We recently learned all about the power of counting macronutrients, and why it's so much more efficient (and healthy!) for your body than simply focusing on a calorie count. By focusing on carbohydrates, protein, and fat, you can better optimize your diet for your physical, personal needs, whether you're boosting your metabolism, cutting fat, or building muscle.
Many of us want to know what it takes to lose weight, right? What's the optimal diet for weight-loss and fat cutting? What does that day look like? Our macro-counting expert, wellness coach Carrie McMahon breaks it down for us, and shows that slight adjustments can make huge differences in weight. "[Counting macronutrients] is a concept that is fairly new to most women," said Carrie. And just like LISS workouts, macro counting has "existed in the bodybuilding world for years, but it can be applied to real, everyday life.".
Counting macronutrients can be tricky, but there are tools to help you stay on track (and do the math). Here's what you need to get started:
- A meal tracker. Figuring out all these numbers can be super tough (and mentally exhausting). To focus more on your diet and how you're feeling, Carrie suggests the My Macros+ Tracker ($3).
- Your optimal caloric intake. Find your number with a calorie calculator online (many of them are free, including this one from FreeDiet that Carrie suggested).
- Carrie tells us to take the total amount of calories you need to consume for maintenance, and reduce that by about 10 to 20 percent, depending on goals. That will be your caloric target for the day. Example: if your maintenance number is 2,000 calories, your target will be somewhere from 1,600 to 1,800.
- Don't try to make huge cuts to your calories, as it can have an adverse effect. "I never like to make huge jumps to cut calories." she said. She suggests slowly cutting calories, little by little, to see how your body reacts. "There's no point in cutting off a huge chunk, feeling like crap and rebounding, when in fact you may only need to cut slightly to see weight loss results."
Once you have your total caloric intake, it's time to break it up into macros — how many grams of fat, carbohydrates, and protein do you need each day?
Carrie's formula for weight-loss macro planning, or "cutting": 20 percent fat, 45 percent carbohydrate, 35 percent protein split. These percentages stay the same, but the calorie breakdown below will be different from yours based on your weight, height, age, and level of activity (how much you work out). Make sure you apply the 20-45-35 breakdown to your own numbers, as calculated via the FreeDiet calorie calculator.
Here's how you calculate macros: Use your the target number of calories, and plug it into these formulas. Let's say your target is 1400 calories — this is how that number looks plugged into the equations.
- (.20) x 1400 = 280 kcal / 9 (since there are 9 calories in every gram fat) = 31 grams of fat per day
- (.35) x 1400 = 490 kcal / 4 (4 calories per gram of protein) = about 123 grams of protein per day
- (.45) x 1400 = 630 kcal / 4 (4 calories per gram of carbohydrates) = about 158 grams of carbohydrates per day
Example total macro targets for the day: 31 grams of fat, 123 grams of protein, 158 grams of carbohydrates. That's a low fat, very high protein diet.
This is how Carrie breaks up meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner include all three macros (carbs, protein, and fat). There are two snacks built into the day: the first snack (between breakfast and lunch) is just protein and fat (no carbs), and the second snack (between lunch and dinner) is carbs and protein (no fat).
What does that looks in terms of foods? Use this guide to get a glimpse into what your days will look like (and think of this as a shopping list!). Keep in mind, you'll need to track all your foods in your app, in order to reach your target numbers. After a while, it'll start to feel like second nature and you'll have a much better idea of what your meals will look like on a day-to-day basis.
Good Carbohydrate Sources:
- Oatmeal, oat bran
- Sweet potato
- Brown rice
- All veggies
- All fruits
- Whole wheat breads, wraps, pitas
Good Protein Sources:
- Chicken, lean beef, fish
- Egg whites
- Cottage cheese, strained Greek yogurt
- Protein powder (Carrie says you can make protein pancakes, stir it into oatmeal or greek yogurt!)
- Tofu, tempeh
- Beans (be aware that they're also high in carbs)
Good fat sources:
- All nuts and nut butters
- Egg yolks
- Dark chocolate
What you choose to eat is up to you — there's no elimination with counting macros, it's just about being aware of your distribution, and knowing if you're getting enough of the right kind of calories. It'll take some work to get the hang of it, but in Carrie's words, "the results are life changing."