A holistic approach to fitness involves a proper balance of both working out and nutrition. What you eat can be important in maintaining a sustainable workout routine. This is where tracking macros can come in.
Macros, or macronutrients, according to the World Health Organization, are the nutrients that provide energy and are required in large amounts by your body to maintain body functions and carry out daily activities. There are three broad classifications of macronutrients—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Carbs are typically the primary source of energy for our body, and are generally recommended to make up 45 to 65 percent of your total caloric intake. Carbohydrates can be simple and complex, coming in the forms of sugar, starch and fibre. Complex carbs such as whole grains and vegetables can be an important part of our diet, as they can offer benefits for the digestive system, the brain, the heart, and so on.
Proteins are essential for the functioning of your body. They look after the health of your cells, and can strengthen your muscles and bones, help in carrying oxygen, and regulate hormones. Generally, proteins are recommended to account for 10 to 35 percent of your total calories.
Fats are also essential for your body. Trans fats and saturated fats can have a detrimental effect on your body, but healthy, unsaturated fats play a crucial role. They provide energy and help in nutrient absorption.
What Is Counting Macros?
Counting macros involves tracking how much of each macronutrient you are consuming in a day, which enables you to figure out the ratio of carbs, proteins and fats in your diet. Shiny Surendran, sports and preventive dietitian, says, “When it comes to macros, it’s not only about energy or how many calories are being consumed. It is also about things like the essential amino acids coming from protein and essential fatty acids from fats. Macro counting helps to understand exactly where the calories are coming from, the specific types of food being eaten. For example, in the case of idli or dosa, the calories come from the rice, the dal, and the oil you are using.”
The calories provided by these macros are not the same. While carbs and proteins offer 4 calories per gram, fats offer 9 calories per gram. It is also important to pay attention to how your food makes you feel after eating or how your body reacts to specific foods—the satiety, the energy levels—as that can be an indication of the requirements of your body.
In order to calculate your macros, several factors need to be considered—age, height, weight, level of activity, and in the case of athletes, things such as the type and duration of the sports events you are in, and your sweat rate. Then, based on the specific goal in mind, the caloric requirement and the macronutrient ratio of the food consumed can be calculated, through websites, apps for counting macros such as MyFitnessPal, through food journaling, and with the help of a professional.
Benefits of Tracking Macros
- Tracking your macros can be helpful in achieving certain fitness goals. By understanding the breakdown of what kind of food is fueling your body, it helps you to tweak the percentage of dietary macro components according to your needs. It can also help to focus on the quality of the food consumed rather than simply calories. Macro counting can help you if you are trying to increase your muscle mass, or trying to gain or lose weight.
- It is also beneficial for people with certain health conditions, such as diabetes and kidney issues.
- In a sports context, especially, counting macros can be beneficial to optimise performance. Surendran says, “For athletes, it can be important to keep track of their macros. What they’re taking pre-workout or post-workout—their calories are counted, and they are taught about what kind of food they must choose. For example, pre-workout, it has to be a carbohydrate-rich meal, and for post-workout, the focus is on carbohydrates, protein, and electrolytes to facilitate recovery.”
The Downside of Counting Macros
- Proper nutritional balance is ensured by the intake of both macronutrients and micronutrients. But counting macros does not take into account the vitamins and minerals a person is getting through their daily diet. Surendran says, “While counting macros, the vitamins and minerals are not taken into consideration. So other needs such as daily calcium requirement or iron meant for a female individual—these are not taken into consideration, which also need to be paid attention to. So people can end up with deficiencies, specifically when they want to lose weight.” Ultimately, having a balanced meal is the most important.
- Counting macros can also be detrimental for individuals with a history of eating disorders. In fact, a study involving college students published in Eating Behaviors showed associations between symptoms of disordered eating patterns and use of fitness and calorie trackers.
Take the advice of a professional to figure out if counting macros is suitable for you.