Macros 101: A rough explanation from a food-loving, macro-counter
I love cooking. Like I love cooking ALL of the food. But I also love feeling healthy and strong. A few years ago, I learned about counting macros and while at first I was skeptical, after learning more about the concept behind counting macros, and experiencing some exciting results, I was converted. Macro-tracking might not be for everyone. But, if you’ve been curious about how it all works, here’s my Macros 101 to get you started.
WHAT ARE MACROS?
The term “macros” is short for macronutrients. It refers to your fats, carbs, and proteins. So whether you count them or not, you are definitely EATING macros. You might look at this sandwich and recognize you’re eating carbs in the bun, protein in the buffalo chicken, and fat in the avocado. You’re right, but you’re also going to get some carbs from the veggies, a little fat and carbs in the chicken etc. When your’e counting macros, you’re counting each gram of those nutrients.
SO WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE TO COUNT MACROS?
Tracking or counting your macros just means you’re counting (with the help of a food-logging app like My Fitness Pal) how many grams of those macronutrients you get in a day. Really, it’s just a step beyond counting your calories, which, I’ll confess I had never done a day in my life, before I decided to dive head first into this.
Calories are still king and having them in the right place for your goals is going to be the most important part of the formula. While trying to lose body fat you’ll want to be in a caloric “deficit,” meaning that you’re eating less than your body burns each day. If your goal is to maintain, you’d ideally be eating just about what you burn each day. If you’re trying to build muscle, you’d eat slightly OVER what you burn each day. Still making sense?
So, why not just count calories?
MACROS 101: PROTEIN
First let’s talk about protein. This will help clear it up.
Proteins are the building blocks of our muscles, and muscles are what make our bodies look strong and lovely once we shed the fat we’d hoped to–rather than just being a smaller version of the same shape we’ve been frustrated with.
Hanging on to a new, thinner frame is so SLIPPERY when you’re not actually doing anything to change your body composition. An indulgent weekend, followed by a tip in the scale, and it can feel like all the work has been undone! But with muscle GROWTH, there are so many more changes going on than just the shedding of scale/water weight. Those firm new curves can’t be stolen in a weekend.
Muscles are also, of course, what we hope to GROW if we’re eating in a surplus–rather than just love handles! They also help our bodies burn more fat around the clock, thereby creating a higher resting metabolic rate and higher total daily energy expenditure–which is a long way of saying: more muscle means more food!
So, if we’ve got strength or aesthetic goals, muscles are important–and it’s hard to build the muscles that firm up our shape without eating enough protein. I’m not a fitness coach, dietitian, or a health professional of any kind, but the amount of protein usually recommended by traditional macro-coaches for fat loss is about .8 to 1 g times your ideal body weight.
Some base it more on lean body mass, but this is a simple way to figure out a good protein goal. If your body is happy at 140 lbs, you might want to try and hit around 140 g of protein. If you’re got more weight to lose, you might want to set your protein closer to your goal-weight. Feel really great at 150 pounds? Maybe set your protein around 150 grams a day.
MACROS 101: CARBS AND FAT
The breakdown between carbs and fat is much more flexible. Some prefer to give more to carbs, some to fat. I prefer these calories being broken down about 60/40 in favor of carbs because I feel like that creates more food throughout the day! This can be adjusted according to preference.
MACROS 101 EXAMPLE: HOW TO SET YOUR MACROS
So, if you are trying to set yourself some macro goals to help shed body fat, here’s a general order of operations:
- Determine caloric deficit: A good general rule is body weight x 10,11,12,or 13. Adjust your numbers closer to 10 if you’re more sedentary and closer to 13 if you’re very active and/or have a very fast metabolism.
- Set protein goal: (Body weight x1) or closer to (goal-body weight x1) for those with more to lose.
- Distribute the rest of your calories between fats and carbs according to preference. I like 60/40 favoring carbs.
So, as an EXAMPLE:
1. A 140-lb female wanting to shed fat who works out pretty regularly might set her calories at 1680. (140×12)
2. Then, protein at 140. (140×1). Since each gram of protein is worth 4 calories, we know those 140 grams will take up 560 calories. So since 1680-560=1120, we’ve got 1120 calories remaining to split between fat and carbs.
3. 1120×0.6= 672 calories for carbs and 1120x 0.4= 448 calories for fat. Since each gram of carbs is worth 4 calories and each gram of fat is worth 9, we can figure out what a reasonable set of goals might be in grams. (672/4=168 g carbs and 448/9= 50 g fat.)
So this–my very rough and basic Macros 101 lesson–shows you what a pretty active woman with a current or goal weight of around 140 pounds MIGHT use as her “macros,” or daily breakdown of macro nutrient goals: 168 carbs/50 fat/140 protein and 1680 calories.
