Hear me out;
You don’t NEED to track your macros.
In the last few years, it seems our attention has shifted at least somewhat from calories to macronutrients, particularly when it comes to weight loss. But just because lots of people are talking about macros — counting them, hitting them, etc. — do we all need to?
Many people already track their carbohydrate intake — people with diabetes do this every day to know how much medication to take and elite athletes do it to control their intake for performance.
But should anyone and everyone track their macros? Well, it depends. Let me explain.
Nutrients are the things we get from our food to survive. There are two kinds: macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients (macros) are the ones we consume in large amounts, and micronutrients — vitamins and minerals are examples — are the nutrients we require in smaller amounts.
Macros fall into three main categories: protein, fat and carbohydrates. All of the energy we get from food comes macronutrients, so they all contain calories (damn). Protein and carbohydrates contain about 4 calories per gram and fats contain 9. Most macronutrients provide more than just energy — essential amino acids from protein and essential fatty acids from fat, for example. They’re called essential because we need them to survive but the body cannot make them.
Fun fact: We don’t actually need to eat carbohydrates to survive — but in my humble opinion, living without carbs is no way to live at all.
Most diets based on macronutrient tracking start with a calculation of how many calories you “should” be eating based on your energy expenditure, which is estimated based on some additional info you provide, like your age, sex, height, weight, and activity level. If you tell the calculator that you want to gain or lose weight, the number is adjusted, often a few hundred calories up or down. The calculator then divides the calories into carbs, protein, and fat in different ratios depending on the diet.
Many people who tweak and track their macros are trying to optimize athletic performance or meet body composition goals.
Counting macros can be beneficial for competitive bodybuilders or athletes, where research has shown consuming certain proportions of protein, carbohydrates, and fats can optimise athletic performance.
A person primarily focused on building muscle mass may want to get more calories from protein because it’s is so important to building muscle.
An endurance athlete in the middle of training season might adjust their diet so that they’re eating a higher proportion of carbs as well as protein to help recover from intense training.
These diets often start with a goal of consuming a number of grams of protein or carbs (or both), then dividing the remaining calories depending on preference.
But tracking macros isn’t for everyone, especially if you have a history of disordered eating habits.
Tracking macros can be positive or negative depending on the person. On the one hand, it can be helpful to look at where the calories are coming from in their diet.
Looking at your macronutrient breakdown can help you better understand how your diet might affect you. If someone wants to transition to a vegan diet, for example, we might look at their macronutrient breakdown to make sure they’re getting enough protein. If you’re looking to lose weight, we might need to see if there’s a particular area where they’re taking in excess calories.
On the other hand, some people can get a little too obsessive with tracking their macros, and this strategy would be completely inappropriate to use in clients with disordered eating patterns. We need to learn more about your goals and your relationship to and history with food and eating and before deciding if macro tracking is for you.
That said, even if your relationship to food and eating is okay, macro tracking still might not be necessary.
Tracking your macros or eating a macro diet can help you feel control of your personal nutrition. However, it can be difficult to do all the time and may simply require more effort than is actually required for most people. It’s something I typically look at in the short term. I don’t expect someone to track their calories/macros forever.
A lot of people have success following a macro diet. Unfortunately, when they stop counting macros, they experience a weight rebound because healthy eating habits were not developed.
Keep in mind that we don’t eat macros; we eat food.
Macronutrient-based diets can be preferable to other kinds of diets for some people because they more or less accommodate any kind of food (within reason). The problem is that eating to fit your macros doesn’t necessary mean you’re getting all the vitamins, nutrients, and fibre a healthy diet optimally contains. For example, you can hit your macros with steaks and gummy bears, but in this case, hitting your macros will mean missing a lot of essential foods that are good for you (whole grains, fruit, vegetables, fats, etc).
If you’re so focused on your macros that you miss the big picture, you’ll might be missing all the other things that are more likely to keep you healthy.
Not smoking, being physically active, and maintaining a healthy body weight are the lifestyle factors that show the strongest relationship to good health.
Your macronutrient intake may influence your diet quality and could help you maintain a healthy body weight, but only to a point. If you hit all your macros but smoke and drink a lot, you probably won’t improve your health outcomes.
Total food energy intake (i.e., how many calories you’re actually eating every day) is the most important factor when it comes to weight loss, gain, or maintenance. If you think or find counting macros helps keep you mindful of your diet quality and quantity, then by all means do it.
However, if you find tracking your macros makes you stressed, then it isn’t for you. There are lots of different nutrition strategies out there, and the only ones that really work are the ones that work for you.