All my life, I heard about how important calorie counting was to lose weight. Calories, calories! Never drop below 1200 calories because your body will go into starvation mode, but you have to cut a lot of calories to lose weight. Burn more calories by exercising!
I never heard about macros. Never. Ever.
Today, we know better. The logic is changing. You should change your mindset and NEVER focus on calories ever again. Here's why:
What is a calorie, anyway?
A calorie is the amount of heat needed to heat one gram of water by one degree celsius. It's science. Calories in the foods we eat create the energy we need to function. Calories can be burned and they can be stored. Consume too many calories and your body will store the excess. Consume too few calories and your body will not function as it should.
So, wait - I thought we shouldn't count calories anymore!
Correct. You shouldn't. You need to know that calories provide energy...but, what is way more important (and what you should keep track of) is how your body responds to the energy it's given, and that's where the scary term "macronutrients" comes into play.
What is a macronutrient, anyway?
Everything you eat is some combination of the three macronutrients...protein, carbohydrates, and fats. That's it. (There is also alcohol, but I will save that for another post.) These macronutrients have a certain number of calories per gram.
Protein = 4 calories per gram
Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram
Fat = 9 calories per gram
To understand what this means, when you consume 30 grams of protein (like a protein shake), you are consuming 120 calories (30 grams protein x 4 calories per gram = 120 calories of protein). You are also consuming some fat and probably some carbs in that protein shake as well.
Stay with me here, people. Get up, stretch, walk around, take a mental break if you need it, but let all that sink in. I'll wait.
Okay, welcome back!
So, why is counting macronutrients more important than counting calories?
When you are trying to change your body composition, either by reducing your body fat percentage or increasing muscle, macros matter. You will not suddenly wake up one day, look in the mirror, and wonder how you added on muscle, Working out with heavy weights will definitely make you STRONGER, no question, but seeing those new muscles WILL NOT HAPPEN, unless you change your body composition.
In fact, you can increase strength and lose muscle mass at the same time. How does that happen??? When you don't give your body adequate protein for muscle building and repair, your body still needs energy to keep up with your heavy lifting. So, if you don't fuel with enough protein, you can still get stronger, but you will not build muscle, and will actually lose muscle because your body has to use the reduced supply of protein you gave it for energy.
Think of it this way: your body was built to survive - not to show off a glorified six pack. Above all else, your body will do what it needs to do to be resilient and function regardless of whether you know what you're doing. It will take energy from wherever it can get it to do all the jobs it needs to do.
But, I digress. Let's get back on track, shall we?
Every food you eat, either an apple or a Twinkie, consists of protein, carbs, and/or fats. And, each macronutrient has a job...a bodily function.
Protein aids in muscle growth and repair, as well as cartilage, bones, skin, and blood.
Carbohydrates give us energy.
Fat is also used for energy, and is important to our brain and nerves, skin, hormones, and transporting vitamins - don't fear the fat people - your body needs it to survive!!!!
THIS is why macros are so important. They each serve an important function in the proper regulation of how your body works. Too little protein and you can't build lean muscle mass, too little carbs and you will not have energy, too little fat, and you will run into all sort of biological functions.
Take the example above: Two tootsie rolls are 70 calories and so is one egg. But, when you break it down, looking at the MACROS of each item, it looks like this:
Tootsie Rolls: 2
Protein: .45 grams
Carbs: 13 grams (13 x4 = 52 calories)
Fat: 2 grams (2 x 9 = 18 calories)
Protein: 6 grams (6 x 4 = 24 calories)
Carbs: .50 grams (.5 x 4 = 2 calories)
Fat: 5 grams (5 x 9 = 45 calories)
Ok, so I was off by one calorie. The point is, tootsie rolls have practically zero protein and contains nothing but simple carbs (sugar), and a tiny bit of fat. This means that you will not feel as though you've eaten anything at all. Protein and fat are satiating, sugar is not. The tootsie roll isn't "bad" for you, but how many of us limit ourselves to two? And, how many of us consider a few tootsie rolls a meal or meaningful nutrients when considering how we fuel our bodies?
On the other hand, the egg is mainly protein and fat. This means that eating one egg will help you feel more satisfied compared to the two tootsie rolls.
So, how much of each macronutrient do we need?
