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 (protein, carbohydrate, or fat) required in relatively large quantities for growth, energy and health.” There are lots of other micronutrients (think fiber, vitamins, etc.), but we are going to focus on the main three nacronutrients. 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 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. There are 4 calories in 1 gram of carbohydrate.
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) so eating it will also help keep you feeling full longer. There are 4 calories in 1 gram of protein.
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. There are 9 calories in 1 gram of fat.
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.
TRACKING YOUR MACROS
Have you heard the expression, what gets measured gets managed? To have success with your nutrition, your food and drink need to be measured and tracked. Data thoroughly supports that those who weigh and record their daily intake have much greater success in their nutrition goals, not only in terms of mindfulness with eating habits, but also ensuring the proper balance is achieved. The absolute key to long term nutrition success is consistency, and being consistent is best served by tracking results daily and over time.
The good news? Basic food scales are inexpensive and there are easy tools to help you in today’s digital world instead of having to keep a hand-written log. For example, you can track your macros by downloading the free tracking tool My Fitness Pal, and there are other similar apps. Most have a free version with easy-to-use applications, and certainly, they offer more robust paid versions.
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.
You can eat anything you want, just not everything! The all or nothing approach rarely works with diet, especially given all of the emotional triggers, cultural and social identities and events tied to food and eating. A flexible approach is a sustainable approach.
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 are here to help! If you are looking for further nutritional guidance, Coach Maggie would love to work with you. We are offering a choice of two programs to help you take control:
12 Week Program - $395
This 12-week program is designed to help you develop and incorporate sustainable, positive eating habits into your healthy lifestyle. This program includes:
Initial One Hour Consultation
Fundamentals of Nutrition
Personalized Macronutrient Goals
How to Track Macros
Measurements and Goal Setting
10-Day Jump Start Plan
Ongoing Support to include:
Three 30-min Follow Up Sessions (every 4 weeks)
Weekly communication to help identify eating behavior patterns, techniques to overcome challenges, goal reflection and positive self-talk, as well as macro adjustments as needed
Jump Start Program - $145
Feel like you just need a jump-start to get you on the right track? Then this mini version may be right for you. It includes an initial hour consultation with the Fundamentals of Nutrition and Personalized Macronutrient Goals, as well as one 30-min follow up session set at your discretion.
Q. Why work with Maggie?
A. Coach Maggie Fogel has studied and successfully completed the Own Your Eating Certificate Course, but just as importantly, walked this walk herself. She has lost and kept off over 100 pounds by dialing in her own nutrition and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. She can work with you to develop personalized macronutrient goals as well as practical advice for a real, sustainable nutrition plan. If your goal is to improve your gym performance, health, and body composition all at the same time, then she wants to work with you!
Q. Do I have to eat meat to achieve my protein macro goals?
A. Protein can be found in both animal and plant based sources. While complete proteins (they contain all essential Amino Acids) are traditionally found in animal-based products like red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, they are also found in soy beans, buckwheat, quinoa, seitan and quorn. Certainly, following a plant-based diet requires more effort from carefully chosen sources, and usually requires eating protein more often or combining various plant-based sources to create a complete protein rich diet.
Q. I’m seeing a lot of publicity about fasting. Does it work?
A. There are many valid fasting programs, and one could be right for you. Keep in mind: fasting is not simply a restriction of calories for a set period of time! When done properly, data has shown health benefits such as lower insulin levels, improved heart health and improved body composition. First and foremost however, we recommend starting with a macro program that is followed consistently. Until you are on a sustainable, balanced nutritional program, fasting is not right for you.
Q. I want to eat healthy but don’t have time to cook. What should I do?
A. If meal prepping on Sundays is not your cup of tea, a local meal prep delivery company we highly recommend is Be Prepped and they will deliver right to your home! They offer several plans for purchase and each option is explained on their site. Emily, the CEO and creator, is a busy parent like many of us, and understands that “grab and go” is a necessity but doesn’t have to be unhealthy.
Q. Talk to me about meal timing – when should I eat before and after I work out?
A. Keep in mind that for the majority of people, consistently getting the right amount of balanced macronutrients is the key part of the diet, not the timing. Data supports that total protein/carbs consumed over the course of a day is more important to lean muscle gain, body fat loss and performance improvements than is timing strategy. That said… test yourself! Your body is your laboratory, and if you are often sore or struggling to recover, change it up and test out your timing. That said, below are some very brief general guidelines:
Pre-Workout: You want to fuel your training and preserve your muscle mass. Eating 1 to 3 hours prior is ideal. Rough macro percentages: 40-50% carb, 25% protein, 25% fat.
Post-Workout: You want to recover and refuel. Eating 1 to 2 hours post is ideal. Men should consider 40-60 grams of protein and women 20-30 grams of protein along with 2 to 3 times that amount of carbs.Of course!
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)