Macros 101 {Part 1}

Macros are the new thing. For a while it was Paleo, and while I do believe Paleo is a really amazing therapeutic food template (because, hello, it’s all REAL FOOD, people!), some don’t find it sustainable in the sense that you need to cook most of your food and it can be hard to eat outside your home. Others say Paleo foods do not provide sufficient energy for super tough workouts. The aforementioned aren’t a concern for me, and I still follow a pretty close Paleo template, but my message will always be do what works for you.

I hear of many people counting macros with great success. I think that’s awesome. I’ve experimented with counting macros and I thought it was great, but I see a lot of people using macro counting as an excuse to just eat pure junk. Although it’s recommended that people still get an appropriate amount of fiber (through fruits and veggies) this can be counteracted by taking fiber supplements with the junk you’re eating that fits your macros, and I’m sorry, but I think that’s BS.

Even if you are macro counting with success, I believe that the essence of nutrition will ALWAYS apply. Because, health. Because, aliveness. Because the food we eat literally makes up our bodies, our cells, our brains. And I DO NOT want massive amounts of junk inside of me ever, regardless of whether it tastes good or it fits my macro allotment for the day.

There’s so much to say on this subject. So I thought I’d break it down into two parts. Here, in the first part, I’m going to go over what the heck a macronutrient is, and the foods I believe provide the best health for the body and mind, what they actually do in the body, why we need them, and appropriate ratios. (Remember what I said before, though. Do what works for you. So if this doesn’t work for you, then don’t listen to me. This is what I believe. Listen to your body, always.)

I also need to note that people are usually motivated to count macros when there is a specific goal involved such as fat loss, muscle gain, getting stronger, etc. Because although eating healthy foods without tracking or eating them in (macronutrient ratio) balance WILL make you healthy, they might not help you reach a specific body composition or aesthetic goal. To change the way our bodies look, we DO need to be more vigilant about our diets. Eating for health and eating to change our bodies are NOT the same thing.

A perfect example are bikini competitors, who, on the outside, look “good” according to our current societal standards, but they often stop menstruating, have their hair fall out, feel like utter garbage, and finish the competition with a really effed up relationship with food. That is NOT health to me. I’m sure this isn’t the case for all competitors, but it’s just an example of how the aesthetics of our bodies are not correlated with health.

I know when I was at my skinniest, I did not have a period, I felt weak and cold as hell all the time, I had to eat nothing plus run for an hour a day, but according to other people, I looked so amazing and super fit. I’ll take an extra 5-10 pounds to have my health back.

When women say they want to lose the last 5-10 pounds or have visible abs, it can take extreme measures to do so which will make you less healthy. But it also depends on the person.

Some people (especially in the body-positive world, which I LOVE, just for the record) do not believe these physical goals are valid, but I do. The way we look DOES affect the way we feel, and if we get to a place where we FEEL awesome in our bodies, then the physical changes come by default. I personally don’t feel well in a body that’s over my natural weight. So if you want to change your body, I say go for it. But ONLY if it will keep you healthy and you do so in a sustainable way. If you don’t, that’s cool, too.

So let’s get into it:

Nutrition is the study of the interaction between humans and their food. So it’s not only what we eat, but the relationship between our body and what we eat. We want what we eat to the foundation in which we achieve our most optimal health, both mentally and physically, which will help us balance our digestion, blood sugar regulation, mineral balance, fatty acid balance, and hydration.

Nutrients are the chemical substances contained in food that are necessary to sustain life.

Nutrients provide calories, contribute to the body’s structure, regulate and assist in the functioning of all body processes like hormones, enzymes, etc.

So, we eat food. Food is comprised of 4 macronutrients (water, protein, fats, and carbohydrates), and 2 micronutrients (vitamins & minerals). We need them all.

Water:

We need half of our body weight (in pounds) in ounces DAILY.

  • A 140 pound woman would need 70 ounces of water, which is about 9 cups per day.
  • For every 8 ounces (1 cup) of a diuretic beverage we drink, we need 12 ounces (1.5 cups) of water to offset it.
  • The body only produces 8% of the water we need, the other 92% needs to be ingested.
  • We also get water from fruits & vegetables

 

Protein

  • Proteins are the building blocks of the body, and they are made up of amino acids.
  • They literally make up organs, nerves, tissues, and muscles.
  • If you want to build muscle, complete dietary protein is not optional.
  • We need to consume COMPLETE proteins that contain the full amino acid profile, which are proteins from animal sources, dairy, or whey protein. Quinoa also contains the full amino acid profile, but won’t be the best bet to get all our protein from due to its high carbohydrate content.
  • Beans, tofu, tempeh, or other vegetarian protein sources are not complete sources of protein. This is why vegetarians usually need to supplement with B12.

 

Protein sources:

  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Eggs
  • Animals

 

If you tolerate:

  • Full-fat dairy (cheese, yogurt)
  • Whey protein

 

Fats:

Contrary to popular belief, a fairly high percentage of good fats are required for optimum health. Fats do so much for us, plus they’re integral to making food taste good.

