of our bodies. A healthy body is always going to perform more effectively and efficiently than one which uses processed foods as a fuel source, not to mention that you will be more satisfied by foods that are nutrient dense, such as fruits and vegetables," Louise said.

With that in mind, Louise believes you should aim to get at least 80 percent of your daily calories from whole, micronutrient-dense foods. She also recommends the following guidelines as a minimum:

1. 1-2 serves of fruit per day;

2. 3 serves of vegetables per day;

3. 25g fibre per day.

"People can also get obsessive with trying to reach each target to the gram. This really isn't necessary to achieve results. The best part about counting macros and flexible dieting is that it is just that -- flexible! Consistency will always be the most important factor in achieving your goals," Louise said.

Lastly, keep in mind that the point of keeping track of your macro intake is to be able to be flexible and enjoy a variety of foods. Extreme diets and restrictive eating just doesn't work.

"Experience has also shown that restrictive diets which significantly reduce calories and eliminate food groups are not sustainable and lead to binge eating, cheating, and yo-yo dieting. This in turn creates feelings of guilt, generates self-punishment and negative emotions, resulting in a very unhealthy relationship with food and body image. Life is about balance and enjoyment, therefore, eating a sustainable diet is more likely to lead to success," Louise said.

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