As the macronutrient diet gains in popularity, more and more people are wondering about it. What are the benefits, what does it mean and how exactly do you count macros?
This article will serve as a guide for anyone wondering if this diet might be right for them. The macronutrient diet isn't a diet in the usual sense. There are no forbidden foods. The idea is to strike a balance between these major food groups:
It's not exactly the same as the basic four food groups, which we know as:
- Fruits and veggies
- Dairy products
- Fats and oils
Instead, the macronutrient diet includes these foods under a broader classification. For example, fruits and vegetables would mostly count as carbohydrates. Proteins would generally come from animal products like meat, dairy and fish, although there are a few sources of complete protein plant foods, too:
- Soy products like edamame, tofu, tempeh, miso and soy milk
The Macronutrient Diet Explained
Now that you have a little background information about human nutrition, we will go on to talk about the diet. The word macro simply means large, as opposed to micro, which means small. Protein, fat and carbohydrates are all considered to be macronutrients, meaning we need so many grams of each one per day. Micronutrients are more like vitamins and trace minerals, daily requirements of which are typically measured in much smaller amounts like milligrams and international units or IUs. To understand the diet further, you need to know that a gram of protein or carbohydrate, in pure form, contains 4 calories. Fats contain 9 calories per gram, over twice as much. This is why fats are thought to be "fattening," but healthy fats are a critical part of a healthy diet. They nourish the skin, boost the immune system, protect the heart and brain and are involved in the production of hormones and countless body functions. Generally speaking, people lose weight when they take in fewer calories than they burn. Doing the opposite results in weight gain. A steady weight is maintained by keeping an equal balance between calories consumed and calories burned.
To figure your macros, you will need to look at food labels, which will always give the amount of protein, fat and carbohydrate for each serving. For nonpackaged foods like fresh fruits, veggies and fresh meat, you can use a food scale and online tables, which will give you the amount of macros in that food. For example, a 4 ounce serving of steak contains.
Converting Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates to Calories
- 28 grams of protein
- 21 grams of total fat
- 0 grams carbohydrate
There are complex ways to figure your macros from scratch, but the easiest way is to use a macro calculator like the one here. The calculator allows you to select your plan with balanced, low fat, high protein and low carb options. You can also use the slider to customize your macros.
Count Your Own Macros
You can calculate your macros yourself, too. To do this, decide first on the total number of calories you will consume and your macro split. This means what percentage of each macro you will eat, for example, a common recommendation is 40 percent protein and 30 percent each of fat and carbs. As an example, using the above ratios and an 1800 calories a day meal plan, you would multiply your total calories by 0.4 for protein and 0.3 for carbs and fats. Divide this value by 4 for carbs and proteins and 9 for fats. For this particular macro diet plan, this would give you the following:
- Fat: 1800 times 0.3, which is 540/divide by 9 to equal 60 grams
- Carbs: 1800 times 0.3 makes 540/divide by 4 to get 135 grams
- Proteins: 1800 times 0.4 makes 720/divide by 4 to give 180 grams
To add up your daily grams, use the figures on food labels called Nutrition Facts. As discussed above, use a food scale and online tables like the one provided to figure your macro intake of foods not typically packaged, such as fresh produce. This diet helps you to understand where your nutritive calories are coming from and how healthy each source is. Be aware that refined sugar has been linked to diseases of aging, premature skin wrinkling and sagging, increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and systemic inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of no more than 24 grams of sugar (6 teaspoons) for women and 36 grams (9 teaspoons) for men. The macronutrient diet will help you to stay within these limits.
The macro diet can be used to lose weight gradually and safely without sacrificing important nutrients. Another advantage is that you choose what to eat, allowing you to pick healthy foods you like, rather than being obligated to eat certain foods you dislike, as is required by typical diet plans, especially fad ones. Many people take in hundreds of extra calories without realizing it. The macro diet can help prevent this mistake. Choosing healthy foods in each of your three macro groups is imperative for best results. Consider adding a good multivitamin, too. Always consult with your physician before beginning any kind of new diet or exercise regimen.