For those new to the world of fitness and nutrition, the concept of counting macros can seem daunting. Macronutrients, or macros, are the nutrients your body needs in large amounts: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Understanding and managing these can be a game-changer for your health and fitness goals. This guide is designed to introduce beginners to the basics of counting macros and how supplements can play a supportive role in this nutritional strategy.
Before diving into the specifics of macro counting, it’s crucial to first grasp what macronutrients are and the key roles they play in our diet. Macronutrients include three key nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
- Carbohydrates: Essential for energy, carbs are found in foods like grains, fruits, and vegetables. They should be a significant part of your diet, especially if you’re active.
- Proteins: Crucial for muscle repair and growth, proteins are in meats, dairy products, and legumes. They are especially vital for those looking to build or maintain muscle mass.
- Fats: Necessary for hormone production and nutrient absorption, healthy fats are found in nuts, seeds, and oils. They are also key for long-term energy.
Counting macronutrients, often referred to as ‘macro counting,’ is a dietary approach where you track your intake of these three macronutrients. Unlike traditional calorie counting, this method focuses on the quality and balance of these nutrients in your diet. It’s a strategy embraced not just for weight management but also for optimizing overall health, improving dietary habits, and enhancing athletic performance. By understanding and managing your macro intake, you can tailor your diet to better align with your specific health and fitness goals.
How to Start Counting Macros
Counting macronutrients involves keeping track of the grams of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates you consume each day. This can be done by reading nutritional labels on food packaging, which provide information on the macro content per serving. For fresh foods without labels, like fruits and vegetables, using food databases or apps can give you the necessary macro information. Many people find it helpful to use a digital food scale for accuracy, especially when portion sizes are not straightforward.
To simplify the process, there are also numerous apps and tools available that allow you to log what you eat and automatically calculate your daily macro totals, making it easier to stay on top of your dietary goals.
But where do you start? Here is our step-by-step suggestion:
- Determine Your Goals: Weight loss, muscle gain, or maintaining your current weight will dictate your macro approach.
- Calculate Your Needs: Use an online macro calculator to determine your daily needs based on your goals, weight, height, age, and activity level.
- Track Your Intake: Apps or food journals can help you track your daily intake of carbs, proteins, and fats.
Common Challenges and Tips
While counting macros can be an incredibly effective tool for achieving your dietary goals, it’s not without its challenges, especially for beginners. Here are some things you need to pay attention to:
- Balance Your Plate: A balanced meal includes a portion of each macro. For instance, a balanced plate might include grilled chicken (protein), quinoa (carbs), and avocado (fats).
- Eating Out: Eating out can present a challenge for macro counting, as restaurants don’t always display nutritional information for their dishes. In such scenarios, it’s beneficial to opt for meals that are simpler and made with whole foods, as it’s easier to estimate their macro content. You can always ask the staff about the ingredients or preparation methods; alternatively, there are smartphone apps that provide estimated nutritional values for common restaurant dishes. If needed, don’t be afraid to ask for modifications to your chosen dish.
- Snacking: Opt for snacks that align with your macro goals and offer a balance of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. For instance, Greek yogurt with a handful of berries and a sprinkle of nuts provides a good mix of all three macronutrients. Another excellent choice could be hummus with sliced vegetables and whole-grain crackers.
- Consistency: Stick to your macro goals most of the time, but allow flexibility. Allowing yourself occasional indulgences or adjustments based on your activity level or special occasions can make macro counting more sustainable and enjoyable in the long term.
The Role of Supplements in Counting Macros
While whole foods should always be your primary source of nutrients, supplements can fill gaps in your diet. Some key supplements that can complement your macro counting regimen include omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics.
Omega-3s, often found in fish oil, are crucial for heart health and have anti-inflammatory properties. If your diet lacks fatty fish like salmon or mackerel, supplementing with omega-3s can ensure you get these vital nutrients, supporting overall health and aiding in the prevention of chronic diseases (1). (It’s important to remember that omega-3s are fats and should be included in your macro count accordingly.)
Probiotics, on the other hand, support gut health, aiding in digestion and the maintenance of a healthy gut microbiome (2). A healthy gut is key to absorbing the nutrients you count meticulously. This is particularly important when making significant dietary changes, as it ensures that your body is effectively utilizing the nutrients from your food.
Research Verified Omega-3: THE BEST WAY TO GET YOUR OMEGA-3S?
Counting macros can be a highly effective strategy for reaching your fitness and nutrition goals. As a beginner, start with understanding your individual needs, track consistently, and aim for balance in your meals. Remember, supplements can be a useful tool in your macro-counting journey, helping you meet your nutritional needs and supporting your overall health and fitness objectives. As always, consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new diet or supplement regimen.