Still Counting Calories? How to Use Macro Calculating to Meet Your Health Goals

Let’s start by debunking an age-old myth about diet: optimal eating is not, in fact, about your raw caloric intake. The old way of thinking about nutrition was that, to successfully manage weight, the only thing that mattered was the simplistic calories in versus calories out calculation.

There are many reasons why counting calories alone is a poor method for achieving your health goals. For one, everyone burns calories differently. Each person’s individual metabolism, the process of converting food and drinks into energy for the body, is influenced by a number of factors including genetics, age, sex, physical activity, and body size. That means that a simple formula can’t accurately tell you how many calories you burn in a day or how well you body absorbs calories from food. 

Additionally, foods that are low in calories tend to be low in nutrients too. To maintain a healthy and functional body, you need a balance of macronutrients and micronutrients. These are easier for your body to absorb when the food you eat is fresh and unprocessed.

Rather than getting out your calorie calculator for every meal and snack, you should be asking yourself how the types of food that you eat affect your health. Here we will introduce you to macro calculating, why it’s useful, and how you can start counting your own macros instead of counting calories.

What Are Macros?

All food is primarily made up of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, and these are the three types of macronutrients. Some foods may have very little of one or two of these, but the human body needs all three to be healthy and strong. However, your body doesn’t need the same amount of each of these, so you need to learn how to find the right balance of them in your diet. While all three give you energy, they each have additional roles for your body that you need to consider when choosing your diet.

Why Do You Need Macronutrients?

The human body requires all three macronutrients. Though carbohydrates get a lot of flack from those trying to lose weight, carbs are a major source of energy for your body. Likewise, while many deride fats and oils, healthy fats are essential for absorbing certain vitamins and supporting organ health. Meanwhile, protein is an important part of tissue growth and repair as well as improving your immune system. All three kinds of macronutrients provide the body with storable energy as well.

Additionally, there are different categories of each of these. Because of that, you need to ensure that when you’re choosing which kinds of macros to include in your diet, you choose those that will do you the most good.

For example, carbohydrates include fiber, sugar, and starch. The human body can’t actually absorb fiber, but including fiber in your diet helps improve digestion, control blood sugar, and keep you full after a meal. Conversely, sugars and starches are absorbed and used by your body much more quickly. These each have their purposes. If you need energy fast, starches or sugars might be preferable. If you need energy to be released over the course of the day, you might want to choose a high-fiber option. In any case, however, try to avoid highly processed carbs.

You also have likely heard about good fats and bad fats. Unsaturated fats are usually considered “good” by nutritionists, within reason. These are found in many kinds of vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish. Saturated fats are usually found in animal products. While they do have their place and uses, a diet that is high in saturated products can increase your risk for heart disease. Trans fat is often added to highly processed foods and can raise your LDL cholesterol, putting you at risk for heart disease. When choosing fats to include in your diet, try to stick to unsaturated fats as much as possible.

How Do You Find Your Macronutrient Ratio?

The macronutrient ratio “sweet spot” is a bit different for everyone because it depends on your unique physiology and genetics as well as your specific health goals. In many instances, individuals looking to optimize their ratios must experiment a bit to see how their bodies respond to the changes. In general, though, the recommended macronutrient breakdown looks like this:

  • Carbs: 45-55% of total caloric intake
  • Proteins: 10-35% of total caloric intake
  • Fats: 20-35% of total caloric intake

You will notice that in the protein section there is wide variability in the recommended daily ratio. Some people might function best with 10% of their calories sourced from protein while others might need 35%. This depends on a number of factors, including your activity levels.

A personal macro coach can help you determine your own fitness goals and needs. Some people looking to lose weight try eating plans such as the ketogenic diet which calls for an emphasis on fats and proteins while limiting carb intake to 20 to 50 grams per day. Those looking to gain muscle will need a higher portion of protein—about one gram per pound of body weight. However, most healthy eating protocols indicate the need for a balanced approach to macros. Talking to a nutritional coach can help you determine the optimal macro breakdown for your specific needs. Continue working with them as your goals may change over time.

Ten years ago, hardly anyone other than nutritionists could even say what a macronutrient is. Now, more and more restaurants are featuring macro breakdowns for their various dishes alongside calorie counts and other nutrition data. You can also find tons of macro counting support groups and forums online to exchange all your macro-related tips on healthy eating.

Whether the goal is to lose weight, build lean muscle, or just look and feel your best, creating a healthy eating program with a macro calculating rather than calorie counting is easier than ever.  You can find nutrition coaches and macro-counting apps to help you reach your goals and stay within your limits. For many people, calculating macronutrients is the most effective way to reach their health goals.