I started tracking macros, or macronutrients a while ago with the goal of cutting some body-fat and getting a bit leaner. This essentially means that I calculated the specific amounts of daily calories from protein, carbohydrates and fats that I should be eating in order to achieve my body-composition goals. A more complicated but also more useful version of standard calorie counting if you will. I used the My Fitness Pal app to track what I was eating.
Counting macros has been such an eye-opener in so many ways! Here are ten things I’ve learned…
1. Calories Matter
There is no doubt, calories count. Notwithstanding certain medical conditions, if you eat an excess of calories that are not being burned off daily, you will put on weight and likewise if you eat calories in a deficit to what you burn daily you will lose weight. Simple. Prior to trying out macro-counting, I was eating ‘intuitively’ and, I suppose, hoping for the best. Yes, I was eating a totally ‘clean’ diet full of whole-foods, and no I was not overweight in the slightest. So, it worked; to a point.
None of the items on my shopping list have changed since I started counting macros, but the amount I’m consuming has changed. Counting macros taught me how to get leaner quicker by taking all the guess-work out of my nutrition and allowing me to get very exact about what I’m eating. Simply eating clean will get you so far, likely very far, but getting down to the nitty gritty of your nutrition by carefully tracking what you’re eating could get you there faster.
2. Fat has a Lot of Calories
When you’re counting macros, it is important to keep in mind that fat has 9 calories per gram. This is a lot more than carbohydrates or protein, which have 4 calories per gram. Good fats are really important for our health but they still need to be consumed in moderation.
Before I started counting macros I would have happily cooked my morning eggs in lots of coconut oil, taken my fish oil supplements, put an avocado in my salad, drizzled it in olive oil, had a tablespoon or two or nut butter as a snack, put full fat milk in my tea and coffee throughout the day, and maybe had some full fat natural yoghurt and a square of dark chocolate as a snack at night. I know now that this would absolutely not fit my fat macros. I can still eat all of the above – just not all in one
sitting day. I have to be a lot stricter on myself when it comes to fats – even the good ones! Step away from the peanut butter!
3. Carbs are not the Enemy
I probably didn’t put on a huge amount of weight on from eating so much fat because I didn’t eat very many carbs, and as such, my calories were probably not in an excess. I never did believe that carbs were the enemy; I know that they are essential to my training and there is no way I could complete a decent gym session without a substantial amount of carbohydrates to fuel me. However, until I counted my macros, I didn’t realise how low-carb I was actually eating.
I still struggle to get carbs in because I’m so used to eating a low-carb diet. At first I often found myself getting to the end of the day having met the bulk of my fat and protein macros but with a whole load of carbs left. Sometimes I will have proats in the evening after weight-training to finish off what carbs I have left in my macros. Essentially I’ve learned that I can include a lot more carbohydrates in my diet.
4. Weighing Your Food Makes a BIG Difference
When it comes to counting macros, estimating does not cut it – literally! For the first few days that I was counting macros I didn’t have an electronic scale, so for a lot of things I was just estimating the amount used. Turned out what I guessed to be about a tablespoon of nut butter was closer to two tablespoons and what I thought was about a teaspoon of coconut oil was more like a tablespoon! I was also really underestimating the amount of milk in my tea and coffee and that made a huge difference to my calories when I calculated it correctly. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to actually use the scales to weigh your food, otherwise you are likely miscalculating, and thus; wasting your time.
5. Timing is Essential
When you only have a set amount of carbohydrates, protein and fats for the day you really need to use them wisely. Timing your nutrition correctly can really optimise your caloric intake. If you have a high-carb breakfast but don’t usually train until evening then you are really going to be selling yourself short when it comes to your pre-workout fuel and your post workout recovery. I try to keep the bulk of my carbs for the hours before and after training so that I have adequate energy for my workout and recovery.
