Over the years, trendy diets have come and gone but one has remained constant: counting macros. This nutrition method has become popular among athletes and fitness enthusiasts, but it can also benefit anyone looking to improve their overall health and body composition.
So what exactly are macros and how do you count them?
In this beginner’s guide, we will break down the basics of what counting macros is and how to get started.
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What Are Macros?
Macros, short for macronutrients, are the three main components that make up our diet: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Each macro plays a crucial role in our body and provides us with the energy and nutrients we need to function properly.
Each macro nutrient is made up of calories. Carbs and proteins are 4 calories per gram, while fats are 9 calories per gram. By tracking your macros, you are essentially tracking the amount of calories you consume from each macro nutrient.
Alcohol is another macronutrient, but for the purpose of counting macros, we will focus on the first three.
The great thing about counting macros is that it can be used for every phase of your fitness journey, whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, or simply maintain a healthy lifestyle.
How to Calculate Your Macros
Now that you have a basic understanding of what macros are, let’s dive into how to calculate them. There are various methods for calculating macros, but the most common and recommended method is using your body composition and goals.
Step 1: Determine Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Your BMR is the amount of energy your body needs to function at rest. This is the minimum amount of calories you need to maintain your current weight and body composition.
You can use an online calculator or consult a healthcare professional (like a registered dietician) to determine your BMR.
Step 2: Set Your Macros
Once you have your BMR, you can then calculate the recommended macros for your specific goals. Keep in mind that these are just general guidelines and may need to be adjusted based on your individual needs and preferences.
- Protein: The recommended daily protein intake for the average person is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. If you are physically active or looking to build muscle, you may need to increase this amount.
- Carbohydrates: Carbs should make up around 45-65% of your daily calorie intake. This can vary based on your activity level and goals.
- Fats: Fats should make up around 20-35% of your daily calorie intake. It’s important to include healthy fats in your diet, such as avocados, nuts, and olive oil.
If you’re a 150 pound man who is active about 30 minutes daily , your macros may look something like this:
- Protein: 120 grams (480 calories)
- Carbohydrates: 195 grams (780 calories)
- Fats: 60 grams (540 calories)
Step 3: Track Your Macros
Now that you have your macro goals set, it’s important to track your macronutrient intake to ensure you are staying within your recommended ranges. This can be done through various methods such as food journals, apps, digital scales or even using measuring cups and spoons.
Tracking your macros also allows you to see which foods may be causing imbalances in your diet and make adjustments accordingly.
Counting Macros vs. Counting Calories
So if macros are just another way of tracking calories – why not just stick to the classic counting calories? While both methods involve keeping track of what you eat and drink, there is a distinct difference between the two.
Counting calories means monitoring your overall caloric intake without paying attention to where those calories come from. Whereas counting macros means breaking down your daily calorie goal into specific ratios of protein, carbs, and fats. This allows for a more balanced and personalized approach to nutrition.
Counting calories in today’s world can also be inaccurate. With the trends of different diets like net carb diets, food manufacturers have started to do goofy math on the nutrition label for marketing purposes leading to the labels being inaccurate. The best way to know you’re tracking accurately is to track macros, not calories.
How to Count Macros as a Beginner
When you first start counting macros it can be overwhelming. There’s so many numbers to balance and calculate, but with the right tools it can be made much easier. Here are a few ways to make the process a lot easier:
Download an App
Download an app to calculate and track your macros. If you’re just starting out, I recommend using an app that also provides you with a coach or community to support you on your journey. My favorite one is 1st Phorm, which provides all that plus educational videos and workouts for $12.99/month.
As the old saying goes, “Failure to Plan is Planning to Fail.” Meal planning can save you time and make tracking your macros much easier. When you plan out your meals beforehand, it allows you to know exactly what you’re eating and how much of each macro is in it.
This will help keep you on track and prevent any unexpected high carb or fat meals that throw off your daily ratios.
The biggest mistake I see when people start counting macros is that they make meal planning super complicated. They plan big elaborate recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and then after a few weeks get burnt out.
Start simple and plan meals that consist of a protein, carb, and fat source. Once you get the hang of tracking macros, then you can start incorporating more complex meal plans. Limit yourself to only one or two recipes a week and keep everything else simple.
Plan around one meal
One way that I make tracking macros easy is by planning my entire day around one meal. What I mean by this is that I have meal planned (this is usually my family dinner), and then I fill in the gaps for breakfast, lunch and snacks . This helps take the stress out of planning every single meal and allows you to focus on making one balanced meal a day.
Another benefit of this method is that it allows for flexibility in your other meals. If you have a special event or dinner with friends, you can adjust your other meals accordingly without throwing off your macros for the day.
Cook in bulk
Cooking in bulk has been a big time saver for me when it comes to meal planning. I will often make large batches of proteins, such as chicken or ground turkey, and then use them throughout the week in different meals. This saves time on cooking and also helps prevent meal prep burnout.
Additionally, you can pre-cook grains like rice or quinoa in bulk to use throughout the week. Having these staples ready to go makes it easy to throw together a balanced meal without much effort, especially on busy school nights
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!
Once you have your meal plan figured out, don’t feel like you have to constantly come up with new recipes and meals. Stick to what works for you and repeat those meals throughout the week. This not only saves time but also helps establish a routine and consistency in your macro tracking.
Of course, it’s always good to try new recipes and switch things up, but having some go-to meals that you know will fit your macros can make meal planning much easier.
Beginner Macro Counting Recipes
Here are a few of my go to recipes that are perfect for beginners just starting to count macros:
Lunch and Dinners
- Chicken Taco “Cupcakes”
- Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas
- Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Soup
- Mediterranean Orzo Salad
How I Count Macros as a Mom
One of the biggest things that’s changed for me since becoming a mom is how I count macros. I used to love spending my Sundays meal planning and prepping for the week, but since having kids, I just don’t have the time to do that anymore.
So I’ve had to adjust!
I used to love trying new recipes on Pinterst but now I keep my meals more simple. We do a lot of sheet pan dinners, or easy meals like tacos or burrito bowls, pasta with protein and veggies, or healthy slow cooker meals.
I’ll track in the morning what I plan to eat for portions and then when dinner time comes around , I’ll just measure out my portions then and add them to tracker. This approach has not only helped me stay on track but it’s also made my meals more kid friendly because they can customize their dishes with their preferred toppings.
What Does Macro Friendly Mean?
As you continue on your macro journey, one term you’ll often hear is “macro friendly”. This simply means that a food or meal fits into your macro goals for the day. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the healthiest option, but rather that it fits within your specific macronutrient needs.
For example, a fast-food burger and fries may technically fit into your macros for the day, but it may not be the most nutritious choice. On the other hand, a homemade grilled chicken and vegetable stir-fry would also fit into your macros but may be a healthier option.
Often times online, when you see a recipe that is called out as macro-friendly, this means that it’s a high-protein recipe.
Experiment and Find What Works for You
Ultimately it comes down to experimenting and finding what works best for you. Whether it’s tracking your macros, counting calories, or simply focusing on eating whole, unprocessed foods, the most important thing is to find a sustainable way of eating that works for your lifestyle and goals.
It may take some trial and error, and that’s okay. The key is to be patient with yourself and keep making small adjustments until you find the right balance.
More Nutrition Resources
Looking for more nutrition articles? Here are a few of my favorites:
- What I Wish I Knew Before Downloading the 1st Phorm App
- 5 Things to Consider Before Downloading Healthi
- My Lumen Experience
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