PART 2: COUNTING MACROS
In Part 1, you were introduced to the three main macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein, and fat—and their important roles within the body. You learned that macronutrients are substances that provide the body with energy, growth, and proper organ functioning. ( See Part 1 for review ) . Part 2 of this article, provides a comprehensive guide explaining (1) how to read and understand nutrition labels, (2) convert macros into calories, and (3) accurately weigh and measure your food during prep. But before we get started, let’s talk about calories…
What are calories?
Calories are units of energy essential to human health. In the fitness world, we often refer to calories in terms of caloric expenditure (total calories burned during physical activity) and/or caloric intake (total calories consumed through food). Here’s a quick guide on how to convert macronutrients into calories:
Macronutrients to Calories
Converting macronutrients into calories can be very easy once you understand the basics. Here are the conversions you'll need to create an effective plan that'll help you reach your fitness goals.
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
Now that you know the calculations, it'll be a breeze converting your meals into calories. Here's an example; let's say you eat 3oz of chicken breast, 1 cup of brown rice, and 100g of avovado, and you want to find out how many calories you just ate. Well first, let's assume you already know the nutritional value of each item:
3oz of chicken breast: 26g of protein
1 cup of brown rice: 45g of carbohydrates
100g of avocado: 15g of fat
Here's how it would look:
Chicken: 26 x 4 = 104 calories
Rice: 45 x 4 = 180 calories
Avocado: 15 x 9 = 135 calories
Therefore, the total calories of your meal would be 419 calories
Understanding Nutritional Labels
If you want to find out the macronutrient content of a food, it’s fairly simple; most products have nutrition facts located somewhere on it’s packaging—usually on the back.
Keep in mind the macro numbers listed on a nutrition label are for the given serving size. Depending on the macronutrient requirements of your individualized meal plan, you will have to adjust the serving size to meet your target macros.
The daily value is the government’s recommendation for each nutrient—based on a 2,000 calorie diet. I would suggest completely ignoring this. Seriously, pretend this column doesn’t exist. The recommendations are wildly inaccurate.
You’ll notice dietary fiber and sugar are listed as sub-categories under total of carbohydrates; this is because they are both considered carbohydrates. Should I count them? Nope, just count the total carbohydrates; the fiber and sugar content are already added in the total. That being said, it is important to get adequate fiber in your diet, so be sure to include plenty of fibrous veggies/fruits. Fiber is a carbohydrate with many health benefits: it slows digestion, decreases blood cholesterol and increases satiety/fullness.
Food without Nutrition Labels
Counting macros can be fairly simple when you have a nutritional label to refer to; however, you will be several occurrences where the macros are not printed nicely on the package. This is very common when shopping for loose produce and raw meats. Here’s how you can handle those situations:
You can look up the nutrition facts for foods online using:
You can also Google search the nutritional facts of a food by typing the phrase “how many type of macronutrient are in type of food?”
During your search, you’ll notice a slight variance in the numbers—don’t sweat it. In general, each of these sites will give you accurate numbers.
Weighing and Measuring Your Food
Now most “professionals” in this industry will advise you to weigh your grains dry, your vegetables uncooked, and your meats raw; here’s why—nutrition labels are representative of raw foods, unless the product is sold precooked. This is an important concept to remember because the weight/measurement of food will change after prep. When prepping meat, the weight will decrease because it loses most of its hydration; on the contrary, the weight of grains and most vegetables will increase during prep due to and increase in hydration. Therefore, if you use the nutritional facts on the label as a reference when weighing/measuring your foods after you’ve already cooked them, your numbers will be inaccurate.
This is why I teach a different method to clients—almost the complete opposite of what most will advise. As your coach, I’d like you to:
weigh your meat cooked
weigh your vegetables cooked
measure your rice and quinoa cooked
measure your oats dry
measure your egg whites uncooked
Here’s why— when cooking in bulk, it’s too time consuming to weigh out each portion before cooking it. The only thing I’d advise you to weigh each time are egg whites and oatmeal. More importantly, this is the method I use when programming your meal plan. As long as we’re on the same page, there should be very minimal inconsistencies with macro numbers.
Now I know you may be thinking to yourself this macro stuff is way too confusing; wouldn’t it be easier if I just count calories? The answer is yes. You will definitely lose weight if you focus solely on consuming fewer calories than you burn—it’s inevitable. However, the quality of your weight loss will suffer if you ignore the importance of macronutrients.
Carbohydrates often get a bad rep in the discussing of weight loss; however, carbohydrates are a crucial important part of any healthy diet. Carbs are the body’s primary source of energy and should not be avoided. Inadequate carbohydrate intake will result in low energy levels along with other unfavorable symptoms.
Also, inadequate protein during a calorie deficit will cause you to lose muscle. Ultimately your goal is not dropping the number on the scale; it’s to achieve your desire physique—nice arms, toned stomach, big butt, etc. For that, counting calories isn’t enough.
Again, inadequate fat intake will negatively impact many of the hormones required for continued weight loss. As I mentioned earlier, crash dieting (low calorie diets) will lead to lower numbers on the scale; however, you hinder your body’s fat burning ability and your metabolism will essentially shut down, causing you to hit a plateau in your weight loss. So in conclusion, count your macros!