Disclaimer: I don’t count macros.
I have done in the past (and got a bit too obsessed with hitting those numbers) but now I have a good understanding of food groups, so I can eat intuitively and still have a rough idea of the quantities of all three macros in my everyday meals.
Is it necessary to count macros to be healthy? Absolutely not. However, if you’re looking to reach a specific goal, fat loss or muscle gain for instance, it may be useful to track what you’re eating using an app such as myfitnesspal. Alternatively, if you just want a better idea of what makes up your meals, and think you could do with a bit more balance in your diet, then this little guide should help you.
First thing’s first, what are macros? Short for macronutrients, very simply, they are the three main components that make up food.
1 gram = 4 calories
- Carbs usually make up the largest part of your diet out of the three macros.
- They’re your main energy source as they are converted into glucose (sugar) when they are broken down in the body. There are two main types:
- Simple carbs: These are broken down quickly so enter the bloodstream at a faster rate than complex carbs. These are found naturally in fruit or milk products, but also in processed foods such as white bread, pasta and sugary treats.
- Complex carbs: Broken down at a much slower rate than simple carbs. Found in wholegrains, beans and vegetables.
- TIP: Choose complex over simple where possible. This will help you to avoid fluctuations in energy levels and storage of excess fat caused by a hormone called insulin being released. Complex carbs keep you fuller for longer, have a greater range of micronutrients and contain fibre which supports your digestive system.
- Eat the majority of your carbs around your workouts.
1 gram = 4 calories
- You hear this word thrown about a lot in the fitness world; men who think they need to eat four chickens a day to build muscle, or women terrified that a protein shake will make them look like Arnold Schwarzenegger (sorry to stereotype, but I hear this kind of thing all the time)!
- Protein builds and repairs; this includes cells, hormones, antibodies and enzymes, as well as muscles. It also causes the release of a hormone called glucagon, which helps the body release stored energy and reduces fluctuations in blood sugar.
- Made up of 20 amino acids, 8 of which are essential. A complete protein is one which contains all of these essential amino acids. This includes meat, fish, eggs, milk products and soy.
- Incomplete proteins are found in plant based foods such as beans and pulses, rice and nuts. These can be paired together to make a complete protein source.
- TIP: The recommended protein intake per day:
- Average person = 0.8g x bodyweight (kg)
- Athlete: 1.2-1.4g x bodyweight (kg)
- Strength training: 1.8g x bodyweight (kg)
- Building muscle mass: 2g x bodyweight (kg).
- Protein is better absorbed when eaten with carbohydrates, pair these two together for the ideal post workout meal.
1 gram = 9 calories
- Throwback to the 70s, and everyone was avoiding it like the plague. Now, people seem to have a better understanding that fat does not make fat in the body.
- Fat is vital. It protects organs, insulates nerve cells, repairs cell damage, is needed for reproductive health and is also used for the uptake of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K).
- Unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated): The healthier kind, these provide the essential fatty acids we need in the body, and help keep our blood cholesterol at a healthy level.
- Saturated fats: Eating too much saturated fat can increase bad cholesterol in the blood, which in turn can increase the risk of complications such as atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.
- Trans fats: Should be avoided all together, trans fats increase bad cholesterol in the body and can cause insulin resistance, leading to issues such as type 2 diabetes.
- TIP: Try and obtain your fats from natural sources, avocados, nuts, oils, fish etc. rather than processed foods like butter or poor quality meat.
- Because fat slows down the absorption carbs, avoid it directly after a workout as this is when your muscles need the sugars as quickly as possible to replenish glycogen stores. Save it for the times in the day when you’re more sedentary.
- Short for micronutrients, these are essentially all the vitamins and minerals our body needs to function properly.
- If we’re eating a balanced diet, chances are we are getting all the micronutrients our bodies need without even consciously thinking about it. However, a deficiency in any kind can have a serious impact on our health; from anaemia and headaches to respiratory, fertility or immune system dysfunction.
- The best way to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need is to incorporate as many colours into your diet as possible from natural, unprocessed foods, as well as including all three macros. Staying hydrated is essential as most vitamins need a sufficient amount of water in the body to be absorbed and used effectively.
- Fat is also needed for the absorption of nutrients, so people who have a very low body fat percentage may be more likely to suffer from deficiencies in vitamins A, D, E and K in particular.