Macros, in the dietary sense, refers to proteins, fats and carbs. Unless you live under a rock, you probably have some knowledge that these three things are important for your fitness, health, or body goals. Unfortunately, knowing why they are important can be confusing but make no mistake, it is VERY important to understand why macros, and counting macros, is all but essential for fat loss, muscle gain or any other body or fitness goal.
Changing your body composition (getting leaner, building muscle, maintaining weight but being leaner, etc.), can feel very daunting and can be quite challenging. When searching online for help regarding ANY body composition change goal, from fat loss to muscle building, you will be inundated with advice and data on each topic. The amount of information is not bad per se, but it can be challenging to pick out the good from the bad, especially when you are commencing on your health and fitness journey. On one web page you may read about the benefits of low carb diets complete with compelling information and scientific sources. Next you scroll down to the following website and you may read that low-fat diets are best, also presented convincingly, complete with their own scientific sources. Some pages praise avoiding all meat products (vegan), while others tell you that avoiding plants is the key (carnivore). ALL of them counter each other despite each presenting convincing cases.
Forget about personal stories and pictures. In 10 seconds, you can find testimonials with before and after pictures to support any diet type. This is enough to drive a person crazy. Believe it or not, a large percentage of people never set fitness or body composition goals because they are so confused, and don’t have a clue where to start. Perhaps this is you? Do you feel lost with all the fat loss/muscle building/body composition information out there? If you do, do not feel bad. I have personally trained and coached hundreds of people towards their fitness and body composition goals, and almost every single one of my clients felt exactly like you do.
Finding the right information is a nightmare for most people, but it doesn’t have to be. Believe it or not, there is a CLEAR and scientific consensus on how to eat for any goal. I can personally back these findings up through decades of experience and training. Although there is always an individual variance from person to person, there are some pretty hard RULES for body composition changes.
One rule is a law of physics. Like any scientific “law,” it is constant and true for anyone. The law I am referring to is known as the 1st law of thermodynamics, the law of conservation. It states that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. This means that something cannot come from nothing, and that something cannot just become nothing. To put it plainly and to apply it to your body, you cannot gain body fat or muscle, or any solid weight for that matter, unless your body has the energy (calories) and building blocks to do so. In other words, you can’t gain body fat or muscle from thin air. The opposite is also true. You cannot lose muscle or fat without the energy that was being stored from fat or muscle being converted to something else (frequently energy for movement or other functions).
What does this all mean for you? It means that ANY diet that is going to promote weight loss MUST contain less calories than you burn. It also means that ANY diet that is going to promote weight gain must contain more calories than you burn. There is no getting around this law. You could eat the healthiest, whole food diet of all time, and if it contains too much energy or too many calories, you will gain weight. All diets that promote weight loss are essentially “low-calorie” diets. All diets that promote weight gain are essentially “high calorie” diets. If you need help figuring out the number of calories to eat for your goals try our BMR calculator.
Now that we have established that energy matters a LOT, we should also note that what your diet is made up of can determine your health, how you feel, and whether or not you gain or lose fat or muscle. What you eat within the calories is VERY important.
The calories in your food are generally made up of three macronutrients: proteins, fats and carbs. The ratio of each macronutrient consumed makes up your daily calories and can make a huge difference in how you get to your goals, and how easy or difficult it will be to maintain your goals.
Let’s start with protein. This macronutrient is essential, meaning EVERYONE needs to consume at least some protein. Our bodies NEED protein or they cannot function properly. Regardless of whatever diet you follow, it must have some protein. Essential protein is around 40-60 grams a day for the average person. Studies are clear on the optimal amount of protein for fat loss and muscle building. Higher protein diets have been shown to be CONSISTENTLY better at promoting fat loss, muscle gain, speeding up the metabolism and at controlling hunger. What is considered “high protein?” Roughly 0.6 to 1 gram of protein per pound of your body weight if you are not obese. If you are obese, use your lean body mass as your target. Example: a 130lbs average to overweight (but not obese) woman would aim for roughly 80 to 130 grams of protein a day.
Next up is fat. Fat is also an essential nutrient which must be consumed for simple survival. So long as essential fat is consumed, any amount above it is fine so long as your calories are within target of your goal. Essential fat for most people is around 40-70 grams a day. Some people feel better on the higher end and others on the lower end. If your carbs are very low, your fat can be much higher without the risk of eating too many calories.
Carbs are non-essential. You could not eat a single carb for the rest of your life, and although it may not feel ideal, your body’s functions would be fine. Some people like eating lower carb diets because they say it helps them with appetite control. Regardless, a low carb diet will not help you lose fat faster than a diet that has the same amount of protein and calories. For athletic and performance purposes, low carb diets are typically inferior to diets that have more carbs. If you are interested in strength or performance, you will probably do better if you stay away from low carb diets.
Knowing what your macro nutrient targets are can be an EXCELLENT way of getting to your goals. Not knowing your targets places a lot of guess work in your method, and usually results in confusion or in going too far in one way or another with calories and macros. Food tracking apps are easily accessible and can help you track your macros so that you can hit your goals. Although tracking macros and calories isn’t the be all end all solution for long term success (at some point you won’t want to have to count everything all the time), it’s the best place to start if you want to see consistent progress and results. If you need more help figuring out your personal macro targets check out our online macro calculator page.