  • Provide a source of energy
  • Building blocks for our cell membranes and hormones
  • Required for the adequate use of proteins, you can’t use your proteins without enough fat
  • They serve as a protective lining for the organs of the body
  • They play a role in slowing the absorption of food for proper energy regulation so they keep you fuller longer. Have you ever been on a low fat diet and felt like you are STARVING. Yeah, that’s why. This is why it’s suggested to eat a little fat with your carbs, so your carbs don’t cause a huge, abrupt spike in blood sugar.

 

We should have a mix of fats, from both animal and vegetable sources. Fats are classified by the degree of saturation by hydrogen. Note that all fats and oils are some combination of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

 

Saturated fat:

  • Solid or semi-solid at room temperature like coconut oil and butter, so mainly tropical oils and animal fats
  • Non-essential because the body can make these
  • Safe at high heat so they’re good for cooking

 

Monosaturated fat:

  • Liquid at room temperature
  • Relatively stable
  • Non-essential because the body can make these from saturated fats
  • Found in olive oil, almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts, and avocados
  • Safe at low heat

 

Polyunsaturated fat:

  • Relatively unstable
  • Go rancid easily
  • Two are essential
    • Linoleic acid (Omega-6)
    • Alpha-linolenic acid (Omega-3)
    • Flax, nuts, fish, and seeds

 

Fat sources:

  • Avocado
  • Coconut
  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Nut butter
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Nut & seed oils
  • Ghee or grass-fed butter (I like Kerrygold)
  • Animal fats

 

Carbohydrates

Unless you have some sort of diagnosed metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, or diabetes, you should get an adequate number of carbohydrates from your diet.

That being said, carbs are reeeally touchy subject. There’s always something being vilified in the world of nutrition. It used to be fat, now it’s carbs and sugar. I’ll admit that I even succumbed to the carb fear years ago, and avoided them for almost TWO YEARS! In those two years, I was depressed, lethargic, never satisfied, binging like crazy, thinking about food 24/7, and 20 pounds heavier, even though low carb is the “sure-fire” way to lose weight.

Yeah, okay. I think you can feel amazing and light initially, but it is NOT sustainable, at least for me and a lot of women. There are lots of people who permanently eat low carb or ketogenic and feel amazing and perform well. There is a supposed “sweet spot” of carbs that you should be able to eat without gaining weight. I say just eat your damn carbs. Especially if you’re working out. I have so much to say on carbs and sugar, and I promise I’ll write further about my experience and why I think it’s necessary to eat them, but that’s not for this blog post.

Glycogen is the preferred energy source of the body, and this comes from carbohydrates. Protein and fat can make ATP (energy) as well, but glycogen is preferred.

Carbs:

  • Provide energy for your brain and muscles
  • Help regulate protein and fat metabolism
  • Provide fiber (hey, veggies & fruits!)

 

So, if we’re gonna get a liiiitle sciencey, carbohydrates are made up of (starch + fiber + sugar) in two categories: simple and complex.

  • Simple: fruits (fructose), sugars (sucrose), and anything that converts to sugar like white bread or white rice. If it’s been REFINED, it’s a simple carb (like white sugar, white bread, etc. which it means that the grain has been stripped and/or processed from the fiber and the white stuff is what’s left over and offers little nutrient value)
  • Complex (glucose): vegetables, legumes, properly prepared (soaked & sprouted) whole grains.

 

We should aim for mostly unrefined, complex carbs, because they have fiber, because they have stuff like vitamins and nutrients that won’t give you such a high rise to your glucose (blood sugar level).

Eating refined carbs without any nutritional value actually makes you eat MORE because as you eat them, you deplete the body’s own reserve of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes and your body still craves them. THIS is why we can eat massive amounts of sugar and still want more. I know nothing about that 😉

Carb sources:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Squash
  • Yuca
  • Fruits
  • All vegetables!

 

If you tolerate, these are also good sources:

  • White rice (brown rice DOES have fiber, but it can be hard to digest for some people. White rice is a great post-workout carb because it provides straight glucose (aka energy) back into our muscles)
  • Quinoa
  • Oatmeal
  • Gluten-free bread
  • Whole grain bread and pasta

 

Each person should aim for a balance of Macronutrients that’s about:

(This is a GENERAL GUIDELINE. Listen to your body! I find I do best in this context, especially after spending so many years on a low carb diet. Your daily calories should (mostly!) come from the sources described above.)

  • 40% Carbohydrates (4 calories per gram)
  • 30% Protein (4 calories per gram)
  • 30% Fat (9 calories per gram)

 

Each meal should consist of at the bare minimum (3-4 meals per day depending on your activity level):

  • A protein source
  • Unlimited non-starchy & green vegetables
  • ½ cup – 1 cup starchy carb
  • 1-2 tablespoons fat

 

Stay tuned for the next part in which I’ll explain how to count your macros (if that’s for you!) because I know lots of people are curious about this even though I also really believe in the intuitive approach. As I mentioned above, macro-counting can be beneficial for your goals if you want to lose body fat or get stronger, and I’ll always respect the fact that someone does or does not want to change their body. 

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