Macros Made Simple

Selection of nutritious foods

Many of my clients or potential clients look at me panic stricken when I mention calories and tracking food. One, two or three hours of exercise a week isn’t going to be enough if you are looking to lose weight. Exercise is essential for increasing fitness and has many many more benefits, but for weight loss a calorie deficit is king, However, for optimum results looking further into the calories consumed and breaking it down into macros will be beneficial. This sounds complicated, but this ‘macros made simple’ guide is here to help you understand. 

What are Macros?

All the food we eat has a caloric value.  A calorie is a measurement of energy. 

One kilocalorie is the amount energy required to heat one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. 

Calories come from all types of food such as potatoes, chicken, olive oil, broccoli and wine all give us energy. However, the calories in all these foods come from different energy sources – carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol. 

When we talk about Macros we are actually talking about macronutrients and the source of the energy. We look in more detail below at:

  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Carbohydrate
  • Alcohol

Protein

For both weight loss and muscle building protein is arguably the most important macronutrient. Protein is essential to the body; it contains all the amino acids that our body requires to function. Maintaining an adequate protein intake during a calorie deficit can help you to maintain muscle mass while optimising fat loss. If you are new to strength training, you may even be able to build muscle while losing fat. 

Facts about protein:

  • Contains 4 calories per gram
  • An essential macronutrient
  • Helps to maintain and build muscle mass
  • Aim for 1.2-2g of protein per kg of body weight per day

Protein rich foods to include in your diet:

  • Chicken
  • Fish such as cod or tuna
  • Eggs
  • Beans and lentils 
  • Tofu

Fat

Fat is also an essential macronutrient. Some vital vitamins and minerals require fat to metabolise in the body.  Eating a very low-fat diet is actually not ideal as it can cause vitamin deficiency. There are different types of fats, aim to eat monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocado, seeds, and oily fish. Avoid eating large quantities of processed foods such as cakes and biscuits. Healthy fats with more calories per gram is satiating and can actually help you avoid snacking on hyper palatable foods with a poor nutritional profile. 

Facts about fat:

  • Contains 9 calories per gram
  • Fat is essential
  • Eat more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
  • Avoid trans fats
  • Aim for 25-30% fat

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are not actually essential; our bodies can produce the glucose it requires from protein. However, a balanced diet should include carbohydrates as it is a readily available source of energy. Some diets, such as keto, recommend cutting out carbohydrates. However, this can mean a diet too low in fibre which is important for gut health. Aim to eat complex carbohydrates and plenty of fruit and vegetables for optimum nutrition.

Fact about carbohydrates:

  • Contains 4 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrates are a non-essential macronutrient
  • Eat complex carbohydrates
  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables

Examples of nutritious carbohydrate food choices: 

  • Wholegrain rice
  • Wholegrain pasta
  • Rye and other grain breads
  • Potatoes
  • Fruit and vegetables

Alcohol

Often overlooked as a cause of weight gain, alcohol does indeed contain calories. In fact, alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. Alcohol can of course be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet, and many professionals recommend some red wine consumption as beneficial to heart health. Track your alcohol consumption alongside other food intake, you may be surprised how many calories you are consuming in alcohol and that simply cutting down could make a huge difference to your weight loss efforts and overall health. 

Tracking Macros 

Despite trying to make macros simple, it can still be overwhelming, and tracking will not be for everyone, you can read more about the pros and cons of tracking if you’re interested . If you are willing to track calories and macros, or at least give it a go, I suggest downloading the My Fitness Pal app or Nutricheck app. Personally I use My Fitness Pal, there is a huge database of food and often you can just scan the barcode to add the food to your diary. Just check the packaging correlates with the information in the app to be sure of accuracy, but adding the food once adds it to your popular list making it easy to add again. 

If you don’t want to track, that’s fine, it’s not for everyone. Being more aware of what you are eating, and your protein intake is a great start. Aim for a serving of protein with every meal, a chicken breast, a tin of tuna, two or three eggs, even a protein shake can help you meet your goals. Add a protein yoghurt for desert with some fresh fruit instead of cake. Small changes add up to big results. 

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