Note: Macro counting is a more advanced dieting strategy. I highly recommend that you have the basics down in terms of how to Eat for Optimal Fat Loss, before you decide to experiment with macro counting.
Living in San Francisco, it’s hard to ignore all the talk about “data”. Who doesn’t love looking at data trends over time to see interesting correlations? Data helps us make better decisions, gives us insight into what is really going on and can REALLY help us as we work towards certain goals.
We track data in so many areas of our life, many of us keep track of data points as it pertains to our health and wellness. You are probably familiar with tracking steps, calories burned, calories consumed etc… but what if I told you that you could make your “diet” a little bit more flexible by tracking other data points?
I am about to teach you an approach to fat loss called Flexible Dieting or macro counting. Flexible dieting basically means that you can fit whatever you want into your daily diet (within reason).. so long as it fits your macronutrient targets for the day.
But before I dive into the details of macro counting and teach you how to calculate your macro targets, let me back up a bit and explain why Flexible Dieting is so effective and why most extreme diets are setup to fail…
Why Most Diets Fail
There are many diets out there that promise quick, rapid weight loss. While you CAN experience rapid weight loss using extreme methods, what these methods DO NOT teach you is how to sustain them. Why? Because they are pretty damn tough (if not impossible) to maintain.
For example, let’s say you go on an no low carb diet. You get to your goal weight. What happens when you start to introduce carbs again?? Because really… are you going to avoid carbs your entire life? 😉 Chances are you will gain the weight back (and then some)… ending up right back where you started (or even heavier!). And not to mention you feel like a “failure”. Look, it’s NOT YOUR FAULT! What the diet industry doesn’t want you to know is that it is designed to keep you coming back for more. It’s designed to entice you to try fad diets, have a bunch of “success”, only to end up gaining the weight back and having to “go back on” a diet. Crazy right?
Now that being said, this approach is not for everyone. It’s quite granular and requires you to track your food on a whole other “level”. (For those of you who won’t want to track a whole bunch of data– check out my free guide to eating for optimal fat loss which does not involve calorie/macro counting).
Anyways… let’s get to Flexible Dieting. First of all… let me explain macros.
What are macros?
Macronutrients are vital nutrients that provide our bodies with calories or energy. The macronutrient groups are: Protein Carbohydrates Fats All three macronutrients have their own specific role in the human body. They help our body grow, repair, rebuild and ultimately function.
The three main macronutrient categories are: Protein, Fats, Carbohydrates
We can start to categorize certain foods as mostly protein, carbs and fat etc. For example chicken breast, lean beef, egg whites are protein sources. Whole grains, vegetables and fruits are carb sources. Nuts, nut butters, seeds and oils are fats. You with me?
I am going to teach you how to set your daily macronutrient targets, i.e. how much protein, fat and carbs you should eat everyday for your goals. Then, I want you to plug those targets into a food tracking app (ex: My Fitness Pal, or My Net Diary) and adhere to those targets +/- 3-5g every day.
By using macro tracking or Flexible Dieting, you can eat whatever you want so long as you stay within your #s for the day. Now, this doesn’t give you the green light to eat mostly processed food or “treat” foods, I believe you should take an 80/20 approach to nutrition. However it does mean that you can TRULY have your cake & eat it to… while still reaching your physique goals.
Ready to calculate your macros? Here are the steps.
1.) Calculate your BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate by using this calculator.
Your BMR is also known as “bed rest calories”, meaning that it’s the absolute LEAST number of calories your body needs to survive if you were only to lay in bed all day.
Let’s use an example..
Jim is Director of Marketing @ widgetapp.io. He is 34 years old, 5’10” and 220 lb. When using the link above we get his BMR: 1944 calories.
2.) Calculate current maintenance calories with an activity multiplier.
Use an activity multiplier to calculate your current maintenance calories (aka the calories you need to sustain your current weight and life style). Most people with desk jobs fall into one of the following categories:
BMR x 1.2 If you are sedentary-you do little or no exercise in a day BMR x 1.375 If you are lightly active-light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week BMR x 1.55 If you are moderately active-moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week
If you heavily train for a sport every day AND have a very labor intensive job use these:
BMR x 1.725 If you are very active-hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week BMR x 1.9 If you are extra active-very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training
During the day Jim is pretty sedentary. He wears a Fitbit but only gets about 5,000 steps in per day. He works out at the gym for 45 minutes/3 days a week where he rides the bike or lifts weights. Let’s take his BMR x 1.375 to get his caloric needs for maintenance.
1944*1.375= 2,673. For Jim to maintain his weight of 220 lb at his level of activity, he should eat 2,673.
3.) Decide if you want to lose weight, gain muscle or maintain and calculate your calories for your goal.
Ok so we have maintenance calories, but chances are if you’ve made it this far, you probably have a goal you are trying to reach right? If you want to lose weight, you will need to create a caloric deficit, if you want to gain weight you will need a caloric surplus, if you wish to maintain weight you will simply keep your calories as is and can ignore this step.
Jim has goals and wants to lose weight. His goal weight is 170 lb. For Jim to lose weight, we need to create a caloric deficit. For fat loss, I recommend a caloric deficit of 15-25% of calories. For weight gain, I recommend a surplus of 15-20% of calories.
Refer to this chart for my recommendations for each goal:
Let’s go with 20% for Jim. To do this we take his maintenance calories and subtract 20%.
2673*.20= 524 Thus 2673-534= 2,139
Jim should consume approximately 2,139 calories/day on his plan to reach his goal weight.
4.) Calculate your macros for your goal.
Ok now we have the # of calories we need to reach our goal, time to take it to the next step and calculate our macro break down (i.e. how much protein, carbohydrates and fats we should be eating). Please refer to this chart:
*Note that this is a GENERAL guideline – I have found that many people need to shift around macronutrients especially as they progress towards their goals.
Warning: LOTS OF MATH HERE! Stay with me! 🙂
Jim’s Calories: 2,139 Recommended macro split for fat loss: 40% protein 30% carb 30% fat Now we can translate that into grams so that Jim can put his daily targets into his calorie tracking app.
Protein has 4 calories per gram therefore:
2139*.4= 855 calories from protein.
855/4= 213g protein/day
Carbohydrates also have 4 calories per gram therefore:
2139*.3= 642 calories from protein.
642/4= 160g carb/day
Fats have 9 calories per gram, therefore:
642/9= 71g fat/day
To summarize, Jim’s daily macro targets are: 213g protein, 160g carbohydrates, 71g fat
5.) Put your targets into your food tracking app
Now that you have your daily targets, put them into your food tracking app. Aim to hit each macro target +/- 3-5g. Keep track of your macro compliance along with your weight and body measurements to make sure you are making progress!
Now am I saying that macro tracking is the only way to reach your fitness goal? Absolutely not. In fact, this approach is quite granular and requires weighing your food, tracking it and staying on point… BUT it can be a useful strategy for those who are really ready to dial in on their physique.
Does this mean you need to track macros every day for the rest of your life? Definitely not, macro tracking is a helpful tool that allows us to have flexibility in our diet while still reaching our fitness goals. Once you reach your goal, you can slowly wean yourself off of tracking and stick to the basics. If you notice your weight start to creep back up– you can resume macro counting when/if you feel it to be necessary.
Note: Many people use macro counting/flexible dieting as an excuse to eat junk all the time. I do not advise this!! Technically, no food is off limits with flexible dieting, but I HIGHLY recommend that you stick to a mostly (80-90%) nutrient dense, whole food diet. This will help ensure you are getting adequate nutrients and that you are giving your body quality fuel.
Have other questions? Get in touch with me for a free consultation!