Counting Macros – The right Strategy to achieve fitness Goals?

Author: Subia Khan (WiN Consultant & INFS Scholar)

Back in time, most reliable approach people looked forward to lose weight / lose fat / get fit has been “Burn what you consume.”A step ahead this moved to counting calories (count whatever you eat).With more research works and facts, the concept of eat and burn or counting calories has moved on to a less known fundamental of “Counting Macros”.This clubs the idea of “in vs out”, “count what you eat” and also brings in the most critical element of “know what you eat.”

What Macros mean?

Macros abbreviated for Macronutrients are the primary source of providing energy to body. Classified as Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats; along with Micronutrients playing an essential supporting role; macros are responsible to constantly feed body and system with energy to perform day to day activities and keep system working at its pace even at sleep and rest.

A gram of carbohydrate and protein fetches 4 calories whereas fat is more calorie dense with 9 calories in one gram. Alcohol is a separate case all together where one gram gives 7 calories. 

How it works?

Carbohydrates are the primary and preferred source of energy for body and brain. They increase the blood glucose levels in body to give energy. Proteins are the essential building blocks for building and maintaining muscle mass. Fats have been long cursed to increase weight; are apparently one of the most important macronutrients which aid the regulation of hormones and brain functions. 

Proper macros breakup and fueling body according to it is a great strategy. A diet which makes client eat as per his choice and achieve his fitness goal is most efficient and sustainable in a longer term. This strategy breaks the stereotype of being on a “diet” – often considered as being jailed to food or giving restricted food choices which is not so true. It makes mind and body sync in a better way by keeping happy hormones up in accord of their required level, gives psychological comfort and generates output at exercise routine too. Fueling through right macros also aids in proper recovery of muscles at rest. 

Which strategy? The major difference:

  1. Eat and Burn (expend what you consume):Often witnessed people go crazy on treadmills / cross trainers or group exercising sessions after having a meal for soul not for body. They believe that shedding off / burning the extra calories consumed will not hamper their progress and maintain their physique. While it is not totally wrong for one such meal, but making this a diet strategy every day can take us away / extend the time from reaching desired goals or may not be contributing towards achieving goals at all. It might stand valid for maintenance phase when proteins requirement is met. 
Counting Macros

This strategy is often adapted by all who believe they are fitness oriented and preach much bro-science. A close watch to such people would make you understand that they don’t show progress over very long periods of time; they can be compared to cockroaches that stayed the same after years of evolutionary changes. 

Also eat and burn strategy is often over / under analyzed. While one feels he ate 500 extra calories and runs on treadmill to burn those 500, it may not hold true in either case. 

An extension to this theory is “calories in vs. calories out”(expend more than you consume to lose, eat surplus than what you expend to gain). “In vs. out” is the base fact to reach a goal and still stays valid but if the composition of these calories remains unaddressed by merely counting your X calories a day, the purpose / goal might still stay unachieved. 

  • Counting calories: 

Simplycounting calories does not account for quality of food; it can only measure quantity.While this works for a day or two when one is in a tough or non-manageable situation (for eg. medical emergency, unplanned travel, non-availability of some food etc.) but making this strategy as the accelerator to reach fitness goals will only prolong or not reach the finishing line. 

  • Counting Macros:

Well-calculated macros and sticking to good sources of food makes much more sense than any other strategy. When a person counts or tracks his macros; which means he knows he will take X gms of carb, Y gms of protein, Z gms of fat along with fiber, micronutrients, vitamins etc. to fulfill his calories for the day, he is able to know what he is feeding his body with and how he responds to each of the macronutrient; a close watch will make him know what works best for him to get results. 

People often confuse this with IIFYM. FollowingIIFYM approach (if it fits your macros) is not great if protein requirement of individual is not fulfilled.While deciding on macro breakup, the first thing to account for is protein requirement of body, once this is fixed the rest can be played with. The proportion of carbs and fats can be more of goal based and individual choice. However a generic approach suggests that a person seeking fat loss can choose high carb / low fat or high fat / low carb, keeping total calories constant while a person trying to gain mass should take up a high carb diet keeping calories in check. 

If counting macros and weighing food fetches required results in a tentative time frame and brings us a step closer to our goal, it sure isn’t bad for the result it delivers! Counting macros allows us to customize diet in a better manner which in turn enhances performance, body composition, sleep quality, muscle mass, strength levels, mind health and much more. In short it makes diet sustainable! 

Being macros adhered has long been a fad amongst bodybuilders.  However a person seeking fitness, or is physique conscious or overall health conscious can equally play on the same strategy even though his end goal may not be competition prep or modeling. 

How to do?

A newbie will never like the idea of weighing food each day. He may even dislike the idea of eating the same food each day! But a one-time effort in making mind sync with the goal and then the gradual results which follow week after week or month after month sets the person on fire. 

It is always a better deal to stick to right food sources; e.g. Complex carbs over simple, foods with complete protein profiles over others, fibres as fillers and so on.  With time this can be molded to a flexible approach which means multiple options yielding the same macro breakup or else making an 80-20 rule (80% through whole foods, 20 through junk) or something similar. This can be introduced once results are evident, person is more head strong and even more focused than before. However a 100% adherence is always the best choice. 

A variety of apps help to track macros and count calories depending on the body, goal and lifestyle of an individual. Apps like Myfitnesspal or Fittr, Online calculators and other fitness apps can help individual know his requirement, macro breakup as per his chosen diet strategy, help to clock daily food and track progress. These apps also help in accounting macros and plan meals in advance by clocking in food for upcoming dates giving short term weekly goals which appear much more achievable. It also saves last minute goof ups in plan and helps in meal prep. 

It takes some time but gradually the person syncs with the idea of eating healthy within macros and makes it more of a lifestyle than just another goal. 

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