Macros 101

 

When was your last visit to the supermarket? Well that could have been as recent as last weekend for most, right? However, the answer to my next question – ‘Did you check the nutritional facts on the reverse of the food packet that you picked up?’ will perhaps be a “No”.

The prime reason for us not looking at the nutrition facts is because we don’t care a damn about the food macros. Only if we did, all of us would have been much healthier than we are today.

What are these macros all about? Let us have a closer look at macros and try to understand how do they play a role in our daily calorie intake and how can they be optimized to our benefit.

All calories come from macronutrients that are Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats. Vitamins, minerals, sodium, etc. are micro nutrients and do not contain any calories. Let us have a closer look at these macronutrients.

  • Carbohydrates

carbs

Carbs are stored in the liver, brain, blood and muscles as glycogen and are used up for the body’s energy requirement.

Technically, you can live on practically zero carbs. However, bodybuilders or endurance athletes consume 700 + grams per day. So, the range according to goals is pretty wide. That said 0.5-2 grams of carbs per pound of lean body mass is a decent range depending upon factors such as activity levels, weight, body fat percentage, goals, etc.

  • Proteins

eggs

Adequate intake of protein helps build muscle and/or prevent muscle loss. It controls appetite and staves off hunger better than carbs as it causes you to feel full longer. It also requires more energy than other macros for your body to digest, thus effectively burning more calories gram for gram through the digestion process.

Meat, fish, eggs, dairy, whey, nuts, beans, etc. are all good sources of protein and you need about 0.5 to 0.866 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass, again depending upon your goals in order to suffice your daily recommended intake.

  • Fats

fat

Fats are an essential nutrient that our bodies require to survive. It also assists in vitamin absorption, hormone regulation, brain function and more.

Meat, fatty fish, nuts, nut butters, oils, and countless other foods are sources of fats. Your daily intake again depending upon your goals can range between 15%-45% or more of your total daily calorie intake. Somewhere between 0.35 to .7 grams per pound of lean body mass is a decent range.

Macros and Calories:

macros

Calories provide us with energy. As discussed earlier all calories come in from carbs, protein and fats. Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) do not contain calories and hence we don’t factor them whilst calculating total calories in a particular food item.

Each macronutrient yields a certain number of calories:

  • One gram of carbohydrate yields 4 calories
  • One gram of protein yields 4 calories
  • One gram of fat yields 9 calories

Now if we were to look at the nutrition facts of the label below, we uncover the relationship between macros and calories.

  • Carbohydrates: 36*4 = 144
  • Protein: 13*4 = 52
  • Fat: 1*9 = 9

Hence one serving of the above food item would yield a total of 144+52+9 = 205 calories. Pretty close, outside of the unavoidable rounding error.

Counting macros in food with a nutrition label is pretty straightforward, but there will be situations where the macros are not printed on the package at all. Here’s how to handle those times.

Usually for produce like meats,fruits, vegetables, etc. look up for nutrition facts online.

  • Google
  • Nutrition Data
  • Calorie Count
  • Apps (Like Myfitnesspal, Fitocracy, etc.)

There may be a small amount of variance, but in general, each of these sites will more or less give you accurate numbers. You can adjust serving size as Generic (Small/Medium/Large), Metric (Grams), US (Cup), etc. However, for more accurate numbers you must use kitchen apparatus for measuring your food quantities as below:

  • Kitchen weighing scale:

They are cheap, absurdly cheap and a great tool for your kitchen.

  • Measuring Cups & Spoons:

They come in quite handy whilst measuring liquids like oil, etc. used for cooking.

  • Calorie/Gram Counting Book:

Keep track of the nutrient information of basic food items in a log book. Initially you may need to go back and refer to the book, however with time you will be a pro at it.

Meal Planning:

plan

Nutrition for various goals is part science and part art, we are always trying to strike a balance between the two. Here are the steps involved:

  • Measure:

As mentioned above, kitchen weighing scales, measuring cups and spoons and a calorie/gram counting book are the best tools you can have. Determine your quantity, do the calculations and voila! You know your macros.

  • Record:

Once you calculate your macros, write them down in a log book. This means that when you measure your meals and report them, your results will improve faster because of the accountability a log book represents. Remember to jot this down for the entire meal, not just the individual macros. That way, after weeks you can plan your weekly meals from the notes rather than having to look up every food you eat.

  • Break it Down:

Now that you know how to measure macros determine what your nutritional breakdown will look like going forward and how the macros in your individual meals will support it.

Break down your macros so you know how many calories you must spend on each macronutrient. Let’s say you decide to start off with a 2000 calorie diet with a macro breakdown of 40:40:20, it will work out to 200 grams of both protein and carbs and about 44 grams (rounded off) of fat.

Want to get macros into your life? Remember these two things: your weight (which in turn affects your BMR) and how active you are. Pretty much every macro is tied to this.

It takes a bit of trial and error to find your ideal macro ratio, but it is totally worth the trouble. Eating based on macros is like re-education on eating right. But once you nail it, there is no looking back.

Hence knowing how to track macronutrients or macros is a skill imperative to having total control over your body. Come on, let’s make an effort to master it!

-By Imran