Ahhh, that is the real question, isn't it. Our bodies are tricky little creatures and each person needs to find the right combination of macronutrients to perform his or her best. This question also depends on your goals. Are you looking to reduce body fat percentage, simply maintain, or are you looking to bulk up? A different combination is needed depending on your goals.
There are some general guidelines you can follow, but to narrow it more quickly and get a customized combination just for you, I highly recommend hiring a nutritionist or an RD (Registered Dietician).
If you aren't ready for that, here are some VERY general guidelines you can follow. Track your intake for a week and see what happens. If there are ZERO changes, then play around with your carb and fat numbers and track for another week. Like I said, our bodies are tricky and it takes time, and a whole mess of patience, to zero in on the right combination for you. If, like me, you are not a patient person, then hire someone to help you and let him or her take the lead.
The below guidelines are taken straight from the "Thinner, Leaner, Stronger" book by Michael Matthews.
To lose 0.5 - 1 pound per week and still preserve most of your muscle, start with these numbers:
1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day
1 gram of carbs per pound of body weight per day
0.2 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day
For a 140 pound woman, it would look like this:
170 grams of protein per day
140 grams of carbs per day
30 grams of fat per day
This comes to about 1,510 calories per day.
If you are looking to add muscle, get ready to see the scale increase. You MUST be in a calorie surplus to add muscle. To keep from gaining to much body FAT while on a bulk, look for 0.25 - 0.5 pounds per week. If you see much more than that, you may be consuming too many calories. Michael Matthews recommends starting with the following numbers:
1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day
2 grams of carbs per pound of body weight per day
0.4 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day
For a 110 pound woman, it would look like this:
110 grams of protein per day
220 grams of carbs per day
45 grams of fat per day
This comes to about 1,725 calories per day.
As you can see, a bulking phase is NOT an excuse to consume all the food things. It's really only about a 200 calorie difference. That's not a whole heck of a lot! It's not some free-for-all reason to hit up the Golden Corral buffet every night!
Again, this only provides a starting point. We are very unique individuals with very different needs. Start here, track your food, and make adjustments on a weekly basis.
TRACK AND WEIGH EVERY SINGLE THING.
This is a scientific process (but not one that lasts forever) and needs to be treated as such. Grabbing a few bites off your kids plate WILL make a difference. You can't make the necessary adjustments if you are not committed to the process.
And, like I said, if you want to see results quicker, hire someone to help you. In my honest opinion, it's hard enough to meal prep, weigh everything down to the gram, and meet your numbers everyday. If you can take the guesswork out of the equation and just do as your told by a PROFESSIONAL FOOD EXPERT PERSON, then why not do that??!!
So, you're dieting. Or, as I like to say, "Eating According to Your Goals."
But, lemme guess - your friends and family may not be 100% on board with you whipping out the food scale, asking for just a salad and dipping your fork into the dressing (that you had served on the side) before taking three bites and calling it quits.
Am I right???
Look - most of us are social creatures. You don't have to be a buzz kill going out to eat with your friends. Granted, you don't have to attend every single social outing on the planet, but you can rest assured that going out from time to time is perfectly acceptable - even when you are on a diet...err, I mean eating according to your goals.
Here are some useful tips to get you through those restaurant outings. Incorporate these simple tips and you will definitely set yourself up to succeed!
Tip #1: You choose the restaurant
Why not be the person that arranges the big night out or the seemingly "impromptu" lunch date? Most major chain restaurants have their nutrition online these days, so go ahead and research it before you suggest an outing. It's hard to be a buzz kill when you're the one suggesting the get together.
While I was recently on my 12 week cut, Mother's Day was right smack dab in the middle of it. Rather than wondering what my mom would want to do or what my brother and sister-in-law might plan, I texted everyone and suggested we meet at Rio Bravo Sunday, 12:30, Northpoint Mall area. Was-lah! I went online, planned my day around that meal, and everyone "oohed and awed" how I could eat all that and still lose weight.
Tip #2: Be first one to order
Regardless of the restaurant, do your best to be the first person to place your order. This way, you don't have to focus on what everyone else is doing and watch as your willpower scurries off and hides in the corner. Order first (with confidence, I might add), and be proud of your smart decision making. It may even set the tone for how others order as well.