If these were your goals, it will feel hard at first! It will feel especially hard to hit that protein goal while the carbs are lower. But remember this: when you’ve shed some of the unwanted fat and are ready to “reverse diet” (or slowly add back in calories to maintain for a while because the calories at which you maintain your weight should not be the same as the calories you use to lose), you’ll add mostly carbs!
Your protein goal is already sufficient so as you increase carbs, it will get SO much easier to get your protein in without having to work so HARD at it. And, it will be SO WORTH IT if you’ve added or increased weight lifting as part of your exercise routine and you’re seeing your body composition changing.
Before you know it, you’ll be running low on protein by the end of the day and hoarding it just like your precious carbs and fat! (Maybe that’s just me.)
MACROS 101: HOW TO TRACK YOUR MACROS (IF YOU WANT TO)
Using a tracking app should DEFINITELY be a part of Macros 101. There’s no way to do all of this tracking on your own. I’ve always used the premium version of My Fitness Pal, so that’s what I know and love. But, you certainly don’t have to pay for premium! I just got hooked on a few features it offers but the free version gets the job done, and there are other apps as well.
Currently, all Lillie Eats and Tells recipes with the macros for easy logging, are available in My Fitness Pal. Some are available in Lose It. However, there is most likely some “manual add” feature where you can always log the macros of a meal into your whatever app you use.
When you’re logging your own food, you’ll go to add something to your diary and you can either search for it, or scan the barcode if it’s applicable. You’ll want to double check anything before you choose it. There are plenty of errors in the database so take a minute to make sure it makes sense. I like to compare a few entries if I’m not sure.
When logging one of my meals, you’ll search “Lillie Eats and Tells” plus the name of the meal. You’ll want to use the exact title, so follow my instructions on the bottom of each recipe for easy logging!
And, if you don’t count or track and just want healthy recipes, great! Covered. You can count on these meals being a very balanced ratio of carbs/fat/and protein for ANYONE–generally lower in fat and higher in protein. Most importantly (to me), you can ALSO count on them being delicious and FILLING.
MACROS 101: HOW TO CREATE A RECIPE IN MY FITNESS PAL
Want to alter a recipe? No problem! It’ll take a little work but it’s doable. Just copy the recipe into the “create recipe” feature in MFP to build your own. Make whatever adjustments you need to, then double check each item to make sure the macros make sense. Scan barcodes when you can, and even STILL, you’ll need to double check. I’ve logged 1000 calories of cilantro before, so, unfortunately, you can’t skip this part! There are plenty of wonky options in there.
Now THIS IS THE KEY. What to add to “number of servings.” If your soup, for example, serves 10, of course you could put 10 as the number of servings and estimate your portion if you’d like. Or, divide it perfectly in 10ths. That works too! But below is my preferred method.
My preferred method:
1. You’ve entered all ingredients – whatever they were (700 g raw chicken breasts, 2 cans tomatoes… etc.)
2. WEIGH THE FINAL PRODUCT to get it’s net weight in grams once the recipe is done, the soup is cooked, the chicken is grilled, casserole out of the oven, etc. (Don’t forget to subtract the weight of the dish.) THIS is the number you’ll use when MFP asks you how many servings it makes. So if you have 2,056 grams of soup, you’ll tell your recipe it made 2056 servings, rather than “10” like we used above. By doing this, you’ve assigned just ONE GRAM to each serving, so the macros will look crazy low. Now save it.
3. When you go to weigh your soup, you can put 300 grams in your bowl and log 300 “servings” of your soup. This allows you to have however much you’d like each time, or easily eat the leftovers. It even allows you to make the recipe many times in the future (allowing for a little margin of error of course), even doubling or halving it, and continue to use the same recipe to log your grams. Hallelujah.
Tracking macros can feel overwhelming at first. It can seem unsustainable, or challenging with a family. But once you get past the learning curve, and especially with the help of macro-friendly recipes created by your favorite food-bloggers (ahem!), it gets SO MUCH EASIER. I make delicious meals that my whole family loves, that I can also track accurately if I want. Healthy eating does not have to be a hard, time-consuming, tasteless experience. If it is, it won’t last! And what’s the point of that?
There are so many options for healthy eating out there, but counting macros is just a great way to keep track of what actually works for your own personal goals.
If you already love macro-counting, or are thinking of giving it a shot, check out my cookbooks here. Just like the recipes here on my blog, the meals inside these books are simple, filling, and delicious– all while hitting an incredibly well-balanced macro-breakdown. Protein will be high, fats will be low, and carbs will be moderate, leaving lots of wiggle room for your favorite snacks! And of course they’ve been loaded into My Fitness Pal to make tracking your macros infinitely easier.
Follow me on Instagram @lillieeatsandtells to see how I keep up with this macro-friendly way of eating while raising kids and cooking for my family!