From 2015 to 2017, I was living in London attending graduate school. As much as it was the time of my life, frequent nights at the pub and holidays to pasta loving countries, I walked away from that experience 43 pounds heavier. The following two years I bounced from diet to diet, fitness class to fitness class and watched the scale go up and down whenever it pleased. In 2019, I was 43 pounds lighter and enjoying maintaining my weight and appearance. When the pandemic hit, I moved out of my city apartment into my parents’ home and no longer had to spend my entire paycheck on rent. With the extra coin, I decided to get a personal trainer and work on toning my legs, stomach and arms.
For the last ten months, I’ve learned the in’s and out’s of gym machines. I’ve gotten stronger, increased my stamina, gained six pounds of muscle and have had a fantastic time. There was only one issue: my body was refusing to tone. My trainer kept telling me I would need to clean up my diet even more in order to see those kinds of results. Not willing to give up the sugary foods and carbohydrates in my diet, I amped up my workouts and hoped for the best. But none of it changed until I took his advise and started counting macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates) aka, macros.
I’m sure now you’re probably wondering: Do I need to calculate my macro intake? What are the benefits? And how do you even do that?
Spoiler alert: it’s way easier than it sounds.
What are macros?
Macronutrients are the nutrients in your body responsible for everyday activities and functions. There are three main buckets: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Everything your body does, requires carbs. Fats help absorb vitamins, help your heart and make you feel full longer. Protein maintains muscle, bone health and repairs cells.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a standard number of macros you should take in every day. It really depends on your gender, weight, activity level, health and personal goals.
How to calculate macros
The only way to figure out how many macronutrients you need, is to calculate how many calories you are burning. In addition, you need to know how many calories are in a gram of each macronutrient:
1 gram of carbs is 4 calories
1 gram of fat is 9 calories
1 gram of protein is 4 calories
Now follow the below:
Daily calories per macro = total calories per day x percent of calories from each macronutrient per day
Daily grams per macro = calories of macro per day ÷ calories per gram of the macro
Let us show you by example. If I burn 1,500 calories a day, my macros would look like this:
1500 total calories x .50 of calories from carbs = 750 calories from carbs
750 calories from carbs ÷ 4 calories per 1 gram carbohydrate = 187.5 grams of carbs per day
1500 total calories x .30 of calories from fat = 450 calories from fat
450 calories from fat ÷ 9 calories per 1 gram fat = 50 grams of fat per day
1500 total calories x .20 of calories from protein = 300 calories from protein
300 calories from protein ÷ 4 calories per 1 gram protein = 75 grams of protein a day
To reiterate, if I burn 1500 calories a day, I should be eating 187.5 grams of carbs, 50 grams of fat and 75 grams of protein a day. Remember this is dependent on the activity that you do in a day so the number could vary. As a marathon runner, on days that I am training, I might need a little more carbs to fuel myself as my calories burned would be a lot higher.
Currently, as I try to drop a couple of pounds and tone up, I might want to decrease my number of carbs to achieve a calorie deficit, while building lean muscle mass and keeping a moderate fat intake. On the flip side, to build muscle, you’ll want to consume more carbs and protein.
How to track macros
Once you are set on your goals and have calculated the amount of macros you can consume, consider downloading an app to track your intake. I recommend MyFitnessPal, it’s easy to use and you can track all your homemade meals and dine-in meals. Portion size is important here because if you say you’re eating 1/2 cup of something, you will want to make sure that is accurate. And if you’re utterly confused, consider seeing a pro, like a dietitian.
Let’s face it, there are so many fitness scams and information out there, having a specific target or number to hit makes it a little bit easier. Similarly, just because you are now set to eat a specific amount of carbs, fats, or protein, doesn’t mean it’s quality. The source also matters. Translation: don’t expect to eat all processed foods, ice cream, candy bars and think you’re going to lose weight.
Since counting macros, I’ve successfully lost a pound a week for the last several weeks and am starting to feel lighter and look slimmer. This way of tracking takes a lot of discipline and muscle memory. Tracking macros can be a really good resource to weight loss and building lean muscles but just don’t let it become your identity.
You can also check out how I hit my daily 10,000 steps in 90 minutes with this YouTube workout.
Photo via Getty Images