How to Count your Macros and Get More out of Your Meal Plan
Knowing how to count macros will make it easier for a person to lose weight, gain muscle, or meet any other fitness goals. The key to proper macro counting is understanding how macronutrients work and getting into the habit of recording each meal.
What are Macros?
Macronutrients are fat, protein, and carbohydrates. All foods can be broken down into these categories. Getting the right macro balance can ensure that the body has everything it needs to stay healthy. Depending on whether a person's goals are weight loss, weight gain, or muscle gain, they may do best on a specific macro ratio.
Step 1: Learn How to Measure Macros Properly
To get the optimal results from counting macros, it is necessary to make sure that macro counts are as accurate as possible. Proper measurements ensure that a person is actually following their macro plan instead of just vaguely eating foods that seem high in protein or carbs. Many people get discouraged when they first try counting macros because it seems so difficult. Having the right tools will let a person easily and quickly measure their macros.
The first tool used for measuring macros is label reading. This will provide detailed information on the fats, carbohydrates, and proteins in a set amount of food. Keep in mind that the label will specify whether the nutritional information is a fraction of the dish or the entire package. If the item is not labeled, there are a number of online resources available to check levels of macros. The USDA has a national database that provides standard macro counts for any item. Foods are presented in a database, or there is a place to enter a specific food item into a macro- and calorie-counting app. Apps like MyFitnessPal will automatically provide the macro count for thousands of food items.
The final tools for macro counting are tools for accurate measurement. Looking up a macro count for any food will tell a person the amount of fat, protein, and carbs in a standard serving. To figure out the amount of actual food a person is eating, they need to know how much food they have. A food scale and some measuring cups can make it easy to figure out portion sizes.
Step 2: Record Everything to Count Macros Properly
Once a person can measure macros properly, it is time to start keeping track of them. Some people do best with an actual notebook where they write down macros while others prefer to track their macros in a spreadsheet program, online website, or nutrition tracking app. It can feel awkward to record intake, but it is important to see how much food is eaten as well as its macro makeup.
Any record will need to include the food name, the number of calories in the food, and the amount of fats, protein, and carbohydrates in the food. Do not stress about calculating to extremely exact amounts if macros are not in precise numbers. Just round up to the nearest whole number to avoid having to do excessive calculations.
Step 3: Count Macros for Calorie Needs
After mastering measuring and recording macros, the next step is to calculate a target macro intake. It might seem like a lot of work, but it is actually quite a simple concept: a person who tracks their macros is essentially ensuring that their diet contains a prescribed percentage of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
To calculate the right ratio, one first needs to identify their ideal calorie intake. This number should then be divided into the percentages of the desired macro ratio. For example, a common ratio is 40 percent carbohydrates, 40 percent protein, and 20 percent fat. On an average 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, this means a person should aim for 800 calories in carbohydrates, 800 calories in protein, and 400 calories in fat. One can find the calories for any gram of macronutrient by remembering that one gram of protein has four calories, one gram of carbs has four calories, and one gram of fat has nine calories. Therefore, a person with a 40/40/20 macro ratio on a 2,000-calorie diet would need 200 grams of protein, 200 grams of carbs, and 44 grams of fat each day.
Adjust Macros for Weight Loss or Bodybuilding
Though a ratio of 40 percent protein, 40 percent carbohydrates, and 20 percent fat is common, it is not always the most ideal option. Bodybuilders typically want a higher carb and fat ratio to get energy for building muscle. A common ratio for bodybuilders is 50 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 20 percent fat. Those who are most interested in losing weight tend to do best with a lower carb ratio that has plenty of protein to keep the dieter feeling full. This is often a ratio of about 40 percent protein, 30 percent carbs, and 30 percent fat.
This is a rough guide, but a person will typically need to adjust their macros to fit their own needs. Each person has a unique metabolism, so macro counts are not a one-size-fits-all solution. A person who feels hungry often needs more satisfying protein while a person who feels tired all the time needs more energizing carbs. Though it can be tempting to cut calorie-rich fat macros, never let it drop below 15 percent. Fat keeps people feeling full and energized, so it is quite helpful.
Step 4: Create a Meal Plan
Once a person understands all the theory behind measuring macros and selecting a macro ratio, it is time to put this plan into action. Some people find it easier to just plan out macros for the week, cook all their meals on a single day, and package pre-measured meals for each day into food storage containers. Others just try to watch what they eat while continuing to go out for meals. Calculating macros and then creating meal plans to fit those macros is definitely helpful, but one can still enjoy spontaneous meals if they just remember the main foods that fall into the three macro categories.
How to Find Good Protein Sources
For many, the key source of protein is simply meat. As long as a meat is low in fat, it will be almost entirely protein. If a person needs more protein to meet their macros for the day, lean meat like chicken breast is a good way to go. However, protein can be found in many other foods besides meat. Eggs and dairy have plenty of protein, and protein can also be found in nuts, grains, protein bars, and lentils. Keep in mind that even though these are relatively high in protein, they often have a lot of fat and carbohydrates. There are helpful supplements, like whey protein, that can be also be used to make protein shakes.
How to Find Good Fat Sources
Like protein, fat is found in both animal and plant-based sources. Some meat contains a lot of fat, and other animal sources of fat include yogurt, cheese, butter, and eggs. Keep in mind that fat is divided into saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature, and they can cause problems with cholesterol. In contrast, unsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol and protect the heart. Healthy fats are frequently found in nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado, and certain types of fish. Fat is essential for producing certain hormones and cells in the body, so any good meal replacement shake will include fat.
How to Find Good Carbohydrate Sources
Carbohydrates are essentially just all items leftover once the fat and protein in a food are measured. If a person needs carbohydrates, they can eat anything that is not loaded with proteins and fats. Healthy and convenient carbohydrates include most fruits, vegetables, and grains. Carbohydrates also include sugar and alcohol, so a person can end up consuming a lot of unhealthy carbs if they are not careful.