Tip #3: Enter what you plan to eat in your mobile app BEFORE you arrive
If you are tracking your food, and you certainly should be if you have goals, this is absolutely critical! Seeing those seemingly good choices glaring back at you in your app is akin to wearing a WWJD bracelet in the midst of stealing a candy bar from the line in Targe (did you enjoy that dated reference?). Nothing like a good ol' guilt ridden entry on My Fitness Pal to get your decisions going in the right direction. That 1200 calorie appetizer has a funny way of suddenly losing its appeal when you see it BEFORE you eat it.
Tip #4: Whatever you order, remember KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)
Order your meats baked, broiled, or grilled. Order your veggies steamed. Watch out for sauces, stay away from the condiments, breads, chips, etc. and other free crap that makes its way to your table. If you didn't order it, probably best to stay away from it. Remember, waiters don't bring out items to try and fill you up before you order. What would be the point in that?? They bring out all the simple carbs! Foods that you can eat gobs and gobs of and still have plenty of room for the main course. In fact, the free foods they bring entice you into ordering more. Think about that.
Lemme guess - grilled chicken with a side of steamed veggies sounds boring, right? I mean, look at what so-and-so gets to eat! But, remember this - you can't have your cake and eat it too (just wanted to use a pun there). Seriously, though, remember that the whole POINT of getting together with friends is to....dare I say...get together with friends. Don't make it about the food - make it about the atmosphere, the music, the laughs, the company, the fact that the kids are home with the sitter, the fact you aren't doing the cooking...or the cleanup - these are the things you should focus on! This is about mindset. Don't focus on what you don't get to eat - focus on who you get to eat with.
Tip #5: Don't be afraid to ask questions
Again, if you are tracking, this is critical. There's nothing embarrassing about wanting to know how many ounces of chicken is served in the grilled chicken salad. This is a restaurant and they are keeping track of how much food is going out the door. They know how much chicken goes on a salad - so just ask. They also know how their foods are prepared. With all the food allergies these days, that's a no-brianer. So, just ask them. And, be ready to ask for substitutions if needed.
If you are trying to stay low carb, for example, and your steak comes with a potato, ask to substitute broccoli instead. If they have it, they will do it. Ask for real butter, none of that imitation crap. Or, ask that they use very little olive oil, or whatever. The point here is to just ask.
If you don't feel comfortable asking all of this in front of people, then call ahead.
Tip #6: Drink your water
Water makes you feel full so drink a glass before you walk out the door and another glass at the table. If you're like me and don't find water all that exciting, take along some Mio drops and use a quick squirt when your water arrives. Tons of flavor and makes drinking your "medicine" easy-peasy. Bonus: there are so many flavors of this stuff, you might even feel like a kid choosing a Kool-Aid flavor again.
Tip #7: Save your fruit for dessert or share your dessert with the table
Fruit is carbs (so log it), but fruit is healthy and packed with all sorts of awesome nutrients (so enjoy it). And, typically, restaurants don't willingly hand out huge portions of it. Save it for a guilt free dessert !
IF you must order a dessert, get input from your compadres, and order something you will share with everyone at the table. A few bites is typically rich and satisfying. You get to savor it - you're sharing the love - it's what I like to call a win-win.
There's absolutely no reason why you can't be successful at cutting calories, tracking your food, AND enjoying a meal out with friends. Live your life and do the best you can. It's really all about consistency, not perfection. You will continue to see results if you are staying aware, making smart decisions, and hitting your numbers more days than not.
If you are new to your diet, and these tips sound awful, and you don't trust yourself to refrain from eating and drinking all the things, then Just Say No. Sit a few outings...out. Don't go. It won't be forever. If you know you aren't strong enough, and the temptation is too great, then know it, realize it, and simply don't go until you get a handle on your diet. You will get stronger in your determination every day, and soon enough, you will find your place at the table.
When you begin tracking your macros, it's probably best to start simple. An apple, for example, is pretty easy to weigh and log. Eating 4 oz of grilled chicken breast and 1 cup of broccoli is also easy to measure and log.
However, sometimes we want a little variety and a complicated recipe is calling our name! Well, maybe the recipe isn't complicated, but it has several ingredients and becomes overwhelming in the world of tracking.
Remeber, it's always best to weight ingredients as ounces and grams rather than cups and tablespoons!
So, let's say you have a recipe for a casserole dish. Begin by weighing your individual items (one head of cauliflower after you've chopped it, for example) or scanning the barcode (pre-bagged cauliflower rice). Enter the weight into MFP or whatever app you are using in either grams or ounces.
