Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
The buzz of counting macros is that you can have your cake (donuts, bagels, cookie dough, and big ole’ bowl of pasta) and make #gains in the weight room, too. The main tenet of macro counting is that meeting your daily intake of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) is the most important part of hitting your fitness goals.
Many people interested in building muscle follow a macronutrient breakdown of 40 percent protein, 35 percent carbohydrates, and 25 percent fat, however that breakdown doesn’t allot for the differences of human bodies. Each person’s unique metabolism, overall health, and lifestyle play a vital role in how much energy we actually burn and how much of each macronutrient we should be eating; that’s why some athletes will work with a sports nutritionist for a “Fit To Them” macro breakdown.
[Is this better than other diets? Learn about what many feel is the holy grail of dieting in our guide to the If It Fits Your Macros diet.]
Eating a combination of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins should keep you satiated, energized, and on the road to gains, which is awesome… but (*sigh*) it’s not quite simple. While macro counting is less restrictive than many other eating plans, tracking your macros does require a high degree of math and planning to figure out if you “can” eat something and if it will fit into your macros, given what else you’ve consumed in the day.
I tapped some nutritionists and macro-counting pros for 6 tips that will help you count your macros… without going math-crazy:
1. Use an App.
My Fitness Pal is an all-in-one fitness and nutrition app that that Instagram-world swears by. The app has a huge database of foods (5 million plus!) and even a barcode scanner, which means tracking food can be easier than it sounds. Plus, there’s even a social aspect to the app, if you want to take advantage of it, which allows you to send messages, share info, and motivate your other macro (or calorie) counting buds. Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach Dr. Grayson Wickhman PT, DTD, CSCS notes, “My Fitness Pal (and apps like it) is a great option because it easy allows people to input common foods, letting the app do all of the math. Who needs more math in their day! It’s quick, easy, and helps hold you accountable for your diet”.
[Get your own macronutrient recommendations with our IIFYM calculator!]
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2. Familiarize Yourself With The Food You Like.
While using an app can be easy (and who’s wants to make life harder than it already is), Wickham thinks the better option is to familiarize yourself with the most common foods you eat daily. He suggests that you familiarize yourself with what your food is made up of on a macro level.
“Start with your go-to foods, the ones you eat daily. Break these foods down and figure out if the majority of the calories in the food come from carbs, protein, or fat,” says Wickham. Breaking your fave foods into categories like this can be effective in helping you understand the composition of your food.
For example, carb heavy foods would include fruit, pasta, rice, or potatoes, while fat heavy foods would include nuts, avocado, olive or coconut oil, and protein heavy foods would include meat, eggs (fat as well), soy, etc. From there, Wickham suggests setting a macro goal for each meal and keeping track of whether or not you hit your meal as you go about your day.
“For example, this might look like in my first meal I met all my goals, in my second meal I did not have enough fat, which means in meal three I need to eat more fat, and then in meal three I met my macros and made sure to eat a little extra fat.”
This is a looser way to keep track of macros that lets you have freedom and keep you from totally obsessing and weighing everything you eat, which Wickham notes is the fear of macro-counting. “If you stress too much over your diet, you will increase cortisol, and have stubborn fat no matter what! After a little experimentation, this gets extremely easy, so trust the process,” urges Wickham.
3. Use Your Own Hands.
The easiest way to count macros is to use your two hands, explains Jonathan Valdez, M.B.A., R.D.N., C.D.N of owner of Genki Nutrition. “It’s a rough estimate, but it will help you estimate macronutrient content when you have no idea what the food profile might be” says Valdez. By using the following guidelines, Valdez makes sure that his clients never feel guilty for not knowing the exact macronutrient breakdown of food.
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- Palm of hand for protein and picturing a deck of cards: estimated 3 ounces of meat, which is about 20-26 grams of protein. If you want to go deeper, beef is always about 7 grams of protein an ounce, chicken breast is about 26 grams of protein for 3 ounces.
- Length from wrist to fingertips or checkbook is 3-ounce fish is about 22 grams of protein.
- A woman’s fist is about one cup. One cup of rice/pasta is 45 grams of carbohydrates while others like beans/legumes is 30 grams of carbohydrates
- The nail of your thumb is about 1 tablespoon of fat, which whether it’s butter, peanut butter or olive oil is typically between 30-41 calories
4. Get Creative.
Valdez also recommends, for when you eat at your desk or don’t have to worry about looking like too much of a weirdo, bringing a set of bowls to measure the portion consumed. Personally, Valdez uses small Japanese bowls which help him measure out portions when he needs to. If you don’t have access to the bowls Valdez is describing, foldable dog bowls and hiking/camping plates and bowls will do the trick.
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5. Mix It Up!
When you’re forced to split up calories and macronutrients the same way every day, it can be easy to end up making the same exact meal over and over and over again, because you know it fits their macros. If you’re eating the same meal day after day and week after week, not only will the meal stop tasting good, but you could be missing out on key nutrients like fiber, or even vitamins. Instead of letting the numbers guide what you put into your mouth, listen to your body, too. That means figuring out how to eat the foods you’re craving.
6. Be Conscious… But Not Obsessive.
The main reason that counting macros is effective for some is because it forces people to become conscious about the amount of food they are putting into their mouths (aka portion control). While increased mindfulness of consumption is key, especially on “cheat days”, the crazy amount of math the diet requires can make the plan tough to keep up with. If you loosen the reigns on how strict you are with meeting the exact percentages and grams of macro-counting, there’s a higher likelihood you’ll stick to it.
Featured image by Kiian Oksana on Instagram
Editor’s Note: BarBend reader and BestLifeResults.com owner Brit Rand had this to say after reading the above article:
“Don’t worry so much about hitting your carbs and fats allotment 100% perfectly. Again, for the majority of people, especially those focused on fat loss, the exact percentage breakdown of carbs and fats doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re hitting your protein goals and remaining in a caloric deficit. Are you someone who likes carbs over fats (that’s me) or would you rather keep your fats higher (more nut butters, avocados, etc.) and carbs comparatively lower? Don’t blindly follow a macro percentage breakdown without individualizing it to YOU. Focus on “hitting” your daily protein and overall calorie goals. Getting bogged down by lots of “extra” info and numbers can quickly make the process very overwhelming.”