Macronutrients are large amounts of food we require for necessary health and growth. These foods come in the form of protein, carbohydrates and fats. With a healthy, balanced diet you should be consuming adequate amounts of each macronutrient to help maintain vital bodily functions and be able to perform extra activities such as working and exercise.
We should not be demonising any one particular macro, and don’t need to eliminate any either. In fact, protein and fat are both essential macronutrients. That is — our bodies need them to function properly and survive.
Protein can be obtained from many sources such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs and tofu. Perhaps the most ‘bang for your buck’ macronutrient, protein yields 4 calories per gram.
You can consume carbohydrates from foods such as rice, potato, pasta, fruit, chips, lollies/candy and many other sources. Carbohydrates yield 4 calories per gram as well.
Fat can be found in foods like avocado, peanut butter, oils, seeds and nuts. 1 gram of fat will give you 9 calories of energy.
So, what do these numbers mean and why are they important to you?
As mentioned above, all macronutrients provide your body with the energy to function. Protein and carbohydrates give you 4 calories per gram and fat gives you 9 calories per gram. You can then use this information to calculate your total energy/calorie intake for the day or week.
Armed with this information you can make sure you are not overeating, under-eating or blindly guessing about your nutrition. You see, a lot of people either underestimate their food consumption or are even in complete denial about it. This false reporting of data can wreak havoc for you trying to achieve your goals. Knowing exactly what goes into your body, and how much of it, will allow you to easily stay on top of your diet and training which will then lead to greater results!
TDEE; what is it and how to calculate it?
Your TDEE is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure.
In other words, it is the number of calories you burn per day (roughly). It is only a rough estimate as some days are more active than others, but it is a reference nonetheless and provides enough information to give you an accurate starting point.
To calculate your TDEE, go to an online calculator such as the free tool provided in my Steel Transformation Academy: HERE
Once there, all you need to do is input your age, sex, height, weight, average activity level and it will calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. It’s important to note that your activity level has a significant impact on your results. If you over-estimate your activity level and start adhering to an energy count that is above what you require, you may find yourself struggling to make any changes. Be truly honest with your activity level and choose the answer that best reflects your situation.
Once you have submitted your variables for the equation you will be given your TDEE. As discussed earlier this is the amount of energy your body requires for regular daily activities.
If you want to lose fat or gain muscle, these numbers give you vital information to help achieve your goals. A good place to start is to either subtract (fat loss) or add (muscle gain) roughly 10-15% from/to your TDEE. This is a great starting point and allows you to see how your body responds to the change and also ensure the results you achieve are permanent. If you’re body is not changing, and let’s assume everything else is perfect (types of food, training, recovery, sleep, etc), you can try reducing or increasing your calories (depending on your goal) to see if your body makes any adjustments. Keep an eye on your progress and adjust according to your results and newer goals.
Once you have your total calorie intake, the next question that arises is:
“What makes up these calories?”
There has been a lot of noise over the last couple of years that all you need to worry about is the total number of calories. You can eat whatever you like as long as your calorie intake remains below your target threshold.
I don’t fully agree with this.
While the math does check out, I’d much rather see you eat healthy, nutritional foods and maximise the meals you can eat, rather than blow a bunch of calories on McDonalds and then starve yourself for the rest of the day. Not only will you function a lot better and feel healthier with improved nutritional value from your foods, you will also obtain the necessary micronutrients required to live healthily and avoid debilitating health conditions and diseases .
Aim to consume healthy, fibrous, nutrient-rich foods most of the time and you can then work some of your favourite foods into your total daily calories to keep your tastebuds happy.
A standard ratio for your macronutrients is 30p/45c/25f.
30% of your daily calories from protein, 45% from carbohydrates and 25% from fats. These numbers are not concrete and set in stone for everybody but they are a good reference. Your ratio may vary 5-15% higher or lower than those numbers. With these percentages you can then work out exactly how much of each macronutrient to eat.
For example, if you are sticking to the 30/45/25 example above and your TDEE is 2500 you can work out how many calories from each macronutrient you need.
2500 x .30 = 750 calories from protein
2500 x .45 = 1125 calories from carbohydrates
2500 x .25 = 625 calories from fat
Now that you know your macronutrient-to-calorie conversion (1 g of Protein/Carbohydrates = 4 calories & 1g of Fat = 9 calories) you can work out how much of each food you need.
750 / 4 = 187g of protein
1125 / 4 = 280g of carbohydrates
625 / 9 = 70g of fat
How to track your macronutrients
Tracking your macronutrients, and therefore your calories, is a great instrument to ensure you are on track towards your goals. I recommend you start by downloading an app that can help you track the data from your food. Something like MyFitnessPal is simple to use and you can even scan the barcode of most foods to easily input the data. Most, if not all, packaged foods will have a nutrition label on the packet. This label details all the information you need to know about the food and its contents.
Using the label above, you can see the quinoa contains 7.1g of protein, 3.0g of fat and 32.1g of carbohydrates per serving. The serving size is important to take note of as this can sometimes be misleading. In packaged foods, particularly biscuits, chips and the like, a serving size is quite small and you may end up having 4 or 5 servings which would exponentially multiply the macronutrient makeup of your meal. Take note of the serving size and adjust your tracking accordingly.
Obviously, not all foods have labels. And the majority of foods you should be eating won’t have labels. This is a good thing! Fresh food is best. Eat lots of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables and you are well on your way to achieving your goals.
But how do you track a food that has no label?
You can search the food and various entries will come up with the results of that food. (You can also use food databases like Calorie King to find different food as well)
For example, if you search “sweet potato”.
You get a list of entries with the nutritional values of sweet potato. Choose the option that best matches your food and adjust the serving size accordingly to get accurate values to log. It’s important to remember when tracking your food that net weight of the food is different to the macronutrient weight.
For example, if you eat 500g of sweet potato, that is roughly 100g of carbohydrates. This applies to all foods. If you weigh a piece of chicken and check the protein content, it will be considerably lower than the net weight of the chicken. Keep this in mind when measuring foods and logging them.
As you add more food to your daily tracker you will see a ratio breakdown and total calorie count. This makes it easy to track where you are and make any adjustments throughout the day.
Autonomy when tracking your macros
After what may seem like an initial steep learning curve, tracking your macronutrients and keeping yourself accountable can become routine and quite simple. If you prepare foods regularly and store them for the week you will know exactly what ratio of macros you are consuming and can plan your days accordingly. As you learn more and get a sense of food volume, the macronutrient makeup of foods you regularly eat and what your body can/can’t handle, you will find it a lot easier to stick to your macronutrient breakdown and therefore, achieve your goals.
You will also develop a keen sense when it comes to substitutions and adjustments. You can alter your macronutrient ratios on the fly if you’re out for dinner or have a treat, and still remain in the ball park and under your total calorie intake for that day.
Some people may think that this seems restrictive and over the top, or that it’s not necessary. For most people it’s as simple (not necessarily easy) as reducing poor food choices or exercising more regularly to lose fat. Depending on your current state, your goals and your commitment to them, tracking your macronutrients may or may not be for you.
My first conversation with someone about their nutrition is about what they are currently eating and what they can remove first to see results. If you are struggling to shift the fat, you’ve plateaued or you are looking to make a serious push for a low body fat percentage, I recommend tracking your macros as it eliminates any doubt. There’s no grey area, it’s black and white. If you fill it out honestly and track correctly, the evidence for your results is right there.
The blueprint for your results is right there.