If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve likely spent time counting calories or points. But have you tried looking at your macros? Getting the right combination can help you not only lose weight but also improve your body composition.
“Macro” is short for “macronutrient.” These are one of three categories of nutrients you eat: carbohydrates (carbs), protein, and fats. Aside from calories, if you want to tweak your nutrition to lose weight, paying attention to macros can really help you meet your goals.
What’s the Point of Macros?
Generally, macros provide the calories you need to function. But by breaking down the calories into macros, you’re improving your overall nutrition, which is the cornerstone of successful and sustainable weight loss. This is actually a lot easier to do than you’d think once you figure out how much you should be eating, and how it should be divided by macronutrients.
How Many Calories Are in Macros?
Since macros supply energy, they do have calories. When you’re calculating your macros, you’ll start with how many calories you need to meet your goals, whether it’s sensible weight loss or maintaining your current weight. Here’s the per-gram calorie count of each macro:
Protein: 4 calories per gram
Carbs: 4 calories per gram
Fat: 9 calories per gram
So if your meal has 20 grams of protein, 40 grams of carbs, and 20 grams of fat, it has 420 calories.
(20*4) + (40*4) + (20*9) = 80 + 160 + 180 = 420
How Much Protein Do I Need?
The answer to how much protein anyone needs per day is that it depends. The absolute minimum amount of protein you need to function is .3 grams per pound of body weight. But that’s if you don’t exercise and live a mostly sedentary life. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll probably eat between .8 grams and 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
Proteins are the building blocks of muscle, and this macro has the biggest impact on your body composition. Not eating enough protein can weaken your joints and bones and have a negative impact on your endurance, like longer runs and bike rides.
When you eat enough protein, it can actually help you feel fuller for longer. It can make a weight loss diet easier because you won’t feel constantly hungry.
Aren’t Carbs Bad?
When you eat or drink something that contains carbohydrates, your body converts it into fuel for immediate energy. If you don’t need that energy right away, it’s turned into glycogen stores. If you’ve ever hung around a runner, you’ve probably heard them talk about carb loading. That’s when they eat a lot of pasta or other carbohydrate-containing meal to build up their glycogen stores before a race.
For the average person, if you’re only eating fruits and vegetables to get your carbs, you can get away with .3 grams of carbs per pound of body weight every day. This is a sensible and safe macro target for weight loss. In the long term, however, you might want to bump up your carbohydrate intake to .5 grams per pound of body weight so that you can include whole grains like rice in your diet. If you’re working out, that number goes up to 1 gram of carbs per pound of body weight. You’ll need the glycogen for energy and to make sure you don’t lose muscle.
When you do eat carbs, it’s important to pay attention to the source of them. If you want to improve your nutrition, that means eating some fruits, a lot of vegetables, and starches like rice and sweet potatoes.
What’s the Deal with Fats and Nutrition?
Fats are literally the only macronutrient that your body can’t produce, but you absolutely need a minimum of fats to live. These fats help your body absorb nutrients and regulate your hormones.
The absolute bare minimum of fats you should be eating is .3 grams per pound of body weight a day. But this is all based on your goals and what you can tolerate. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, you might want to get more of your calories from fat, which will result in slower weight loss but will make it easier to stick to your nutrition plan.
There is always a lot more that can be said about macros. But in the end, knowing what your macros are and what you should be eating to meet them can help you lose weight, be healthier, and reach the goals you’ve set.
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