By Amy Lawrenson
When it comes to food, the fittest women don’t rely on guesswork, they use maths. Welcome to macro counting!
￼Here’s a scenario for you: you eat pizza, chase it with a glass of red, then seal the deal with a slice of cake. By the week’s end, you’ve lost weight and you can see that lovely bit of muscle you’ve been after for the past six months. This is the dream scenario for most of us. It’s also what life’s like when you stop counting kilojoules and start counting macros.
Know your ratios
“The best diet is the one you can stick to. It must be achievable and enjoyable – that way you will continue on the programme because it’s realistic,” says Joburg-based integrative clinical nutritionist Lara de Chazal.
“Everyone, by default, eats a macronutrient diet daily because all foods are made up of either protein, carbs or fat – it’s just the ratios we eat them in that differs from person to person. Some people prefer
a higher-protein ratio, others do better on higher-carb. It’s not a matter of sticking to a macronutrient diet – it’s a matter of determining your unique ratio of protein, carbs and fat.”
Take carbs: they’re not always the enemy that Atkins would have you believe. If you’re exercising regularly, they’re essential for energy. But with a more sedentary lifestyle, they become problematic. At rest, the body prefers to utilise fat for fuel, but switches to carbohydrates during high-intensity exercise, so rest days are better fuelled with a higher fat and protein to carb ratio, while on active days, a higher carb/protein ratio is preferable – because excess fat will just be stored for later.
To figure out your macro ratio, you need to work out your basal metabolic rate (BMR) – the rate at which your body uses energy to stay alive. Then take into consideration your activity level. The calculation will then give you a daily kilojoule target, which you can split into the three macronutrients. (See “Fire Up Your Calculator!”, below.)
How you use this is entirely up to you – so yes, you can have pizza and a glass of wine if you so wish. This has led to a movement on the diet’s spiritual home, Instagram. Cue a stream of indulgent- looking meals hashtagged #IIFYM: “If It Fits Your Macronutrients” (we’ll pause while you type it into your phone).
The fine print
“Kilojoules have different impacts on our hormones and metabolic pathways. Fat, protein and carbohydrates are all broken down and processed through different routes in the body,” explains De Chazal. However, the body doesn’t recognise that foods are “bad” or “good”, only whether it’s a fat, carbohydrate or protein. This doesn’t, sadly, give you carte blanche to eat junk 24/7 just because it fits your macro ratio. You need to eat good, wholesome food to ensure you’re getting enough micronutrients (vitamins and minerals found in fruit and vegetables) and fibre (whole grains and oats). Counting macros isn’t a miracle pill. The 80/20 rule applies: 80 percent of your food should come from good, nutritious sources.
The great thing about macro counting is that if you’re strategic about your kilojoules, you can factor in a bit of chocolate or a slice of pizza every day, if you want to, and not go over your allowance. And restricting your indulgences to harder training days – if you do go over by a few grams – won’t ruin your progress in the long run.
Want to get macros into your life? Remember these two things: your weight (which, in turn, affects your BMR) and how active you are. Pretty much every macro is tied to this. The easiest way to track your daily intake is with an app. My Fitness Pal has an extensive list of foods, with macronutrient ratings, while Calorie Counter Macros is simple – both are free. It takes a bit of trial and error to find your ideal macro ratio, but it’s worth it. Eating based on macros is a re-education in eating properly. But once you’ve nailed it, there’ll be no going back.
This macro calculator is wil help