6. Macros Love Black Coffee
Prior to counting macros I loved heaps of milk and a solid teaspoon of sugar (albeit coconut palm…) in every cup of coffee. However, I soon learned that this was not going to suit my macros and realistically I couldn’t be wasting so many calories on a drink when I could be using them on food. As soon as I started counting macros I cut the sugar from my coffee completely and bit by bit I reduced the amount of milk I was adding. The funny thing is I still love my coffee as much as I did before, if not more! I have recently made it to 100% black coffee…macros must be making me bitter!
7. Water, Water and More Water
Okay this is something I definitely already knew before I started counting macros but it became really important for sticking to my calories. Often when we think we are hungry we just need to drink a litre of water. Making sure that I’m drinking loads of water means that when I’m hungry I know its actual hunger and not just thirst.
8. Junk Food and Empty Calories Aren’t Always Worth It
When you are trying to cut fat and you have a limited number of calories to nourish yourself with, there really isn’t a lot of room for junk food and empty calories. I like eating clean so I’m not really one for eating much processed food anyway but even clean treats like dark chocolate can take up a lot of your calories so you have to be careful with your portions! If I wasn’t trying to cut fat through my calories at the moment I would obviously have more calories to play around with.
Counting macros has become famous for its flexibility, because you can have treats once they fit your macros. However, if you have to choose between eating a dinner or a donut, you’re obviously much better off making the choice that best meets your nutritional needs and satiates you most, rather than just simply looking at the calories. I prefer eating food that gives me the most nutrition, both macro and micro, for the calories involved, or the most bang for my buck so to speak.
9. You Can Let it Go… Occasionally
I was at a wedding a while back and of course macros were the last thing on my mind – sometimes its okay to forget about them! Of course, doing so more than occasionally will likely hamper your progress. Ordinarily, when you eat out you have to resort to estimating your macros. Personally, I don’t mind doing this once a week but I think I would find it pretty hard to count my macros properly if I was eating out more than a couple of times a week. The great thing is that there are so many more healthy restaurants popping up all over the place. Many of these restaurants are even providing nutritional information with their meals. This makes counting the macros oh so easy!
I’m currently running a project to discover the best healthy-eating restaurants around Ireland so get in touch via my contact page if you want me to add your favourite healthy-eating spot to the list!
10. If you can Work it, it Works!
For me, correctly counting macros worked. I spent the first week learning what combinations of foods suited my macros before getting my electronic scales to make sure my measurements were accurate. I now know how to hit my daily macros.
I only have one real issue with counting macros; after a while I became too fixated on food. Whilst macro-counting has been hailed as an all-inclusive, flexible way to eat, I found that being in a calorie deficit and monitoring every single thing I was eating made me feel very restricted sometimes. I hear you say; “Well that’s the point of a diet isn’t it? You’ve got to restrict what you’re eating!”. I suppose when I was cutting fat by eating clean and eating intuitively I wasn’t constantly thinking how much I had left to eat, and I certainly wasn’t as hungry, because I wasn’t actively calculating everything. I did begin to wonder if macro-counting was actually making me hungrier because I was so aware of what was allowed and what wasn’t.
The above attitude crept in after about 4-5 weeks of solid and specific macro-counting. I was getting hungrier and hungrier and I didn’t feel like that was good for my metabolism. I wasn’t even in a severe calorie deficit at all. I upped my calories so that I was only in a very slight deficit and then after a while I just decided to take a break from macro counting.
For now, I foresee myself using macro-counting for short blocks of time, to hit a specific goal. The really great thing about the time I spent counting macros is that I can now transfer everything I learned from it into my day-to-day clean eating and experience greater results.
When utilised, predominantly through healthy, nutrient-dense foods, counting macros can be a balanced and inclusive way to meet your own personal health and fitness objectives. For me, macro-counting won’t be a lifestyle choice, at least not for now. Instead it will be a useful tool to utilise when I have targets and goals to meet over a specific and measured time-frame. For now, I’m much happier simply eating-clean 🙂
The Clean Coconut x
P.S. There are lots of ways to calculate what macros are right for you, there are various formulae that can be used and there are also some perhaps slightly less accurate but very handy online tools such as this one. If you would like me to do a more detailed post on how to calculate your macros please let me know 🙂