Should you count macros?
Well, it depends.
While every fitness influencer vows that their specific macros will help you gain muscle and lose fat, they all neglect one important piece of the puzzle, you.
Everyone is different and no one set of macros will work for everyone, and believe it or not most people can achieve their fitness goals without counting macros.
That’s why in this beginner’s guide to counting macros, we will cover some steps to take before counting macros, and only then, how to count macros.
No, not right away. First, you should focus on creating a consistent healthy lifestyle.
We have found that most clients that want to look good naked and live healthily can easily hit their fitness goals with a few lifestyle changes and will never need to count macros.
But if you’re dead set on the idea, first learn how to create a healthy lifestyle, then understand visual tools to control your portions, and finally count macros.
(Are you a fitness coach? Get a free introduction to our method of nutrition coaching here.)
Before you change any part of your nutrition make sure you’re living a quality lifestyle.
Eight behaviors make up a healthy lifestyle. We call them the OPEX Basic Lifestyle Guidelines (BLGs). The BLGs are all-encompassing and look at hydration, digestion, quality of sleep, daily activity, self-reflection, and stress management.
The OPEX Basic Lifestyle Guidelines (BLGs)
The BLGs are simple, but just because they are simple doesn't mean that they are easy to master.
So before you change any part of your nutrition, master these behaviors. They are the foundation for whatever your goals may be.
Once you master the basics of a healthy lifestyle you can, if needed, refine your nutrition even further with portion size.
This is an easy way to roughly track what you eat and start creating awareness around quantity. We like to use the hand method, developed by our friends at Precision Nutrition.
The hand portion method uses different parts of your hand to measure the serving size of your food.
The Hand Portion Method
As highlighted in the graphic serving sizes are as follows:
1 Serving of Protein = 1 Palm
1 Serving of Carbohydrate = 1 Cupped Hand
1 Serving of Vegetables = 1 Fist
1 Serving of Fat = 1 Thumb
Now use these serving sizes to build a meal. Here are the general portion guidelines for a meal based on gender. The number of portions you include will also differ based on your gender, body composition, and goals.
1 Serving of Protein
1 Serving of Carbohydrate
1 Serving of Vegetables
1 Serving of Fat
2 Servings of Protein
2 Servings of Carbohydrate
2 Servings of Vegetables
2 Servings of Fat
If you use this meal template for three meals a day, the Women’s daily total of calories will be between 1,500 - 2,100 and the Men’s will be between 2,300-3,000.
The variation in calories is because the types of food you eat for each portion will determine how calorically dense each meal is. For example, chicken contains fewer calories than beef. Please note, you should adjust the number of portions depending on your stature, goals, and activity levels.
This is a great way to keep an eye on how much you are eating with minimal effort. However, it’s not perfect. If you want to refine your nutrition even more then macros may be a helpful tool for you to do so.
We want to reiterate that macro counting is not for everyone. Some downsides of macros include that it can be time-consuming and it can be unproductive for those with restrictive eating behaviors. Most people can reach their health and fitness goals through a healthy lifestyle and visual portion control.
But for those people that will benefit, let’s talk about how to count macros.
How to Calculate Macros
Counting macros is popular because it is extremely precise. The idea here is you are keeping track of exactly how much you eat and can adjust based on your goal.
Macros are short for macronutrients, the nutrients in food that provide energy. The three main macros are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. To calculate macros you first need to understand your daily caloric burn, also known as total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
How to Calculate Your TDEE
Once you calculate your TDEE, you can move onto calculating your macros. Each macro contains a number of calories.
1 Gram of Protein = 4 Calories
1 Gram of Carbohydrate = 4 Calories
1 Gram of Fat = 9 Calories
In the video below we will show you how to calculate macros using TDEE based on a 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, and 30% fat ratio.
Now that you have your macros it’s time for the tedious part, tracking them.
To track your macros you can either write them down in a journal or use an app like MyFitnessPal (MFP) or Cronometer. We recommend taking advantage of technology and opting for an app.
For the most accurate measurement, weigh your food in grams or ounces. .
Then use an app like MFP to look up what you are eating, adjust the portion size for how much you are consuming, and enter it into your daily food log. Now repeat this process for everything you eat during the day.
This process can be quite tedious and may be overwhelming for some clients. That’s why we only recommend that you count macros after you have mastered the prerequisites or if you’re an athlete with performance goals.
No matter if you decide to just live a healthy lifestyle, watch your portions, or count your macros, the key to reaching your health and fitness goals is consistency.
So start small with something that you can easily implement every day, then once you master it, you can move on to more complex skills. Always remember, it’s the small steps taken every day that help you accomplish your goals.
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