First let me start out by stating that fad diets are the bane of my existence. Second, let this serve as fair warning that my harsh opinions might be, well, harsh. Third, if you say any of the following words to describe your eating style (or flavor of the moment, as I’d rather call it), then I will make fun of you: Paleo, Atkins, counting macros, primal, clean, blood-type, etc. Sorry…not sorry.
(If you’ve received this blog update twice, sorry; there were some glitches the first time around!)
Due to some recent discussions on the matter, I am forced to talk about “macros.” But before I do, I will kindly say to those of you who requested I talk about macros: my words are not directed at you personally (and yes, there are several of you who will feel like I am talking at you) so please do not take it that way. Any insensitivity that is exuded from this article is directed toward the not-nutrition-professionals-but-think-they-are-because-they-lift-weights dudes who somehow decided to start this fad of using annoying buzzwords like “macros.” *rolls eyes*
If you’re wondering what a “macro” is, it is the cutsie term for “macronutrient.” There are three macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein, and fat. No self-respecting, credentialed, real nutrition professional would be caught dead using the term “macro.” There is no “macro aisle” at the grocery store. Macronutrients are contained in the foods we eat. No single food or food group contains only one macronutrient; rather, the foods we eat are often a combination of at least two, if not all three macronutrients.
In the interest of addressing the issue of “counting macros,” I must declare first that I absolutely despise teaching anyone to count anything. You’ve probably heard the saying “don’t miss the forest for the trees.” I feel very strongly that once we start crunching numbers on the calculator and counting calories or carbs or proteins or whatever, we miss the big picture of eating healthy. I have seen it a million times with my patients; and it is ALWAYS the ones who are STRUGGLING with their weight or health (or both) who are counting stuff. Always.
Furthermore, if we only focus on how much carbohydrate, protein, or fat we are consuming, we lose sight of quality. Cookies would provide me with some fat and carbohydrate. Are cookies healthy? Come on. If you focus instead on having a meal that contains real, whole foods—a small amount of fiber-rich carbohydrate-containing foods, a moderate amount of protein-rich foods, and a little fat (especially from fish/nuts/whole foods)—then you are far more likely to consume an appropriate amount of macronutrients AND micronutrients…without counting anything…
DISCLAIMER: A very important point to consider here is that each and every single one of us has a unique health situation, and specific nutrition advice can and should be tailored to YOU. This is general advice, and may not apply to you. Seek counsel from a registered dietitian nutritionist (NOT a personal trainer) for more individualized guidance.
Ok, ok, ok….without further adieu, I will reluctantly give you some numbers. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for carbohydrate, protein, fat for the average Joe or Jane is as follows:
Carbohydrates: 45-65% of caloric intake
Protein: 10-35% of caloric intake
Fat: 20-35% of caloric intake
If it sounds like a lot of math, that is correct. You’d first have to determine your estimated energy needs in terms of calories (or kcals in clinical terms). You next would calculate the calorie percentages based on the AMDRs as a starting point. Then you’d convert the calorie amounts to grams of each macronutrient. Then you’d have to determine how that measures out in terms of actually putting together a real meal composed of real food. Complicated? Yup. You wouldn’t get this advice from me, I’ll tell you that right now.
What you would get from me is real concepts. Even athletes trying to “bulk up” can eat real food and achieve results. Athletes likely DO need more calories and protein than the average Joe or Jane. Some individuals, even athletes, perform and feel better with less carbohydrates. A slightly higher emphasis on protein can increase the calories burned in the digestion of food (known as the thermic effect of food). A too-high intake of protein can damage your kidney function and lead to some serious health problems. A too-high intake of fat can cause strain to your heart or liver function. That said, if you are just a regular dude or dudette trying to get in shape, lose weight, or simply improve overall health and wellness, then stop obsessing over numbers. Stop it, stop it, stop it.
Here are a few usable takeaways:
- A real nutrition professional will not utter the word “macro.”
- We need some carbs, some protein, and some fat to be healthy.
- Whole foods (i.e. whole vegetables, whole fruit, whole-food-fat-sources, plant-based proteins, lean meat, etc.) not shakes/bars/powders/pills are how you should get your macronutrients.
- Aim for ½ your plate of non-starchy vegetables, ¼ your plate filled with fish/plant-based protein-rich foods/lean meats, ¼ your plate filled with whole grains/starchy vegetables, maybe a little fruit on the side or separately as part of a snack.
- If you are choosing whole food sources, often your fat intake should be built-in or otherwise part of the meal. Limit the amount of added fat (mayo, butter, oils) and try your best to eat foods that naturally contain fat—avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and fish are some sources of great types of fat.
- Choosing whole foods affect more than just your intake of macronutrients. Whole food choices ensure that you obtain appropriate vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and other phytochemicals.
- Not all carbs are created equally. Fruit juice and white-flour grain products increase the insulin response. If consumed in copious amounts for a long time, this increases the likelihood of belly fat and insulin resistance.
- Weight loss is not as simple as “calories in versus calories out” or “counting macros.” Health condition, hormones, and many factors are involved in the physiological functioning of the wonderful, awesome machine we call our body. But if you’re eating a ton of junk food, then reducing that would be a good start…
- Adequate vitamins and minerals are crucial to the success of creating or enhancing a healthy metabolism, as micronutrients ensure that you efficiently “burn” energy.
- Consistency is critical. Eating about the same time each day, and trying not to go more than 4 hours without eating something of nutritional value is important.
- Every meal/snack should contain a protein-rich food, but you don’t have to get crazy with it (i.e. stop it with the protein shakes – eat a handful of peanuts or almonds for goodness sake). Click here for more information on protein. You actually have to do some strength-building and cardiovascular exercise to really, truly, improve your overall health.
- Don’t forget the 80/20 rule. ANYTHING that requires utter restriction or “cheat meals” or “cheat days” is not an improvement to your lifestyle. If 80% of the time you are spot-on with choosing healthy, whole foods, then 20% of the time you can include some real-life stuff (have a burger once in a while or enjoy cake at the birthday party).
- Another 80/20 rule to follow is that 80% of weight regulation (in either direction) comes from eating; 20% of weight regulation is related to exercise type and frequency. Translation: you cannot exercise your way out of an unhealthy eating style.
Stay tuned for posts in the near future re: carb-cycling, ketogenic diets, and intermittent fasting…
XOXO – Casey