Counting macros can be both a blessing and a curse. It is time consuming, can be a pain in the tukus when you go out to eat, and it really messes with a gal's nut-butter addiction.
BUT it also can do AMAZING things for your body and in helping you reach your fitness goals. Whether you're "bulking" (eating a surplus of calories) to help gain lean muscle or "cutting" (eating in a deficit) to shed any extra fat and show off those new muscles, it's a great fitness tool to use.
I'm sure you're wondering: but how can I BEST use this tool??
Well, let me make this point clear first: COUNTING MACROS IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. If you have a tendency to feel overwhelmed, don't do it. If you are suffering from an eating disorder (or tend to regress in your recovery from one), don't do it. And if you're not 100% committed to the process, don't do it till you get your mind right and are ready to put in the work.
Ok, now that I've gotten that little disclaimer out of the way, let's talk MACRO TIPS.
- KNOW YOUR NUMBERS. The best way to get started with tracking macros is to know how many calories your body needs to maintain your current weight ("maintenance calories"). There are loads of calculators online that will help you find this number (such as this one), OR you can let me help you (by going here). Once you have that number, you can plug it into an app like My Fitness Pal and get a ratio of the macronutrients you need. This can be a bit tricky and take some tweaking, but at least you can have a base number to work off of.
- SLOWLY INCREASE/DECREASE YOUR GOAL NUMBERS. When trying to lose weight, I always say it's better to start about 200 calories below your maintenance number. If you're trying to build lean muscle, I recommend starting off by adding 100 calories above maintenance. Every two weeks, reassess how you feel and if you have made any progress (but ignore that scale because it LIES!). If you are seeing progress, stay where you're at for another two weeks. If you feel you need to make some changes, increase or decrease by only 100 calories at a time. Then give yourself ANOTHER two weeks to let your body adjust to the changes.
- SPLIT UP THE SERVING SIZE SO THAT YOU CAN ENJOY ALLL THE FOODS YOU LOVE. Even when I'm tracking my macros and trying to keep them within a certain goal range, I never tell myself "oh, I can't eat that". That's restrictive and not healthy - especially when you have a history of restriction/binging like I do. Instead, I just split up the serving sizes and add a little of everything I'm craving! Such as Square Organics protein bars*, which I am OBSESSED with. They average about 13g of (unprocessed, natural) sugar per bar, which is a lot when I'm trying to limit my sugar intake. So how do I incorporate this deliciousness into my day? I cut the bar either into half or thirds, dice it up into little chunks, and then throw those puppies into my morning oats with some fresh fruit and other goodies. Craving: satisfied! (PS: If you've never done this, you MUST. The hot oats melt the chocolate and it gets all gooey and just UMPH!)
- EAT THE MAJORITY OF YOUR CARBS IN THE MORNING. Then taper off throughout the rest of the day. No, I don't mean don't eat any carbs in the evening or for a bedtime snack. But if you eat carb-heavy meals in the morning, you both give yourself more fuel throughout the day AND ensure that you won't be trying to stuff in a ton of carbs at night to hit your goal.
- PLAN YOUR DAY AHEAD OF TIME (IF POSSIBLE). I have found that my best "macro days" are those that I have planned ahead. It may sound like a waste of time, but you're actually spending the exact same amount of time pre-planning that you are plugging numbers in during meals or after the fact. And what can I say? I'm a planner at heart.
- BUY AND PREP IN BULK. We tend to make better food choices when we have healthy, prepped foods on hand at all times. So spend those 3-4 hours on the weekend buying and prepping your proteins, carbs, and veggies. I promise your days will be a lot easier and your macros will be much more consistent!
- DON'T GET DISCOURAGED. Like I said, it takes our bodies an average of two weeks for our bodies to get used to a change in macros. This goes for both bulking and cutting. Those first two weeks you increase your caloric intake, you may feel more bloated and go to bed with a food baby. The first two weeks you decrease calories, you may feel like you're not seeing a change in the scale even though you're eating less. Just be patient, give your body a chance to adjust, and THEN you can make the necessary tweaks to your goal numbers.
- WATCH YOUR SALT AND SUGAR INTAKE. Salt (sodium) retains water. So the more salt you take in, the more water your body will hold onto. Not cool, dude! Personally, my body is VERY sensitive to salt, so I have to be extra conscious of how much is in the foods I eat. I like to keep my sodium intake below 1500mg a day, which is a whole lot easier to do when you prepare your own meals and eat lots of whole foods! My body responds the same to excess sugar - my belly tends to bloat if I eat more than about 40g of sugar a day (including the natural sugars in fruit). Remember that everyone is different, and everyone's bodies respond differently to foods. Just because someone else you follow on Instagram can eat 100+g of sugar a day (even if it's natural) or add sea salt to everything doesn't mean YOUR body will like it. If you notice that although you're hitting your macros, you are still bloated or have stubborn fat around your middle, take a second to really evaluate your salt/sugar intake. That could make all the difference!
- REMEMBER THAT NOT ALL MACROS ARE CREATED EQUAL. Just because I track my macronutrients does not mean I believe in the "if it fits your macros" fad. So what if you have enough left for a Snickers bar. How is that bar going make you feel after eating it? What's REALLY in it? And what happens when you're hungry 30 minutes after eating it because it doesn't have enough fiber or protein to keep you full? It may be tempting, but no thanks. I look closely at the ingredients and choose WHOLE, nutrient-dense foods to fuel my body. This helps my body perform better, grow more lean muscle with added fat, improves my mental focus and energy without the mid-day crash, and just makes me FEEL GOOD inside and out. And that's what really matters, right?
Now, I get asked all the time on Instagram what my own macros look like. Here's a little breakdown of how I have gone about my bulk so far:
- Maintenance: 1800 calories, 45% carbs, 27% protein, 28% fat.
- Jan 1st: INCREASED to 1900 calories, 45% carbs, 30% protein, and 25% fat.
- Jan 15th: INCREASED to 2000 calories, 45% carbs, 30% protein, and 25% fat.
- I'm due to reassess Jan 29th (tomorrow) and may increase to 2100 calories, 47% carbs, 28% protein, and 25% fat. But I'll be sure to keep you posted!
I hope that helps shed a little light on how to use macro-tracking to your advantage. And please please pleeeeease remember this, y'all: this is your journey, your body, your goal. Do what works for YOU!
*Use my code "fit_n_clean_mama" for 20% off and free domestic shipping