Align Your Goals with Your Macros!
Macronutrient planning is one of the top educational tools to use to help you achieve your goals. It’s effective for a good reason – there’s a lot of flexibility that helps each individual develop consistency. Most say it doesn’t “feel” like a diet. But how do you know if you’re doing it right?
In this article, we’ll cover the basics of macronutrients, how to put together macro-friendly meals, and the top 5 macronutrient planning tips to help you be successful in reaching your desired results.
How to Build Macronutrient Meals
First of all, what is a macronutrient?
Defined by the Oxford Dictionary, a macronutrient is “a type of food (e.g. fat, protein, carbohydrate) required in large amounts in the diet.” That’s where counting “macros” comes from – defining the amounts of carbs, fats, and proteins in your diet.
Although it is not a macronutrient and has 0 calories, water is considered just as important as the oxygen we breathe. In general, adults can survive up to 10 days without water and is the single largest component of the human body, comprising about 50 to 70 percent of body weight.
While this article will focus on protein, carbs, and fats, please remember that NO diet is complete without sufficient water intake. That being said, let’s dig into the other 3.
Key to Fat Loss – Protein
Want to know the #1 tip to boost your metabolism and lose fat faster? Focus on adequate protein intake. It really is just that simple.
Protein helps with fat loss by building and maintaining muscle mass, keeps hormones and blood sugar balanced, requires the most calories to digest, keeps you full for longer periods between meals, and reduces appetite for less nutritious foods. Therefore, it’s critical to obtain enough of this macronutrient into each of your meals.
Make Smart Protein Choices
As far as calories go, protein contains 4 calories per gram and a healthy diet includes the right amount of protein from a variety of foods. To help you make smart protein choices, you need to understand how much protein your body needs and create a daily goal. Learning how much protein is in the foods that you already enjoy eating as well as mixing up your protein sources will make reaching your daily protein goal much easier.
Here are a few examples of what 30 grams of protein looks like in various foods.
4-5 whole eggs
3-4 oz chicken breast
4 oz ground turkey
5-5 oz salmon
5 oz plain Greek yogurt
5 cups of steel oats
8-9 tbsp of peanut butter
25 cups of cottage cheese
5 cups of broccoli
5 whole avocados
The Bottom Line – Protein in your Macronutrient Food Plan
Protein helps boost your metabolism and lose body fat
It helps manage hunger and insulin
4 calories per 1 gram of protein
Identify and hit your daily protein goal
The Macro Calculator – Carbs
Recently, carbs have come under fire as the “bad” macronutrient. Despite popular belief, carbohydrates are not inherently fattening. Excess calories are fattening.
Carbohydrates (carbs) are an important part of a healthy diet. Not only do carbs give us the energy that we need to live, but they also improve digestion, promote heart health, and lower our risk for certain cancers.
“Good” vs “Bad” Carbs
Carbohydrates can be broken down into 2 categories – complex (good) and simple (bad). Both versions offer 4 calories per gram, but their varying absorption rates incite different hormonal responses.
“Good carbs” are high in fiber, which slows digestion and can help you feel full longer, stabilizes your blood sugar, and gives you energy for a longer amount of time. For example, plant-based foods are filled with good carbs and fiber.
Good carbs can be found in fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Whole grain food examples include brown and wild rice, oatmeal, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, rolled oats, whole grain barley, quinoa, whole rye, and whole wheat. To ensure food is whole grain, you can always check the food label to see if the word “whole” comes before the name of the grain and is also the first or second ingredient listed.
“Bad carbs” are found in processed and refined foods. During processing, these foods are stripped of fiber and other nutrients for improved texture and longer shelf-life. As a result, these foods are rapidly digested and makes your blood sugar go up and down quickly. When this happens, you feel hungry and low on energy soon after a meal.
Processed grains are disguised on nutrition labels by the names “enriched flour,” “wheat flour,” “stoned wheat,” “cracked wheat,” “100% wheat,” and “multi-grain.” Try and limit foods with added sugars that are listed as high fructose corn syrup, white or brown sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, molasses, honey, maple syrup, malt syrup, pancake syrup, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, anhydrous dextrose, and crystal dextrose.
The Bottom Line – Carbs in your Macronutrient Food Plan
Simple carbs increase immediate energy needed for exercise, but should otherwise be consumed sparingly
Complex carbs can preserve muscle, help recovery, and add dietary fiber for slower digestion
All carbs have 4 calories per gram
Carbs improve digestion, promote heart health, and lower our risk for certain cancers
The Macro Calculator – Fats
Fats are the most caloric macronutrient of the bunch, yielding a whopping 9 calories per gram. That’s why it’s easiest to go over your fat macros if you’re not careful, but we’ll get to that later.
