by Liberty Stembridge, Health Columnist
Published in Health on 3rd January, 2019
The term "macro" is short for the word "macronutrient" which is a type of food generally required in large amounts.
Macro means large or overall, while a nutrient is any substance that provides the essential elements for growth, hence the word "macronutrients" refers to the three main food groups that humans need to incorporate as part of our diet in order to stay healty.
These three types of food are: carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and it's important to understand exactly what these three types of food are, and why we need them.
Carbohydrates mostly consist of substances that can be broken down into glucose, such as sugars, starches and fibers. The body thrives on carbohydrates because it can quickly use the energy provided by carbs to fuel the body, or store it for later as glycogen.
There is often a bit of controversy surrounding which carbs are healthy and which are not, as some refined carbohydrates can contribute to unnecessary weight gain and other potential problems. However, in general is is recommended that around 45-65% of your daly calorie intake comes from carbohydrates. You can get this from a variety of sources such as beans, grains, veggies, fruits and more.
You probably associate the word "fats" with weight gain or an unhealthy lifestyle, but this is not always the case. It's true that excessive consumption of fats, especially saturated fats can lead to unwanted side effects on the body such as weight gain, but we do need fats to survive and the majority of fats are actually pretty healthy when consumed in the appropriate amounts.
Fats are a critical part of our nutrient intake as our bodies use them to maintain temperature, create and store energy, absorb other nutrients, and a thousand other essential everyday tasks.
Generally the recommended daily fat intake is around 20 - 35% but in recent years there has been a growing trend of high fat diets that can be beneficial to some people. You can get your daily fat intake from foods such as oils, butters, nuts, seeds and some animal products.
We don't often stop to think about protein, but it's an essential part of our diet, with experts recommending that 10-35% of your daily calorie intake come from protein. Proteins are a vital macronutrients, critical for processes such as the immune response, building tissues (such as muscle), creating hormones and enzymes and sending messages between cells.
Proteins not hard to find however, it's in a variety of plant foods such as lentils and tofu as well as animal products.
Macro counting refers to the practice of calculating how much of each macronutrient you are consuming each day, and adjusting to suit your specific goals or needs.
Many people like to use a standard macronutrient ratio of 55% carbs, 25% protein and 20% fat, but you can adjust this ratio to suit your lifestyle. For example, many people following a "high carb low fat" diet would use the popular 80/10/10 ratio of 80% carbs, 10% protein and 10% fat. Whereas body builders looking to lose fat and gain muscle might want to up the protein more and instead go for 35% carbs, 50% protein and 15% fat.
Counting macros can be very helpful if you are looking to create a more balanced, healthy diet. For many of us, it can be difficult to know exactly what a healthy diet really looks like, especially if we haven't grown up with one. By tracking macronutrients you'll know exactly what is in your meals and whether your diet is balanced. Slowly but surely, you'll learn how to create balanced healthy meals from scratch without even having to think about it.
If you are looking to lose weight, maintaining a healthy diet is very important, if not the most important factor in your weight loss journey. Tracking macros can help you to lose weight by teaching you how to create healthier meals and letting you better control your intake of carbs, protein and fat.
Many dieting plans often focus on calories to help you to lose weight, without ever really diving into the nutritional breakdown of what you're eating. A bowl of cereal and a bowl of rice and veggies can have the same calories, but their nutrient breakdown would be totally different. With the bowl of cereal you'd likely be getting a lot of carbohydrates including highly processes sugar, and not much else, but with the bowl of rice and veggies, you'll be getting a much more balanced meal of carbs, fats and proteins.
Tracking macros can help you get more insight into what you are actually eating and how you can improve your nutrition.
If you are looking to achieve a specific goal, tracking your macronutrients can be incredibly helpful, and not just for losing weight. Many frequent gym-goers are interested in gaining muscle mass in order to be able to lift heavier weights, and to do so it's important for them to up their protein intake. By tracking their macronutrients, such people can easily see when they are meeting their targets and where they need to improve.
A lot of diets can be very restrictive in terms of banning certain foods such as sugar or fats - but counting macros is the very opposite. By counting macros you get a better understanding of what you eat, and can make more informed choices as a result, but you don't necessarily have to cut anything out if you don't want to. You can still eat ice cream when you want to, while still reaching your goals and remaining healthy.
There are three key steps to calculating and counting your macros, and although it's not as simple as it might seem, once you get the hang of it should start to become second nature.
Your caloric intake is how many calories you consume in a day, and your ideal caloric intake is how many calories you should roughly be consuming in a day in order to stay healthy and achieve your goals. The average person should be eating around 2000 calories a day, although of course this number is only an average. Each person's ideal caloric intake will be different depending on your level of activity, metabolism, height, weight and so on.
To calculate your ideal caloric intake you could use a complicated mathematical equation (the Mifflin- St Jeor Equation for anyone who cares) or you could use an online calculator such as this one. It should be noted that this should not be taken as gospel, if you work out a lot you should be increasing your calories, and if your looking to lose weight you may want to decrease your calories - it's up to you.
Next step is to decide how much of eat macronutrient you want to include as part of your diet. As mentioned above, there are lots of different "macro ratios" that you can try to achieve different goals. If you're just starting out and you're not sure what to do, try starting with the standard 55% carbs, 25% protein and 20% fat ratio and go from there.
If you're looking to reach a specific goal, do some research and speak to other people with the same goal as you to see what seems to be the most popular ratios for your specific needs.
Now we're finally at the point where you can track your macros. To do this you will probably need the help of a macronutrient calculator. You could sit down and individually calculate the macronutrient breakdown of every single thing you eat during a day, but generally it's easier and less time-consuming to download an app and simply input whatever you ate that day.
There are plenty of apps and websites that will help you to calculate your macronutrients, such as MyFitnessPal and LoseIt. These apps will tell you how much of each macronutrient is in a food, and you're average macronutrient breakdown, which is useful both for tracking your progress and for meal planning.
Staying on top of tracking your macros and actually achieving the right balance is probably the most difficult aspect of macro counting for most people. It can be a chore to input everything you eat into an app, especially if you are cooking from scratch and need to weigh individual ingredients. However, no one is saying you need to be perfect, just to try your best.