Macros or Macronutrients are food elements required in large amounts and their main function is to preserve the structural and functional integrity of the body.
There are three macronutrients required by humans: carbohydrates (sugar), lipids (fats), and proteins. Each of these macronutrients provides energy in the form of calories. For example:
In carbohydrates, there are 4 calories per gram
In proteins, there are 4 calories per gram
And in lipids, there are 9 calories per gram
Counting your calories/macros is important for anyone looking to change their overall body composition (weight loss/weight gain) or improve their sporting/athletic performance. The degree to how you count your macros is then in turn all goal dependent; a recreational gym goer who wishes to look good for their upcoming holiday/wedding or generally just look good naked (everyone's wish we just don't admit it) can be a lot looser with their method of tracking compared to the young athlete who is prepping for an upcoming All Ireland game or fight or a young girl prepping for a photo shoot/bikini competition. “Tracking” itself does not necessarily mean you need to actively track everyday, but more so be aware of what you need to eat, and be mindful of your choices in accordance with your requirements.
HOW MANY CALORIES SHOULD I BE EATING?
To calculate how many calories you should be eating in line with your goals you firstly need to figure out your maintenance calories (these are the amount of calories you need to stay alive without any exercise etc involved) then using an activity multiplier (how sedentary or active your lifestyle is) you get your TEE (Total Energy Expenditure = the amount of calories you should be eating).
If your goal is weight/fat loss I usually start clients at a 15-20% decrease of their TEE. They need to be in a calorie deficit (eating less food than the energy they burn).
If the goal is weight/muscle gain an increase of 10-15% of their TEE calories is a good place to start. They would be starting in a slight calorie surplus meaning they are eating more calories than they burn.
If you eat more calories than you burn you will gain weight.
If you burn more calories than you eat you will lose weight.
If you eat the same amount of calories that you burn your weight will not change.
To calculate your maintenance calories and total calories for your goals you can find many links online to help you with this, if not just ask one of our trainers here in Askeaton and we would be more than happy to help!
MyFitnessPal and a food scale will be the most valuable tools for someone starting out tracking their macros. MyFitnessPal is an app that can be downloaded for free on your smartphone, that allows you to insert the food choices you have made/are going to make, and automatically logs the calorie and macronutrient content of that food in the quantity you have selected and completely breaks it down for you in terms of carbohydrate, fat and protein content. The food scale is going to be valuable in terms of identifying the quantity of a certain food that helps you to reach your requirements, and to begin educating yourself around portion control, and how different foods have different levels of calorie density. Once you have spent a period of time (weeks-months) learning about these variables, you should then be able to more or less eyeball your food and eat intuitively to stick within your macronutrient goals.
Once you calculate your overall calorie requirement you then need to figure out how much of these calories comes from protein, fats and carbohydrates.
Protein is essential for growth, tissue repair, immune function, preserving lean muscle and producing essential hormones and enzymes. Protein most certainly has the most oversimplified reputation in that most people understand protein to be useful solely for building muscle. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Protein is actually what makes all life possible. The body is pretty smart in that the first 20-30g of protein gets used for the maintenance of the gastrointestinal tract, which is a pretty good idea considering if this wasn’t looked after, we may not even be able to break down and assimilate any further proteins. What this also means is that if you wish to satisfy the needs of every other cell in your body, including your muscles, you probably should consider eating sufficient protein!
1.8-2.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. There is tonnes of research aimed at identifying the optimal amount of protein to eat per day, a lot of which seems to point in different directions, and you will find ranges from 1.5 all the way up to 3.3g/kg of bodyweight. Frequency of protein feeding throughout the day is also an important factor here, so it is important to look not only at the total protein intake, but also spreading it evenly throughout the day. 3-6 meals containing protein is a broad range that will apply to everyone, with the higher end of the range reserved for those more serious about every last gram of muscle.
Anywhere between 1.8-2.5g/kg of body weight is a good place to start for most people and adjust accordingly in line with your goals/results. People who's goal is weight loss/fat loss should maybe stick on the higher end of the scale due to proteins satiating function, this means that protein makes us feel fuller for longer compared to carbs and fat. People whose goal is weight gain could probably stick to the lower end of 1.8/2g per kg of body weight and fill out the rest of the calories from fats and carbs.
Let's take an example of a girl who weighs 65kg and wants to lose some fat and tone up for summer. By using a calorie calculator online we worked out her TEE to be 2200 calories. Her goal is fat/weight loss so we'll adjust her calories slightly and decrease them to 1900, as her job is quite active and she will be going to the gym 3-4 days a week.
To calculate her total calories from protein we will start her at 2g/kg of bodyweight.
So that's; 65 X 2 = 130g
To calculate her total calories from protein; 130g X 4 (there are 4 calories in 1g of protein) = 520
520 of her total calories of 1900 will be from protein.
Next we will calculate how much of our diet consists of fats. FATS WILL NOT MAKE YOU FAT. Fats are essential in cell, nerve tissue and hormone production. Fats are also essential for absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K and carotenoids). They are an energy source, hence why they have caloric value, and why we store so many of them (adipose tissue or body fat is essentially one large reservoir of energy)
0.6-1.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight.
I like to start clients at around 1g/kg of bodyweight and adjust accordingly.
Take our 65kg girl, she says that she enjoys fatty foods (such as eggs, avocado, nuts, nut butters etc) so we will have her start in the safe range of 1g of fat/kg of bodyweight.
65kg X 1g = 65g
To calculate her total calories from fats we multiply 65 by 9 (remember there is 9 calories in 1g of fat), this gives us 585 calories.
Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy and are extremely important for muscular exertion. They are also necessary for the digestion and assimilation of other foods, and help to regulate protein and fat metabolism. They also provide some of the structural components necessary for the growth and repair of tissues. Good sources of carbohydrates are oats, sweet potato, white potato, brown/white rice, quinoa, fruit, whole grain wraps/bread.
We (or our 65kg subject) have 795 calories remaining. Carbohydrates, for the most part, like protein, have 4 calories per gram. Therefore, we divide 795 by 4, leaving 198g carbohydrates to finish off the macronutrient totals. Fibre is also a subcategory of the carbohydrate bracket. As a general recommendation, fibre should fall within 10-15g per 1000 calories. The dietary reference intake for fibre is: 38g per day for me and 25g per day for women. Anything between 20-30g would be good for our client above.
Take home points:
1. Aim to fill 90% of your calories with nutrient dense, whole foods to satisfy the requirement of health, which is essentially your foundation when it comes to any goal.
2. Personal preference: Eat foods you enjoy and satisfy you. There is no point starting a diet and restricting yourself from certain foods because long term you will not stick to it. Eat to fuel your body.
3. Adjust your macros in terms of your energy you get from certain foods, if you find you are tired throughout the day increase your fat content as fats contain the most energy per gram and decrease your carbs slightly to align with overall calories.
4. If you have any food allergies or intolerances such as gluten, again, you may need to increase your fat content to aid with this.
I hope this helps and if you have any questions/comments please leave them and we would be more than happy to answer them.