By Valerie Solomon, Busy Mom Gets Fit
This blog is follow up from my periscope viewable here
LESSON 1: What are “macros” anyway?
"Macros" is a term short for macronutrients, and refers to eating a certain ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and fats to meet certain goals. There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to setting macros. Every person is different and your personal macro target will be ever changing as well as you progress and your goals change.
The body needs a good balance of protein, carbs, and fat to function properly and be healthy.
Protein is important as it is the building block of muscle. The more muscle you have the more calories your body burns at rest.
Carbohydrates are important because they provide fuel for your daily activities.
Fats also provide energy and are needed for metabolic function as well as the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, among other things.
Counting macros can be a great way to diet for a time sensitive goal such as a fitness competition because it allows you to eat the foods you like (as opposed to following a meal plan set for you), you just have to make the food you choose fit the parameters of your calorie and macro goals.
LESSON 2: Figuring out how many calories to eat total
You’ve probably heard the number “1200” tossed around a lot. Often 1200 calories is too few calories for most women. Most women will actually see good weight loss on a 1700 calorie diet if they include exercise at the same time (that’s you!).
The number of calories a woman should eat largely varies based on body type, her level of activity, the state of her metabolism and her goals. That’s a lot of “it depends”. However, a good rule of thumb for a healthy-weighted woman looking to control her weight while staying healthy, is to begin at 10-17 times her bodyweight in calories (10-12 if you want to lose weight, 13-17 if you want to maintain, 18+ to gain). As you progress and want to shed more fat, you can lower your calories slowly over time, but we do not recommend going below 10 times body weight for any extended period of time or staying at 10x your bodyweight forever.
Do you think this number is too high?! It can be a scary thing to eat MORE to lose weight! If you are a serial dieter and have cut calories for long lengths of time, you know there comes a time where you throw up your hands because you can’t eat any less and your body is still not changing! You’ve stalled your metabolism; your body goes into starvation mode. With a better plan and learning to eat to fuel your body, you can get it running again and you may be surprised that you can eat a greater amount of food and get leaner.
Decide on your calorie goal: 10-18 (see above) x your body weight = calorie goal
LESSON 3: Figuring out what your Macros are
It’s a good rule of thumb to aim for 1-1.2g of protein per pound of body weight. If you weigh 140 lbs, you should shoot for 140-168g protein daily.
To figure out how many of your daily calories should come from protein:
Protein grams x 4 = calories from protein
Start with a minimum of 45-50g of fat total. Consume a bit more if you are a larger person. It’s important for hormonal balance to not go too low fat for an extended period of time.
To figure out how many of your daily calories should come from fat:
fat grams x 9 = calories from fat
Take your daily calorie target - protein calories - fat calories = carb calories
Carb calories divided by 4 gives you the carb grams you are going to try to hit.
Let’s say I want to gain weight. I weigh 140lbs so I am going to eat on the upper end of the calorie range, 17 times by body weight = 2380 total calories.
I will aim to eat 1.2 x by weight in protein = 168g (168 x 4 = 672 protein calories)
I will aim to eat 50g of fat. (50 x 9 = 450 fat calories)
To see how many carbs I need to eat to hit my total calorie goal of 2380, I subtract the fat and protein calories. 2380 - 672 - 450 = 1258 (1258 divided by 4 = 314g carb)
OMG that’s a lot of math and a lot of carbs. :-)
LESSON 3: How to hit the macro target
Now, decide how many meals you will eat in a day.
It’s a good idea to eat many meals throughout the day (4-7 meals depending on your schedule). This generally keeps your energy levels more even throughout the day and will limit your chances of having terrible hunger pangs or severe cravings that come from going too long between meals and ultimately lead to giving into temptations.
- Divide your protein evenly among the number of meals you plan to eat.
- Divide your fat evenly among the number of meals you plan to eat.
- If you have a lot of carb calories to eat, you can do the same - just distribute carbs evenly among all of your meals.
However, if you find your carbs are lower when your calories target is lower, carb-timing can be very helpful and effective.
Carb-timing essentially means that you eat carbs only when your body needs them most or is most insulin sensitive, which typically is:
- the first meal of the day to kick start your metabolism,
- the meal before a workout to give you energy, and
- the meal after a workout to aid in recovery.
Now, I suggest using the free app called My Fitness Pal and plan out a day in advance. I find this if I just go through my day trying to hit macro targets, I fail. If I plan my day in advance, I do much better.
Lesson 4: Adjusting macros
Start with the calcultions I've given you and see how your body responds for a week. A good goal for weight loss is to lose 1-2 pounds a week. If you are seeing those changes, it's working! Also take progress pictures. Often when women are strength training as well and adding muscle, the scale doesn't show as much progress as pictures do.
If you do not see the changes you'd like to see, start by changing your calorie target slowly. A coach can help you get more specific and dial in your diet for a competition. Many coaches will present macros by telling you a % of your calories that a specific macro should be. That's fine as well, just keep in mind that it's important to keep your body healthy by not going too low with any of the 3 macros for an extended length of time. By looking at the actual grams of macros, you can clearly see if you are getting the minimum fat requirement and protein target.
Lesson 5: Do I Have to Count Macros to be Fit?
Does this seem overwhelming?! If you have never eaten in this way, it can be a bit mind boggling. I want you to be able to reach your fitness goals for the long term and reach and maintain a healthy leanness for the rest of your life. That may mean really buckling down for a month or so, and YES calculating macros until you get in a rhythm that works for you.
You can then start eyeballing things once you understand the basics of nutritional science and which macro target works best for your body type. That’s when the living comes in ...you begin to understand how your body responds to food. You can trust it. You can live.
I do not track my macros daily.
I’ve found a rhythm of eating that works for me on a daily basis as a busy mom wanting to get and stay fit that does not require macro counting daily. Although I do track macronutrients for a rigid competition prep and coach clients to do the same, on a normal daily basis, I eat in a way and teach a concept I call “Being Protein Minded” in my Plans.
It’s not realistic to think you can stay on a strict meal plan for life. It’s no fun. What is doable long term is to fit in the foods you like and work within certain parameters that have some flexibility. Learn to track calories for a bit, and then learn how to get in enough protein. Start making lasting changes slowly. It is possible for a busy woman to learn to eat to progress without an endless diet you dread.
I designed my complete diet and workout guides to meet you where you are at on your fitness journey and teach you how to get fit while not goign crazy! I'd love to help you.