I was asked this question the other day by a client of mine…
“What is the number one thing a person should know when it comes to health and fitness?”
My clients tend to be f*cking smart and curious. I love it.
Anyways, I didn’t have an answer at the time because I wanted to think about it. I wasn’t about to say something that was kinda lame and not that important.
So with much deliberation, eerily similar to this, I came up with the answer.
The number one thing you need to know when it comes to health and fitness is how to count macros. Or in greater detail, you need to understand what the hell they are, why they are important and how to count them.
WHAT ARE THEY?
There are four macronutrients that supply calories to the body. They are…
- Alcohol (the redheaded step child. It’s not necessary for survival so technically it’s not a macronutrient. For general understanding I will include it)
Each Macronutrient contains calories per gram (g). It’s as follows…
- 1 Gram of Protein = 4 calories
- 1 Gram of Carbohydrate = 4 calories
- 1 Gram of Fat = 9 calories
- 1 Gram of Alcohol = 7 calories
Everything you eat is either solely one (rarely) or a combination of all the macronutrients. Here’s a detailed breakdown of each one.
What is it?
Protein is simply a molecule in food that is broken down into amino acids. There are 9 essential amino acids (meaning the body doesn’t create them so we need to get them through food) and 11 non-essential amino acids (meaning the body creates it).
What does it do?
Protein helps in the process of building, repairing and maintaining muscle. All of our organs, including the skin, hair, nails and muscles are built from protein. Many hormones are proteins and the immune system, digestive system and blood all rely on proteins to work correctly. Protein is therefore an essential part of our diet, vital to development and correct functioning of the body.
How much do I need?
There is not a definitive answer to how much protein you should consume on a daily basis. Depending on the activity level, size of a person, specific goals and macronutrient profile it could be anywhere between 0.5 grams -1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
A simple gauge for you to use to make sure you’re getting a safe and beneficial amount is to take 1 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you weigh 200 pounds you would get 200 grams of protein daily.
Food sources: chicken, eggs, beef, seafood and protein powder.
What is it?
Fats are organic compounds that are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. They are a source of energy in foods. There are three types of fats
- Saturated Fats
- Unsaturated Fats
- Trans Fats
What does it do?
Fat is essential for the proper functioning of the body. Fats provide essential fatty acids, which are not made by the body and must be obtained from food. The essential fatty acids are linoleic and linolenic acid. They are important for controlling inflammation, blood clotting, and brain development.
Here are a few other benefits of fat…
- Fat serves as the storage substance for the body’s extra calories. It fills the fat cells (adipose tissue) that help insulate the body.
- Fats are also an important energy source. When the body has used up the calories from carbohydrates, which occurs after the first 20 minutes of exercise, it begins to depend on the calories from fat.
- Fats are involved in calcium metabolism which allow you to build stronger bones
- Your brain is made up of cholesterol and fat. Diets lower in fat have lower levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin which make people feel good.
- Healthy skin and hair are maintained by fat. Fat helps the body absorb and move the vitamins A, D, E, and K through the bloodstream.
There is not a definitive answer to how much healthy fat you should consume in a day. A good gauge is to eat 0.1- 0.5 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight. So if you weigh 200 pounds would eat roughly 20-100 grams of fat daily.
Food sources: Avocado, Fish oil, Coconut oil and Almonds
What is it?
Carbohydrates are sugars that break down inside the body to create glucose. Glucose is moved around the body in the blood and is the primary source of energy for the brain, muscles, and other essential cells.
It’s first important to note that Carbohydrates come in three different forms. The three are:
- Starches (Complex Carbohydrates)– starchy vegetables like peas, corn, potatoes. Dried beans, black beans and pinto beans. Grains such as oats, rice, pasta
- Sugars (Simple Carbohydrates) – There are two kinds. Naturally occurring sugar like fruit and added sugar like in sugar cookies. There are many different names for sugar like table sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, beet sugar, cane sugar, confectioner’s sugar, powdered sugar, raw sugar, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar and sugar cane syrup.
- Fiber – the indigestible part of plant foods. Found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. When you consume dietary fiber, most of it passes through the intestines and is not digested.
What does it do?
The main function of carbohydrates is to fuel the body, and because carbohydrates digest quickly, they can provide the body with energy within a few minutes of being consumed.
How much do I need?
There is also not a definitive answer to how many carbohydrates you should consume in a day. A lot can depend on how much you’ve worked out, how intense of a workout, the quality of carbohydrates that you eat and the other macronutrient profile (how much fat and protein you eat).
Food sources: Reiterating from above: Fruits, vegetables, grains like rice and oats.
What is it?
Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is an intoxicating ingredient found in beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches.
What does it do?
It’s essentially liquid courage. It provides you with the balls to talk to girls, essentially raising your odds of getting laid. I speak nothing but the truth…
But seriously read this article for more info. Here’s a brief bullet on what you need to know:
Alcohol is converted to acetate by the liver. The oxidation of acetate takes precedence over other nutrients (meaning when consumed alcohol is being “used” first over other macros) and is oxidized to carbon dioxide and water. However, despite being a potent inhibitor of lipolysis, alcohol/acetate alone cannot cause fat gain by itself. It’s all the junk people eat in conjunction with alcohol intake that causes fat gain.
