‘Counting macros/macro cycling’ has become a popular trend amongst the fitness set so, what it is? What does it mean, and can it work for you?
Macros are the macronutrients: Carbohydrates, Protein & Fat. While there’s no one magic combination, you can optimise your diet for performance or body composition goals by adjusting the composition of your calories. Overall energy balance is always key to whether you are losing or gaining weight but it’s the ratio of protein, fat, and carbs in your diet that can help improve training quality and determine whether you are building or losing muscle or fat and therefore impact your performance. What do you need to know?
To count your macros, you need to work out your overall daily energy requirement (calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate – how much energy your body requires at rest and multiply this by your activity factor –see below for link to online tool) and then how much of each macronutrient you need; based upon your individual body composition, age, gender and fitness goals. Don’t blindly follow a macro percentage breakdown without individualizing it to YOU. Here are the conversions from grams to calories for carbs, fat, and protein.
- CARBS: 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
- FAT: 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
- PROTEIN: 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
Depending upon your goal, typical macronutrient recommendation ranges are as follows:
CARBS: 40–60% of total calories.
FAT: 20–35% of total calories.
PROTEIN: 10–35% of total calories
Keep in mind that these recommendations may not fit your specific needs and your ratio can be fine-tuned in order to achieve specific objectives. If you are endurance training then your carb intake may go up to 65%, whilst for rest or recovery days, they will be at the lower end of the scale. Fuel for the work required.
To provide an example, this is how you would calculate daily macronutrient intake for a 2,000-calorie diet with macro ratio: 45% C, 25% P and 30% F.
- 4 calories per gram
- 45% of 2,000 calories = 900 calories of carbs per day
- Total grams of carbs per day =900/4 = 225 grams
- 4 calories per gram
- 25% of 2,000 calories = 500 calories of protein per day
- Total grams of protein allowed per day = 500/4 = 125 grams
- 9 calories per gram
- 30% of 2,000 calories = 600 calories of protein per day
- Total grams of fat allowed per day = 600/9 = 67 grams
Change the ratios up to suit your goals but remember, it’s not just about the numbers, the quality of the protein, fat and carbs you eat is more important than the quantity. Refer back to our previous posts on the macros but these are good guidelines to keep in mind:
1. When it comes to carbs, the more complex the better. Stick to complex carbohydrates like vegetables and whole grains – they contain fibre which has a beneficial impact both on satiety and blood sugar
2. Opt for lean plant based proteins as they are satiating, offer muscle-sparing benefits & very few calories from fat.
3. Stick with unsaturated fats for their protective role for heart and brain health and increased satiety.
It’s important to remember that the macro counting guides you will find are just guides – they’re not rules and the people writing them don’t know your needs or lifestyle. It’s always best to work with a Registered Nutritionist to help identify a pattern of eating to suit your individual goals that is both flexible and sustainable for the long run.
Manore, Exercise and the Institute of Medicine recommendations for nutrition. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2005 Aug;4(4):193-8. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 Mar;41(3):709-31. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31890eb86.
Kerksick; International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Aug 29;14:33. doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4. eCollection 2017.
Thomas DT: ‘Position of The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, Dieticians of Canada and the ACSM: Nutrition & Athletic Performance’. J Acad Nutr Diet, Mar 2016