Counting Macros for Dummies – Making Sense of Food Macros

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For many years, individuals in pursuit of weight loss were devoted to counting calories in a bid to trim down, but there has been an increasing move towards counting macros instead of calories to achieve measurable and sustainable weight loss.

You may have seen recipe ideas popping up on pinterest or instagram accompanied by the hashtag #iifym, with users praising the effectiveness of counting macros and the benefits of this particular diet – so what exactly does it all mean? Here, we break down the science behind macro counting and the practicality of the #iifym diet.

What are macros?

Macros, or Macronutrients, make up the caloric content of three types of food – carbohydrates, fats, and protein:

  • 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
  • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories

We require these in large quantities, and it is important to ingest the right combination of these macros as each serves a different purpose within the body. For example, carbs are broken down into glucose, which powers the body with energy. Fat can also be used for fuel, in addition to helping the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A and E. Protein contains a total of 22 amino acids, including nine essential amino acids, that provide the body with numerous health benefits.

What is the “If It Fits Your Macros” diet?

Counting food macros is at the heart of the “If It Fits Your Macros” diet, more commonly known as the IIFYM diet.

In this diet, individuals count the macronutrients consumed in a day, not calories. With this in mind, there isn’t a need to forgo or stay “off” certain foods – provided the food fits within your daily macro allowance, you can go right ahead. This can eliminate feelings of guilt that can accompany “cheat days” and often lead to the derailment of diets. Adopting a more well-rounded and balanced approach to dieting can also help to break the “abstain-then-binge cycle” that can sabotage healthy eating efforts, which can result in higher rates of success.

Counting Calories VS Counting Macros

When following the diet, you need to calculate your daily calorie intake as this will help you work out your macro intake, and you can do this either manually using a food journal or through the use of an app.

Let’s take it step-by-step:

Firstly, work out how many calories you need in a day. The general rule is to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and add the amount of calories you likely burn through physical daily activity.

Using a simple BMR calculator, simply enter your age, gender, height and weight and you will be given your BMR number. This is roughly the number of calories you will burn every single day, even if you do no exercise whatsoever.

You then add the number of calories you burn in a day as a result of physical activity. If, for example, you do less than one hour of exercise per week, then you may not even burn more than 10% over your BMR.

If we take the example of a 27-year old woman who is 5’ 4”, 135lbs and exercises regularly, her BMR is calculated at 1332 calories/day and we may assume that she burns approx. 300 calories per day.

This would bring her daily calorie expenditure to 1632 kcal per day.

When applying this to counting macros, you’ll want to follow the 40-40-20 breakdown:

  • 40 per cent proteins
  • 40 per cent carbs
  • 20 per cent fats

To work out the macros you will consume from this, we need to revert to the calorie per gram info that we mentioned earlier::

  • Protein         =     4kcal per 1g
  • Carbohydrates     =    4kcal per 1g
  • Fat             =    9kcal per 1g

Using our calories per day calculation (BMR + physical activity), we can then work out how many grams of each macro is needed.

We do this by using the calculation:

Calories per day x (% of macro / 100) / kcal per g

It may seem daunting but don’t worry; it’s actually very straightforward.

As an example, by using the 27-year-old woman from above, we can calculate each of the three macros in terms of grams per day:

Protein

1632 x (40/100) / 4 = 163.2g of protein per day

Carbs

1632 x (40/100) / 4 = 163.2g of carbs per day

Fat

1632 x (20/100) / 9 = 36.3g of fat per day

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To check your calculation, simply multiply the number of grams for each macronutrient by the number of calories they contain. Once you’ve done this for all three, add the totals together and you should reach a number that matches your daily calorie intake

Macro grams per day x calories in macro

Protein

163.2g x 4kcal = 652.8 calories from protein per day

Carbs

163.2g x 4kcal = 652.8 calories from carbs per day

Fat

36.3g x 9kcal = 326.7 calories from fat per day

652.8 (Protein) + 652.8 (Carbs) + 326.7 (Fat) = 1632.3 calories per day

Although the means of calculating your macronutrient requirements may be more complicated than the method you’re used to when working out your calorie intake, the extra effort may very well be worth your while.

That’s because engaging in a diet that allows such a flexible approach can be incredibly refreshing. After all, the best diet is not always the one that professes to ‘melt the fat from your body’; the best diet is the one that you stick to.

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