Similar to carbs, there are different types of dietary fats: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans. Without going too deep into nutritional science, these terms refer to their chemical structure (and therefore how they affect the body).
Monounsaturated fats include foods such as olive oil, canola oil, and sesame oil, while polyunsaturated fats include fish oils, nuts, and seeds. Often labeled “good” fats, these categories are associated with heart health, reduced inflammation, and improved cognition.
Saturated fats, such as beef, coconut oil, and high-fat dairy, are often considered “bad” fats. When all of your fat macros are saturated, you risk elevating cholesterol levels. However, in moderation, our body tolerates them well. However modern Western diets lean heavily towards saturated fat, so most books on counting macros recommend mono or polyunsaturated fats.
Finally, trans fats are your last resort, as they’re known to contribute to heart disease, obesity, and a whole host of health issues. These types of fats are essentially created by humans in the lab to reduce spoiling. Examples include fast food, store-bought baked goods, and coffee creamer.
Fat is Needed for Optimal Health
Fat has many important functions in the body, including:
Hormone production – sex hormones, steroid, and cholesterol
Brain function and mood
Absorption of fat-soluble vitamins – vitamins A, D, E and K
Flavor – fat carries flavor and provides mouth-feel that improves meal satisfaction
Satiety – fat takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, so you feel fuller for longer
Much like different vehicles require different types of fuel, the intensity, duration, and type of your daily activity shifts your ideal fuel source. Moreover, your age, height, weight, physical fitness, stress levels, and more play a role in fuel selection. Carbs fuel high-intensity activity and restore glycogen. Protein builds muscle and helps immune function.
Therefore, eating too many fats might mean sluggish workouts where you feel run-down instead of energized. As a result, you might burn fewer calories than expected. Or, your body will start to crave carbs, and you give in to that cupcake your friend offers. Both of these situations end up throwing off your expected caloric balance. Working with a coach to map out potential obstacles, get an individualized exercise program, and more can increase your chances of sticking to the plan.
The Bottom Line – Fats in your Macronutrient Food Plan
“Good” fats improve cognition, reduce inflammation, and improve heart health
Due to their high caloric content, fats will make you feel full
Aim for at least a 1:1 ratio of mono/polyunsaturated to saturated fats
Fat is essential for optimal health
Top 5 tips for macronutrient planning Tip #1 – Figure Out Your Before & After Macros
Before you get started on anything, it’s important to assess your goals. For example, fat loss generally warrants a different macronutrient goal than muscle building. Those with performance benefits, such as endurance runners, need a much different macro profile than sedentary office workers. In the next section, you’ll find a general guideline. But for best results, always consult a dietician or professional.
Tip #2 – Utilize a Macronutrient Calculator
Thanks to technology, it’s pretty easy to find a nutrition spreadsheet template online. Based on your target daily calories, you can input your macro percentages
Tip #3 – Create a Grocery List Centered Around Your Macros
Armed with your macro meal plan guideline, it’s time to go shopping. The two most important things to remember are:
Choose foods you’ll actually eat
Don’t neglect micronutrients (or water) simply because you hit your macros
That last point is key – try to eat whole foods with plenty of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Additionally, try to hit foods that contain one macro primarily. You want to avoid being short on something, and the only thing in your fridge will put you over another macro.
Some good options include:
Colorful fruits and vegetables
Lean chicken breast
Low-fat cottage cheese
Tip #4 – Invest in a Food Scale
If you’re wondering how to count macros without a scale… it’s possible but rarely accurate.
That’s because humans are terrible at estimating portion sizes. How do you know if your apple or piece of chicken weighs 4 ounces? That’s why we recommend a scale, especially when you’re just starting out. After a while, you may be able to eyeball certain foods with relative accuracy, but it takes practice.
It’s worth noting that this obviously only applies to meals cooked at home (see below). When eating out, inquire with the restaurant, or check popular sites like MyFitnessPal.com. These resources will be able to offer a rough estimate for you. While a scale is the only way to assure accuracy, you can still see results by being close enough.
Tip #5 – Find Meal Prep Recipes You Enjoy that Meet Your Macros
Adherence to any diet demands willpower. Even with something as easy as counting macros, temptation still arises when we’re hungry. That’s why we recommend preparing your macro-friendly meals ahead of time. If you’re always prepared when hunger strikes, it increases your chances of getting the results you want.
The Bottom Line
A certified Nutrition Specialist can help you implement a healthy diet that includes a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats aligned with your specific goals. Every planned meal and snack should have each of the macronutrients represented for long-lasting energy and optimal nutrient intake. Choosing quality whole foods that are unprocessed will help reduce your risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and certain forms of cancer.