If your recipe calls for a type of meat, and you can cook it separately, then I prefer to cook and then weigh, rather than weighing it raw.
Before you place your ingredients into the casserole dish, weigh the dish by itself. Then, hit the tare button to clear it. Add all ingredients into the the dish and get your accurate weight. Enter this number (in grams) into your app. For example, let's say your entire contents within the casserole dish (not the dish itself) is 1,761 grams. ENTER THIS NUMBER AS 1 SERVING.
Now, when you go to serve yourself, weigh your plate, tare it, then scoop out the number of grams you wish to eat. Was-lah! That's it!
You've worked out every single day this week!
Your nutrition has been on point!
Way to go!
You've tracked your macros, disciplined yourself, and met your goals this week!
You should be super proud of yourself!
And, now....It's Fri-Yay!
Time to loosen the reins, right? You've certainly earned it, right? Time to relax a little, go out with friends, have that second glass of wine, eat that big meal (and appetizer), finish it off with dessert, and then eat the donuts at Sunday School.
...You'll get back on track first thing Monday morning....
But, see, here's the thing - don't let the weekends be the time to TORCH YOUR HOUSE!
Think of a builder. He works all week hammering the wood to create an awesome foundation for his new home.. He's precise in his work, sweats all day long in the heat from 7AM - 7PM focusing on all the details to get it just right.
He steps back and looks at the progress he's made in just one short week - it's awesome and truly satisfying. Before getting in his car to head home for the weekend, he douses his new home with gasoline, lights a match....and sets his house on fire. Why would he do that??!!!
He shows back up Monday morning. Sure, the foundation is there, but it's charred. Some of the wood will have to be replaced. Granted, he doesn't have to start COMPLETELY from scratch, but he's got a long way to go to get it back to where it was.
See where this is going?
Your body is the house. You've worked hard, stayed disciplined and tracked all week, but Friday comes and we relax for THREE DAYS!!! We stop tracking, eat a little more here and there, and maybe even skip the workout. We look at the scale Monday morning and wonder where it all went wrong. Even worse, we look at the scale three months later and wonder why our progress is so slow.
If you have a goal, whether it be to reduce body fat or increase muscle, or heck - even maintain, don't let the weekends be an excuse to derail your goals. Trust me, torching the house on the weekends will not keep you in maintenance for very long. Eating poorly and not tracking 3/7 days, will lead to fat gain...it just will. We have to keep ourselves in check - especially when it comes to the portion sizes on the Standard American Diet.
Can you celebrate special occasions?
Can you enjoy the company of your friends and family?
Can you enjoy the foods you love?
Can you cut loose and live fancy free half the week and expect to see progress?
It's just that simple.
But, there is a lot of info on that label. We all know to look at ingredients. We also know that the more ingredients a product has, the more processed it is.
But, do you compare the SERVING SIZE between products? Do you look at what a serving actually is?
Take this Pam Olive Oil Cooking Spray. I know enough about olive oil to know that it is pure fat (in a good way). I also know that one tablespoon is 14g of fat, 0 protein, and 0 carbs. So, imagine my surprise when I turned the can around and saw that it was 0 calories, 0 carb, 0 protein, AND ZERO fat?!?!? How is that even possible?
Well, look at the serving size. It's comical. A serving is 1/4 of a second spray. How long is that exactly? Need more help? It's .25 grams. A paper clip is about one gram....so if you chop a paper clip into four pieces...that's the equivalent to how much olive oil cooking spray you can use to keep it zero fat. Hilarious. Who honestly uses 1/4 of a second cooking spray? And, even worse, how do you account for going over 1/4 of a second? Side note: It's also funny (to me at least) that there are 473 servings in this one can. I want to meet the person that tested that theory?
This is a mere illustration as to why labels are so important. Rarely, and I mean RARELY people, do we stick to an ACTUAL serving size. This is true of condiments like ketchup, BBQ sauce and salad dressings, mayo, etc. But, it's also true of canned items like soup. We almost always eat the whole can, but it's at least TWO servings per can, and sometimes more.
Even a 5 ounce can of tuna is considered two servings.
Moral of the story is to BE CAREFUL! If you are tracking your food (and even if you're not) it's super important to read at the label.