Do you know what macronutrients are? You've probably heard the buzz word if you've spent any time reading on nutrition in the last few years. In my mind macronutrients are a smarter way of keeping track of your food intake. Here's why:
We're not talking quantum mechanics here, it's a simple enough concept. Here's the rub. What about quality of calorie? Does it matter what you're fueling your body with? If I've been prescribed 1800 calories a day, does it matter if 100% of those calories come from French fries?
Enter the Mac-daddy. Macronutrients describe the type of calorie you're taking in. Protein, Carbohydrates and Fats. A healthy diet is going to have a balance of all three -- the proportions in which you take in all three will depend on your bodies natural sensitivity, your fitness levels and your goals (more on that another time).
Energy per macro
Protein = 4 calories per gram
Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram
Fat = 9 calories per gram
1. Your body needs energy
2. All macronutrients provide energy to your body but they are all used slightly differently
3. By ensuring you have a good balance of protein, carbs and fats in your diet is going to keep you eating the right amount of calories and ensure your body gets the proper balance of energy to function properly.
There are lots of good reasons to count your macronutrients. I strongly believe that everyone should track their food in some way and strictly counting your macro's for at least a three day period can be very enlightening.
In my personal experience, writing down everything I eat and looking at the breakdown really lets you know what you're diet looks like. So often we eat unconsciously, mainly because food is there and available -- this is dangerous!
By forcing yourself to write down exactly what you're taking in you are ensuring that you are consciously consuming. Spend three days, or even better, a whole week tracking your food and you'll get a really good idea of exactly what you're doing well and what you're missing.
My favorite tools for counting macros:
For a long time I've recorded my food in an excel workbook. Columns and rows are easy enough to organize, it's completely adjustable. The problem is that you need to look up and fill in your macro breakdown by hand and you need to look it up independently. I generally would use caloriecount.com or calorieking.com to do that.
Pen and Paper -- the nutrition notebook:
Sometimes it's hard to beat pen and paper. Because it's physical, it's a constant reminder to keep on top of tracking. I'm also much less likely to lose it -- computer files have a way of getting lost in the maze of folders and documents on my local drive. Much like writing your food down in excel you need an independent source to fill in the macro values. Leave it by your dinner table or on your desk at work and write your food down as you go through the day.
Online Programs & Apps:
This where I'm starting to move towards out of pure convenience. There are so many different websites that offer free calorie counting softwares. You can create an account and keep all of your tracking in one place. Most websites have a library of all types of foods that you can easily search and add to your daily food log. Here are a couple of my personal favorites
CalorieCount: This is a pretty comprehensive website. They've got a great library of foods, easy tracking, goal setting, communities and groups to help keep you on track. I personally only use the daily food tracker and the food library but you may find some of the other tools useful.
If you just want to track macro's you can search your food and add it to the meal you've eaten it at. At the end of the day you can bring up your daily intake. If you're interested in learning more about individual foods, caloriecount has relatively simple display that spits out something like you'd see on a food label.
My favorite thing about Calorie Count is their 'recipe' tracker. Type in your recipe and the number of servings it creates and it will automatically search for those foods and calculate a calorie and macro breakdown for it. Super slick.
All in all calorie count is a great little website. There is way more functionality there than what I use it for. They've also got a downloadable app for whatever platform you're on. A great place to start in my mind
Cron-O-Meter: This is a bit of an up and coming website in my mind. They've got a very simple platform, but they really focus on delivering quality nutritional information. This one is geared towards the analytics lovers (me).
Their food library is fantastic. They rank the quality of their source information for each food you search, so you can be confident that the data represented is accurate. The biggest thing for me is the amount of information they have for each food. Not only do they offer macro and calorie breakdowns, they go even further with amino acid splits, fat source breakdowns (poly, mono, saturated), micronutrient profiles. It's like a nutrition nerds dream.
The thing is this is way too much information for most people, so I can appreciate that not everyone is going to enjoy the detail that this website delivers as much as I do. Cron-O-Meter is a more advanced tool that would be geared towards high level performers, nutrition professionals or avid health nuts.
You can link your account to external devices like fitbit and Withings, export data to a csv for further analysis (yes! love excel) you can set targets for all your macros as well as your micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Very cool website in my mind but maybe not the place for everyone. But if you love analytics and you love nutrition, definitely a winner.
Summary: Count your macros.
You should do it so you're more conscious about your food intake. It will help you to approach calories from a different perspective and remind you that you need to strike balance in your diet. You'll notice what you have a tendency to eat a lot and things that are missing in your current diet.
It might seem like a lot of work but truthfully the apps and websites available these days make it so incredibly accessible and easy. Even if it takes a little more energy and a few extra minutes per day, you're going to see benefits in all sorts of ways. You'll find that tracking your macronutrients diligently for a week or so is going to give you the basics to eat more consciously, even when you're not actively tracking your food.
Why not give it a shot and see what it's all about? I promise that you're going to be better for it.
Live your best life!