Full transparency. I'm a former yo-yo dieter. I would wake up almost every Monday morning hell-bent on following my caloric restrictions to a T only to give up and order take-out by Wednesday. This was definitely a step-up from popping diet pills in college. I just didn't know what worked best. So I deprived and seemingly, punished myself through my diet. It was miserable and spoiler alert--it didn't work.
It wasn't until I started working out consistently that I FINALLY gave up on my yo-yo dieting. Now that I was showing up consistently in my workouts, the scale was much more forgiving...yay!!! But I still wasn't putting the right gasoline in the tank to sustain my energy and high intensity workouts. I was fatigued and often felt puffy and bloated.
What I finally figured out was that:
A) I need WAY more food than the 1,200-1,500 calories I was allowing myself
B) I needed more of the RIGHT foods
and C) passing up a piece of cake or a glass of wine was never going to work for me. I needed something with flexibility.
So, when I started counting macros, things just clicked. More protein had me feeling fuller for longer. And honing in on the amount of good carbs and fats had me feeling more energetic.
Is it perfect? No. I love cake, tacos and splitting bottles of champagne with my husband. I don't track every day now that I know how my body operates best. Moreover, if you are like me and deal with an underlying health issue (Hashimoto's for me) it won't often look perfect. Your nutrition will take a lot of trial and error until you figure out what works best for YOU.
But, here is a quick overview of macro tracking and why it might work for you:
Macronutrients refer to the three basic components of every diet — carbohydrates, fat, and protein. There are people who will also throw alcohol into this mix. Micronutrients—vitamins and minerals are examples—are the nutrients we require in smaller amounts.
Macro counting/tracking has gained popularity recently because we've grown more conscious of the quality of food we are putting into our bodies.
I'm sure you've heard the phrase, calories in, calories out. While the concept still holds true, macro tracking focuses on WHAT you are eating within your calorie parameters you have set for yourself.
For example, while you could 4 large slices of pepperoni pizza and stay under 2,000 calories for the day, you would be low in protein and high in fat, carbohydrates and other important nutrients. While it would work in theory, it's not nutritionally fulfilling and wouldn't help alter your body composition.
Tracking macros is especially useful if you are:
- wanting to change your body composition (maintain lean muscle or lose fat)
- looking to fuel your body according to your exercise or athletic goals
- have already established well-balanced meals + exercise routine
This last one is important. If you aren't eating a balanced diet or practicing healthy habits like drinking enough water, or catching enough zzz's on the regular, I suggest pausing before reading further and establishing these habits before you try modifying your diet.
How to start tracking macros:
(Note--this is meant to be a step by step guide. Do one step, then move to the next.)
Start tracking your food intake for 1 week. I like the free app, MyFitnessPal (I've used it since the beginning of time so I'm used to it and like its functionality) My husband prefers the paid app, MacroStax. To each their own. I know tracking sucks, but think of it as collecting data. You need to know where you are to understand what you need to change. And know that you won't do this forever.
Review the Data. First, this will give you a good idea of how many calories you are consuming on average each day. Additionally, you will also be able to see where your macronutrient intake falls. For many of us, we are often on the low side of protein and on the high side of carbs and fat.
Determine Your TDEE: You can calculate your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) here. Your TDEE is the amount of calories you burn daily INCLUDING exercise. You may have heard of Basal Metabolic Rate before. Your Basal Metabolic Rate is, in a nutshell, what your body burns to keep you alive and your heart beating. Your TDEE incorporates your Basal Metabolic Rate + your average daily energy expenditure through daily movement and exercise.
Determine Your Goal: If you are pleased with your weight and want to maintain it, keep your calorie goal at your TDEE. If you are looking to lose weight deducting 250-500 calories from your TDEE is most productive and sustainable. If you are hoping to gain weight (lean muscle) we would ADD 250-500 calories to your TDEE.
Calculate your Macros: Once you have your TDEE and have determined your daily caloric goal, you can now break those down even further into protein, carbs, and fats. The number one question seems to be, what should my split be? This will be different for everyone. I personally love carbs and have most energy with a higher carb plan, so I structure my macros accordingly. The beauty of macros is you can adjust it to what your body needs. My best suggestion? Try to get 40% of your food from carbs, 30% from protein and 30% from healthy fats. This is just a starting point and can be adjusted depending on your body or your goals.
It doesn't have to be perfect: In my 30+ page, 4 week guide that I created for my private training community, I emphasize making small, sustainable changes. Trying to overhaul your diet overnight won't work. It only leads to frustration and big F you to all of this. Instead, focus on small changes like creating more balanced meals, then adding more protein and finally, perfecting your ratios. And, if you're hungry, for the love of Pete...EAT. Your body is REALLY good at telling you what it needs. Deprivation serves no one and as an adult you can decide what you want to eat or drink. Macro tracking has taught me what my body works best on---but I often deviate from the plan to enjoy what I want to enjoy. This isn't all or nothing.
Side note: Do you need a deeper dive into this? I've created a 30+ page, 4 week guide exclusively for my private training community, In Your Corner. Feel free to join in to access this nutrition guide and also receive live, written and prerecorded workouts and access to a community of supportive women.
Questions? Shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to help you be successful--even if you roll your eyes at me when I tell you that you should track your food. Don't worry, I'm used to that.