How much do I need?
If you’re serious about counting macros, you don’t need to drink. You can go a couple months without booze. Seriously….
WHY ARE MACROS IMPORTANT?
#1. You’ll know what you’re eating.
Do you just eat less to lose weight? How much less? Less meat and more fruit? Or just less fat and more protein? As you can see it can get confusing.
If you don’t know your macros you probably don’t know how much food you’re eating (and knowing macros is more important than knowing total calories)
If you’re not sure how many grams of protein, carbs or fat you need to eat in order to change your body composition (lose weight, build muscle) you stand little chance at being successful in attempting any transformation type program.
#2. You’ll know if you are over eating or under eating.
I would bet you grossly underestimate how much you eat. If you aren’t tracking you really have no clue and your more likely to say you ate less.
Here’s one study and another study that show the majority of people underestimate how much they consume. The crazy thing is it can be anywhere from 10%-40%. If that’s the case you stand zero chance of actually making long-term progress.
#3 You’ll know so you can make adjustments for better results.
If you have a starting point you’ll be able to see how your body responds to what you’re eating. Over the course of time your body will change meaning adjustments are crucial to avoid plateauing. If you are clueless from the get go good luck trying to adjust.
HOW DO YOU DO IT
For the sake of this example, we’re just going to look for the Fats, Proteins, and Carbs. Not the micronutrients or anything else (that’s for another day).
The first macro that you see is Total Fat. Certain foods will also have it broken down even more (Saturated, Polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and trans fat) but pay attention to the TOTAL. It is 3 grams.
The second macro that you see is the Total Carbohydrates. It’s 21 grams. (You could potentially subtract the dietary fiber from the total due to minimal impact on blood sugar, don’t worry about that here)
Lastly, the third macro is Protein. It’s 2 grams.
So let’s add them up.
- 3 g x 9(fat) = 27
- 21 g x 4(carbs) = 84
- 2 g x 4(protein) = 8
27 + 84+ 8 = 119
Total is roughly 119 calories which is pretty freakin close to the 120 that you see at the top.
As long as you have the nutrition facts you have the ability to count macros.
For foods that don’t have a label, search the internet. If you’re trying to find out how many grams are in fruits or vegetables the easiest way to do it is google. Type in how many grams of xx is a sweet potato and you will most likely find the whole macro profile.
So now you’re ready to get started. Here’s what you need to do.
Set up an account on myfitnesspal.com
Start tracking by selecting the foods you eat. The nice thing about myfitnesspal is the database. They have just about every food known to man programmed in. They also have data from restaurants which is nice if you want to smash a chicken bowl from Chipotle. (Understand that it’s still a guestimate and probably not 100% accurate, just be cautious)
You can program certain meals so if you eat the same breakfast it becomes much easier to track. The more you get used to the software the easier it becomes.
- Measure/weigh foods raw or uncooked. For example, measure out 1 cup of oats uncooked. Not after you cook them. This means you need to buy measuring cups and a scale.
- Fruits and vegetables should be weighed as well. It’s too subjective to eat 1 medium sized banana. I mean really, what does that mean? Cut it up, put it on a scale and find out how many oz. it is, then search the serving size online or in my fitness pal.
- Recipes – This is somewhat of a pain. You will have to do your best to measure everything out in the whole recipe. Figure out how many servings for the recipe and plug it all in on my fitness pal. (If you have a better idea please share it so I can pass it on)
- Eating out – Best option would be to look on the restaurant’s website where they have nutrition facts. Most meals are in myfitnesspal especially if they are popular chain restaurants. Once again, be careful what you input as it might be inaccurate.
- I’ve had clients input all of their meals before the day begins. This way they know exactly what they need to eat and won’t deviate from their plan. You can also avoid eating too much too early or not enough too late.
Now, this is very important to mention. If you are SUPER neurotic about counting macros, meaning you get super pissed off if you’re off by 2.5 gram of protein, or you accidentally ate 6 more carbs than you were suppose too DO NOT DO THIS OR QUIT DOING THIS. Counting macros should be the furthest f*cking thing from actually running your life. My goal is to have you count so that you UNDERSTAND what you’re eating.
Life is about balance. You can ABSOLUTELY have balance counting macros and enjoying yourself. So please don’t take this blog as a sign that you must forgo everything and everybody around you. (That means don’t bring your own tupperware out to dinner or open your god damn container of tuna on an airplane…that’s just f’d up and weird as shit.)
Lastly, I specifically work with people looking to figure out their macros. I monitor, adjust, and make sure all my clients are set up for success. This also includes workout programming, meal plans, various guides and accountability. Contact me here and apply for online coaching.
Please comment/like/share this bad boy. Let’s converse.