his is a question I hear more and more often amongst many gym-goers. It’s not to say that most people haven’t heard of macros (macronutrients) but rather there is far too much misleading, contradicting & downright confusing information out there when it comes understanding what we’re fuelling ourselves with every day. As a key step to optimising health, we must be able to comprehend the major role played by the food we eat that shapes our physical health & performance.
To understand what macronutrients (macros) are, we first must understand their relationship with calories. ALL foods (except “zero calorie” drinks) contain a caloric value (which is essentially our fuel) and the total caloric value can be split up into the macronutrients of that particular food. The major macros consumed by us daily being protein, carbohydrates and fat. The density of calories in foods can range greatly from those very low in calories (most vegetables) to those very high in calories (deep fried anything).
Protein & carbohydrates contain 4 calories/gram, fat contains 9 calories/gram and alcohol (the 4th macro) contains 7 calories/gram.
Calorie counting is based on simply determining the total number of calories you need to eat per day (relative to your goals) and keeping track of your daily intake. Counting macros goes that one step further and is based on tracking the amount of protein, carbs and fat in your daily meals and manipulating this balance to suit your goals, all the while staying on top of your total calorie intake.
No single food is inherently BAD. Nor is any single food inherently GOOD. All foods, regardless of their caloric density can be a part of anyone’s diet.
However, if your goal is to lose weight, you must understand that you cannot do so without creating a calorie deficit - what goes in each day (food) equals less than what goes out (expended energy). So it's only wise for your nutritional decisions to be well thought out. Adversely, building a bigger version of yourself (assuming lean muscle gain is the goal) can only be achieved through a total calorie surplus.
Think of your calories (and associated macros) as your daily budget in terms of the energy you have available to “spend” throughout each day. In a calorie deficit, your budget is like that of a European backpacker and the food choices you make typically have to be quite planned out (or ideally tracked) to ensure your “backpacker’s budget” doesn’t have you going into debt - over consuming your daily calorie intake.
Regardless of your goals, there is no perfect diet. Just like there is no perfect daily macro split.
In order to achieve a result, you must be able to adhere to a plan long enough for that result to manifest. If your goal is to reduce body fat, your plan must involve a calorie deficit, which will likely leave you quite hungry at times because your body is used to more food. This will require a greater attention to detail and an invaluable understanding of the macro breakdown of different foods so you can still eat a sufficient total volume of food whilst still sticking to your plan and not going hungry.
There are far too many variables that will either increase or reduce the level of adherence to a particular nutritional plan.
Achieving your specific goals will typically take quite a bit of trial & error with your daily food intake in order to find what works best for you.
Whether aiming to gain muscle, drop fat or simply maintain your current body composition, understanding what it is that you’re putting in your mouth (and the macros/calories that go along with it) is a necessary component for anyone looking to optimise gains in the gym, change in body shape as well as an added boost in productivity & performance in day-to-day activities.
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