Chances are, like most Americans, you’re not satisfied with your current weight. If you’ve read anything lately about diet and nutrition or searched Google for the best ways to lose weight, you’ve probably heard of “counting macros.” This hot trend is also known as the IIFYM or “if it fits your macros” diet.
If you dig a little deeper, you’ll learn that counting macros isn’t as trendy as it seems. It’s a tried and true method of maintaining fitness levels, reducing body fat, and increasing muscle mass. It originated with bodybuilders who have been counting macros for years.
What is Counting Macros?
But what does counting macros, aka the IIFYM diet, mean? Counting macros means counting how much of the three macronutrients–protein, carbohydrates, and fat–you eat each day. IIFYM, if it fits your macros, means you consider whether the food or drink you’re about to consume fits within the number limit you’ve set for yourself. So if the food would put you over your daily fat limit, you don’t eat it, regardless of calorie count.
Ah, calories–you didn’t think you could forget about them, did you? As I’m sure you know, the overwhelming consensus from nutritionists, doctors and research is that lowering your overall calorie intake while exercising more often will result in weight loss.
But the intriguing and exciting thing about counting macros is that research shows the quality and type of those calories matters too. The old adage “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie” is not exactly true after all. Calories from protein can affect your body differently than those from fat or carbohydrate. In fact, recent research from Harvard University, detailed in “The Best Diet: Quality Counts” shows that some people lose more weight and keep it off better with a high protein diet. Meanwhile others have the same success on a low fat diet. This indicates counting macros can be an excellent approach since it will allow you to see how your individual body responds to different foods with more accuracy than merely counting calories.
Speaking of protein intake, if you’re interested in a closer look at the subject, it’s one I covered before here on the blog, “How Much Protein Should I Eat Each Day?”
How to Get Started Counting Macros
First, you start with 1 gram of protein for every pound you weigh. Next, consider if you’ve always tended toward being skinny, or if your body gains fat easily. If you’re on the lean side, allow 35% of your daily nutrients to come from fat, 25% if your body needs to reduce fat. Whatever is left over after figuring out protein and fat will be the percentage of carbohydrates for you to eat every day.
If math is something you’ve struggled with in life, I can hear you groaning from here. How are you supposed to do all these calculations? How on Earth can you stay motivated if you have to not only count calories but manage all these percentages and adjustments?
If you’re already counting calories, I bet you have an app for that. And good news! Most calorie trackers include tools for counting macros and there are also apps that just do that. Here’s a good list of fitness apps and macro counters from The Macro Revolution.
Disadvantages of Counting Macros
Even though many people swear by the increased fitness levels the IIFYM diet has brought them, there are some downsides.
Paying this much attention to the percentages of macronutrients in every food you eat can be time consuming, maybe even to the point of obsession. Find a good app to keep it simpler. If you’re a planner, it might be worth planning a week’s meals. That way you don’t have to keep thinking about it in too much detail every day.
Counting macros doesn’t mean you can disregard the quality of the food you’re eating. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’ll be okay eating 35% carbohydrates if all those carbs are from high fructose corn syrup! A cornerstone of nutrition is to eat organic, whole foods. As I’ve said repeatedly here on the blog, eat whole food, organic when possible, avoid trans fat and genetically modified soybean oil, and if a bagged or boxed food has more than five ingredients, it’s likely that it isn’t good for you.
Benefits of Counting Macros
In addition to weight loss and increased fitness, counting macros offers further health benefits. You will gain a nutritionist’s level of knowledge about your food. If something is prepackaged, you will learn how much of it is protein, how much is carbohydrate and how much is fat. You will discover that your appetite is satisfied longer with a handful of a protein-laden snack rather than a bowlful of simple carbs.
Best of all, you’ll finally begin to learn what makes your body gain weight and what foods help it lose weight fastest. If you aren’t losing as much weight on the original percentage of protein, you can lower it, and try increasing complex carbohydrates instead for better results. Or perhaps yours is a body that responds best to a lower fat diet. Once you’re counting macros, you will have the power to find out!
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