Tracking your macronutrients (and calories) is also known under names such as ‘IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros)’ or ‘Flexible Dieting’. It is an approach that makes it so easy to reach your body composition goals- whether it is to gain muscle or lose fat.
Why it works:
- It’s not restrictive- there’s no cutting out food groups. In the past I’ve tried cutting sugar, carbs (processed carbs, grains and legumes) and fat- at one stage I was just eating tuna, boiled chicken and veggies. I was miserable, I missed all my favourite foods (cheese and chocolate), and then would feel incredibly guilty when I indulged.
- You can still eat your favourite foods
- You improve your understanding of food- you learn what your body needs
- It’s sustainable- once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to get the balance right
You lose weight when your body expends more calories than you’ve eaten (calorie deficit).
You gain weight when you eat more calories than you can expend (calorie surplus).
Calories are simply a unit of energy. Genetics and metabolism can play a small role in how your body burns or stores calories, but at the end of the day, if you can determine how much YOUR body needs, and eat consistently in a manner that provides your body with the energy it needs, you will get results.
Calories are made up of either:
FAT: 1 g = 9 calories
CARBOHYDRATES: 1g = 4 calories
PROTEIN: 1g = 4 calories
You need a balance of these depending on your goals and what your body responds to.
Protein: if you are training regularly or wanting to lose fat, eating sufficient protein is vital.
- It repairs and builds tissue- particularly important if you are building muscle, increasing strength or just live an active lifestyle
- It keeps you fuller for longer
- Your body uses more energy to digest protein than other macronutrients.
If you work out, it is recommended that you eat 1.5-2g of protein per kilogram of body weight.
For example, if I weigh 50kg, I should be eating 75-100g of protein a day.
That does not mean 100g of chicken breast or steak- there is 31g of protein in 100g of chicken breast (the rest of the weight is water and whatnot). So to get 100g of protein, I would need to eat 322g of chicken breast.
Fat & Carbohydrates– you need a bit of both, the balance lies in your goals and lifestyle. It’s important to note that fat contains more than double the calories of carbs.
- Carbohydates are not essential as your body can create glucose via a metabolic process called gluconeogenesis (hence why Keto works for some people)
- Fat, on the other hand, is required from dietary intake to maintain regular function
THE PERFECT RATIO
So we’ve worked out how much protein you need to consume, but what about carbs and fats? How much of each and in what ratio?
Don’t overthink it and fall into either the low-fat or no-carbs camp. As long as you get at least 20% of your daily intake from fat, you can consume the carbs and fat in whatever ratio works for your body. Some people need lots of carbs for energy, others feel sleepy after a big carby meal. There’s no one-size-fits-all ratio.
What works for ME?
My macro ratio is currently:
30%P / 30%F / 40%C
I’ve experimented with different ratios in the past and found this to be most sustainable for me. In the past, I have tried:
30%P / 35%F / 35% C
Personally found it hard to eat enough carbs, (most of my carbs coming from fruit and veggies) Also the lower fat meant I couldn’t fit in those few squares of chocolate at the end of the day.
My boyfriend, on the other hand, has a very active job and loves some rice or bread with his meal, though he has no problem not eating chocolate. He is also looking to build more muscle, so his ratio is more like this:
35% P / 30%F / 35%C
Start with one of these basic ratios, try it for a week or two and tweak it if necessary!
HOW TO CALCULATE YOUR CALORIES & MACROS
Start with this calculator
Any online calculator can not take into account your body fat %- a more accurate way to determine your energy needs is to get a DEXA scan- it’s sort of like an x-ray that determines how much fat/muscle/bone is on your body. It can be pricey and is not really necessary for most- unless you’re a bodybuilder, athlete or you’re just a curious cat (*hands up*, me, I’m just very curious and extremely precise). But it is not necessary if you are able to monitor your progress, which brings me to…
Track, record, refine… experiment with your calorie intake and your macro ratio, everyone’s body has different needs and responds to certain foods differently.
What I’ve works best for me currently (at the time of writing November 2019), I am;
- Age: 26 years old
- Height: 155 cm
- Weight: 48.5 kg / 15% body fat
- Physical Activity: Lifting heavy weights 4 times a week, Vinyasa Yoga 2 times a week and walking 50 minutes a day (8000 steps)
- My maintenance calories are at 1640 calories a day, however I’m aiming to skim off some fat so my calories are;
- 1600 calories on gym days (4 days a week)
- 1200 calories on non gym days (3 days a week)
- Macro ratio: 30%P / 30%F / 40%C
I’m constantly working out what food and training my body responds well to, it’s a bit of an ongoing experiment!
HOW TO TRACK YOUR FOOD
Download the My Fitness Pal app. It’s so easy to scan barcodes and search up ingredients. The app lets you save meals and recipes, and remembers what you eat frequently- so once you’ve built up a bit of a personal database and get the hang of it, tracking becomes second nature.
You’ll need kitchen scales, measuring cups and spoons, yes, you’ll have to weigh your food, but it’s just one small extra step when you’re meal prepping, and again, it becomes second nature after a little while.
DO I TRACK EVERYTHING??
The things you’ll need to keep track of most accurately is anything that is HIGH FAT- Too much of any of these can really throw off your calories
- Cooking oils
Proteins- I like to include the raw uncooked weight
Vegetables and Fruit- I usually track all of my veggies. Starchy vegetables (sweet potato, pumpkin) as well as high sugar veggies (corn, peas) can be surprisingly high-carb. I weigh these once they’re peeled, deseeded and chopped but before they’re cooked. I do cut corners with leafy green veggies (spinach, rocket, kale and lettuce) and usually don’t weigh these
Legumes and Grains- double check the nutrition label whether it is for cooked or uncooked weight. I have definitely eaten 338 calories worth of lentils thinking it was 100 calories worth
Beverages- coffees, soft drinks, wine and cocktails
Give it 2-3 weeks, if you are looking to lose fat and the numbers on the scales are decreasing or your waistline is shrinking, bravo! It’s working! Keep doing what you’re doing! If not, take it down a notch- decrease your intake by 100 calories, give it another 2-3 weeks and see how you go!
And that’s it folks, a quick rundown on everything you need to know to go forth and conquer! All of my recipes come with calorie & macronutrient content, plus a breakdown of how I’ve entered the meal into My Fitness Pal. This should entering the data yourself a breeze! I hope that this helps, I’d love to hear what you’ve found works for you, and feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!