What are Macro’s?
Macros, short for macronutrients, are simply protein, carbohydrates and fat. And for those who like adult beverages, alcohol is also considered a macronutrient.
Tracking macros is basically an advanced form of calorie counting. Instead of focusing on the total number of calories you consume, you track the number of grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates that you consume. We will talk about alcohol later. You can track macronutrients with My fitness pal, My Macros and/or other calorie tracking books, apps or computer programs.
Why track macros?
There is a long scientific explanation as to why you want to track macros but to simplify the answer it is so that you can actually lose fat while dieting. Yes, eating less calories will lead to weight loss, but after time without the correct nutrients, your body will begin to break down your muscles for energy and hold on to fat because it thinks it is starving. Muscle burns more calories than fat and takes up far less space, so you want to keep your muscle because it is what keeps your calorie burn elevated even while you are sleeping. In order to maintain muscle and burn fat you need to have a balanced macronutrient intake.
How to track macros?
To begin with:
- You need to ensure you get enough protein every day to preserve muscle. Protein is the building blocks for our muscles, it does not matter how much protein you eat because it does not convert to fat. Because of this the majority of your calories should come from protein sources. A simple formula to determine daily grams of protein needed is one gram of protein per pound of healthy body weight, so if a healthy weight for you is 145 pounds, you need at least 145 grams of protein.
- You need to ensure you eat enough carbs, which provide your muscles and brain with the energy they need. It should be noted that if carbohydrates are not burned as energy from work or exercise they will be stored as fat.
- You need to ensure you eat enough healthy fats, fats play an important role in hormone synthesis and recovery from intense exercise. You do not want to eat too much fat as it is stored rather quickly as… you guessed it, fat.
You can find a macro calculator to meet your needs here:
For those of you who like to do math, this diagram (fig 3) provides a basic starting point, simply multiply your daily calorie intake (using link above if needed) by the percentages that meet your needs (fig 3), then divide the calorie total by grams per calorie which can be found in the diagram above (fig 2).
How to track alcohol as a macro?
I found recently when trying to enter alcohol into different calorie counters that the macros are entered as carbohydrates or there is actually no macro nutrient content for alcohol only a calories total. In researching the science it is noted that hard liquor should be counted as a fat macro and beer or wine calories should be divided 50% carbs and 50% fat, and if it is a mixed drink you should count the juice or soda separately (Fig. 4).
What is Carb-Cycling
Carb cycling simply means changing your daily carbohydrate macros to aid with burning calories more efficiently. With carb cycling protein and fat macros can stay consistent, or you may choose to increase your fat macros on your low carb days. On high carb days you will consume more calories, and on low carb days will consume less.
High carb days promote muscle growth and help you perform at your best, while low carb days encourage fat loss. Because carbohydrates are needed for energy on the days that you do your most intense work outs like weight lifting you should increase your carbohydrate macros and on the days you rest or do lower intensity exercise such as an easy walk or bike ride you should have a lower carbohydrate intake.
There are many other types of carb cycling out there such as a low day, medium day high day and even a super carb day, but for someone just getting started if you have lost weight and have stalled in progress this basic tweak in your diet might place you back on track.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a term for an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating, it is not a diet, but an style of eating that makes our bodies more efficient. Intermittent fasting has helped people to lower blood pressure, decrease cholesterol and decrease inflammation. There are about five different methods, but these three seem to be the most popular.
• The 16/8 Method: It involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, for example from 1 pm to 9 pm. Then you “fast” for 16 hours in between. This seems to be the easiest method of fasting and most will find it easiest to fast through the night and into the morning. They usually break the fast roughly six hours after waking up.
• Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week, an example is not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day.
• The 5:2 Diet: On two non-consecutive days of the week, only eat 500-600 calories. Eat normally the other 5 days.
During the fasting period, you consume no calories. However, coffee, calorie-free sweeteners, diet soda and sugar-free gum are permitted.
What and when you eat during the feeding window also depends on when you work out. You can train in a fasted state but may want to supplement with branched chain amino acids to aid with muscle growth, as our body may burn muscle for fuel and not fat. This is why it is important to only fast for certain periods. After a prolonged fast or a very low calorie diet our bodies will start to hold on to our fat in an effort to protect itself from starvation. This is why we stop losing weight on low calorie diets.
For more information on branched chain amino acids as well as other supplements click here: supplements