Have you ever heard the sayings "you can't out exercise a poor diet" or "abs are made in the kitchen"? Well, they are both true! Exercise is a critical component to overall health and well being, but nutrition cannot be ignored. So where should you start? You’ve probably heard the word “macro” before and maybe you know someone who tracks their macros. But what does this mean and why is it helpful?
WHAT ARE MACROS?
Macro simply stands for macronutrients, and the Webster Medical definition of macronutrients is: “a substance (as a protein, carbohydrate, or fat) required in relatively large quantities for growth, energy and health.”
So the 3 main macros that we are going to pay attention to are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. There are lots of other micronutrients (think fiber, vitamins, etc.), but we are going to focus on the main three.
Once you have a general understanding of what the three main macros are, I’ll talk about why you might want to pay attention to your macros and not just your calories.
THE THREE MAIN MACROS & WHAT THEY DO
Carbohydrates: Carbs are your friend. Carbs are fuel. When consumed, carbs are stored in the muscles as glycogen, are used during a workout, and used to help the body recover (carbs speed up the rate at which protein is absorbed). Everyone’s carbohydrate needs are going to be different based on their activity level.
Protein: Protein can help preserve lean muscle mass and it can help you build muscle mass (if that is your goal). Protein has a high thermic effect (your body must work to digest protein, which means it takes energy to digest). Protein will also help keep you feeling full longer.
Fat: The world is at war with fat, but fats are vital for proper hormone function (and play a large role in testosterone production). Fats also assist with vitamin absorption and brain function. Keep in mind, they are easy to over-consume since they are the most energy dense of macronutrients.
WHY MACROS VERSUS JUST CALORIES?
Calories provide the body with the energy it needs to survive, which is something that everyone can agree on. Counting calories can be beneficial and effective for a short amount of time, but what calorie-counters don’t often consider is WHERE those calories come from and what they are made up of, i.e. how much of that meal was made up of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Your body will function at its best and you will feel your best when your body is getting fed properly. Because each macro plays a vital role in your body, finding the right amount of each you should be consuming will not only have you feeling your best, but it will also have you looking your best. You might not change the number of calories that you consume, but the way you are getting those calories will change once you figure out YOUR macros.
SO WHAT’S THE CALORIE CONTENT OF EACH MACRO?
1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
KNOWING THAT, HOW DO I FIGURE OUT MY MACROS?
Nutrition and sleep have a huge impact on your ability to make progress in the gym. Whether your goal is to lose excess body fat, increase lean muscle mass or maintain your current body composition, your nutrition matters! Not sure how much you should be eating? Here's a simple exercise to get you started:
Step 1: Calculate Your Calorie Requirement
When it comes to body composition and fueling performance, the most effective thing you can do is achieve the proper calorie balance. Actual calorie needs will vary from person-to-person at the same body weight, but these numbers will provide a good starting spot for the majority of people.
Take current body weight x 15 to maintain weight, and then multiply that number by 0.8 to lose fat, or 1.15 to gain muscle.
Step 2: Calculate Your Protein Needs
If you only get two things right: calorie and protein intake, you can still make significant progress towards a body composition goal (gain muscle, lose fat). Calorie balance determines whether you lose, gain, or maintain weight. Protein intake determines whether the weight you lose or gain is muscle, fat, or water. Eating enough protein=muscle gain or maintenance. Eating too little protein=muscle loss.
Calculate the minimum grams of protein per day:
0.82g/lb or 1.8g/kg of bodyweight if active, want to gain mass.
0.82-0.9g/lb or 1.8-2g/kg of body weight if active, want to improve performance & maintain weight.
0.9-1g/lb or 2-2.2g/kg of bodyweight is active, want to lose fat.
Step 3: Calculate Your Carb & Fat Needs
We need to choose a macronutrient ratio depending on your goal. It’s important to understand what type of person you are:
Hard Gainers struggle to put on muscle mass, and are generally low bodyfat.
Easy Gainers put both muscle and fat on easily, and generally carry extra bodyfat.
Mesomorphs are naturally muscular, and can go in either direction depending on their training and food intake.
You can use the chart below to determine the percent of calories that should come from each macronutrient:
**Once you have a calorie goal and minimum grams of protein, you can enter them into "My Fitness Pal" along with the percentages listed above for your body type. Remember..this is a starting point! Odds are, you will need to adjust these numbers over time based on how your body responds.
TRACKING YOUR MACROS
If you want to be serious about tracking you can weigh your foods, but if you don’t want to you can loosely track your macros by estimating (keep in mind you should know what realistic serving sizes are first). You can track your macros by downloading the free tracking tool My Fitness Pal.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
All calories are not created equal.
Don’t put your body into starvation mode by under-eating. This will not only throw your hormones out of balance, but it will also greatly affect your ability to lose weight and put on lean muscle.
EAT ALL YOUR MACROS.
Try to make each meal have a good source of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Download the "Zone Meal Plans" article for a list of favorable carbohydrate, protein and fat sources.
We're here to help! Schedule an appointment with one of our coaches if you need help creating a personalized plan.
Q. I want to learn more about the science behind my nutrition! What resources do you recommend for more information?
A. There are a number of online resources you can access for more specific details. Our friends at GetMacroed are AMAZING! They provide various challenges throughout the year along with some amazing recipes. The folks at Renaissance Periodization provide the next level for those of you who are serious about gaining muscle and focusing on the timing of your meals. It’s not easy…but it works!
Q. I want to try some new recipes. Do you have any online resources you'd recommend?
“Broccoli Soup” (add leeks and spinach too as options)
“Coconut Flour Waffles” (for more muscle, add a scoop of vanilla protein powder)
Want to eat healthy but have no time to cook?
We are pleased to announce that we are now an official pick up location for Northwest Fit Meals! Northwest Fit Meals is a Seattle-based Paleo, gluten free, dairy free, fresh meal delivery service geared towards fueling athletes and non athletes living the Paleo lifestyle. They believe in clean eating to bring balance, performance, and energy to your days and workouts as well as improving your quality of life. Athletes fueled by Northwest Fit Meals, no longer have to meal prep on their days off: you can save time from taking trips to multiple stores, don’t have to prep/cook/clean, aren’t tempted to cheat on your diet, and get your Sundays back! They bring you only the freshest ingredients and utilize sustainable, locally sourced and organic ingredients whenever possible.
You can visit their website www.nwfitmeals.com/shop to purchase meals. Orders must be placed by noon Tuesday via their website to get your first order in 8 days. (For example: if you place an order by Tuesday (8/8) your meals will be ready for pick up at the gym on Monday (8/14). Please spread the word, you don't have to be a member of Bainbridge Island CrossFit to participate. Select your address as the shipping location and enter "Bainbridge" in the notes section. We will post the following week's menu each week on our blog. Any questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and we hope you enjoy the meals as much as we do!
Another local meal prep delivery company is Be Prepped and they will deliver right to your home!