If you’re new to the healthy lifestyle train, the whole idea of nutrition and macros probably feels foreign, and there are so many terms and theories out there that finding the useful bits can seem a little overwhelming.
To help you navigate through the thick jungle, I’ve put together a small guide where we’ll go over some nutrition basics and how to apply them based on your body and lifestyle goals. Let’s dive in.
What is Nutrition?
Most people would say that nutrition is all about our daily food choices. And if you think so, that’s partially correct; but in fact, nutrition it’s much more than food.
Nutrition is a science that studies the combination of elements that help nurture our body to achieve health, performance, and body composition goals.
One of these elements is food quality, of course, but diving deeper into learning, understanding, and applying the How, Why, and When to eat is what differentiates nutrition from one-month diets.
In simpler terms, Good nutrition is a combination of long-lasting healthy habits that, when done consistently, help us look, feel, and perform our best.
Why is Nutrition Important?
When most people get motivated to improve their health and fitness, they typically start paying attention to one side of the coin: their training.
Sure, training is essential and can also be the most exciting, because it gives physical (e.g., more energy) & emotional (e.g., happiness) benefits, even from day 1.
However, without adequate nutrition, most of our training efforts would be in vain. More importantly, our nutrition is what dictates change (or lack thereof) in body weight.
For example, if you follow a fitness program based on your body goals, whether it’s muscle growth or fat loss, you won’t see much success unless your nutrition habits align with those goals.
Strength training without science-based nutritional recommendations is why a lot of fitness programs fail to deliver results.
As you’ve probably heard the saying, “abs are made in the kitchen.” And while not entirely true (nutrition is more than food, remember?), your nutrition habits play the most crucial role in that equation.
Nutrition and Macros
What Are Macronutrients (Macros)?
You’ve probably come across the common nutritional term, ‘macros,’ which is short for Macronutrients —the principal components that make up the foods we eat.
There are three types of macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates (Carbs), and Fats. And each of them carries an energetic (calorie) value.
Protein and carbs offer four calories per gram, and fats provide nine calories per gram. For example, if you consume a meal with 40 grams of carbs, 40 grams of protein, and 20 grams of fats, you would ingest 500 calories.
Each of the three macronutrients has unique roles within the body, and it’s recommended that we consume all three for optimal health and fitness. For example:
- Carbs are the primary (and preferred) source of energy for the body.
- Protein is the MVP when it comes to muscle growth, development, and post-training recovery.
- Fats are vital for cellular function and production, hormone balance as well as brain health.
However, although a well-rounded diet includes all three macros, most of the time, the human body can adapt to particular dietary preferences as long as we provide it with the nutrients it needs.
How to Calculate Macros?
To calculate our macronutrient needs, we first need to know how many calories we need to consume each day. In other words, we need to know our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Based on that, we can come up with macronutrient targets.
To get our daily calorie needs, we can pick from several online calculators. Then, depending on our fitness goals, we can adjust these calories slightly.
For example, if your TDEE turns out to be around 2,200 calories and your goal is fat loss, you can implement a slight calorie deficit. Let’s say remove 100 calories, and eat approximately 2,100 per day.
If your goal is to build muscle and gain weight, you could implement a slight surplus of 100 calories, and eat around 2,300 calories per day.
Based on your daily calorie needs, you then calculate your macronutrients. A standard macronutrient split is 30/50/20. Get 30 percent of your calories from protein, 50 percent from carbs, and 20 percent from fats.
To use the above example, if your goal is to eat around 2,100 calories per day, your split will look like this:
- 157 grams of protein
- 262 grams of carbs
- 46 grams of fats
Is it Necessary to Track Macros?
Yes and no. The main difference between real good nutrition and yo-yo diets is long-term sustainability.
If you want to live a healthy lifestyle, you need to go in with the idea of creating nutrition habits that you can see yourself doing and following a year, five years, or even ten years from now.
If you’re new to nutrition and macros, I recommend that you track or journal everything you eat and drink for 3-7 days.
This exercise will give you an idea of the amount of food necessary to reach your daily calorie targets and identify what you can improve in your daily eating habits (e.g., drink more water, eat more veggies, etc.).
Once you’re done with this exercise, you can keep tracking if:
- You feel it makes it easier for you to improve your nutrition.
- It motivates you to stick to your fitness goals.
- It’s something you enjoy doing and would happily do it in the long term.
But, you should stop tracking if:
- It makes it harder for you to want to move forward with your fitness goals.
- It makes you feel restricted or deprived.
- It makes you feel like you want to binge or overeat.
When it comes to nutrition and macros, tracking is just a tool. It can be beneficial for some but disadvantageous for others. If it’s not a sustainable approach for you, it’ll become a yo-yo diet sooner than later.
So think about what works for you, and use it at your discretion.