As a follow up to my Calories blog, I’d like to discuss macronutrients. Macros are simply the categories our food falls into: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. There is no question that we need all three, it’s just a matter of how much, and where we get them from. I believe there’s value in having an understanding of the macro balance needed for certain goals and activity levels, and also to fix potential deficiencies or excesses. But similar to calories, it’s not something we absolutely NEED to track obsessively in order to lose weight or gain health. It becomes more necessary to keep things on point if you’re a serious athlete training for a competition, or have an illness that requires specific amounts of each nutrient. But for the average person, having a general idea is all that is required. Similar to the calorie counting idea, I believe it’s a good idea to get a sense of what you’re consuming by tracking things for about a week, correcting any imbalances necessary, and then using that knowledge to make your food choices. My advice would be to write down what you’re eating and how much, then plug it into an app such as MyFitnessPal to get your results. So that being said, how much do we need?
Speaking very generally here, if you’re pretty active and/or wanting to lose some fat, your protein should be on the higher end. Some experts advocate to consume the same amount of protein in grams as your ideal body weight. So if you would like to weigh 140 lbs, eat about 140 gm of protein per day. That might seem pretty high to most people. It may actually be difficult for females to consume that much, unless you’re taking in protein powders all the time (which I personally don’t recommend). Protein is very satiating, so I do recommend eating it with every meal to help regulate your appetite. I would say your upper limit would be your ideal body weight in grams as stated above, and your low end be no less than half that.
Carbs and fats need to fluctuate depending on your personal goals, your lifestyle, your stress levels, your exercise program, etc. There is NO right answer here. Carbs can go anywhere from 50 – 200+gm, and fats typically from 25 – 100+gm. Think of your macros like a teeter totter. The protein is in the middle, always staying consistent, while the fats and carbs are on either end in constant flux, trying to balance each other out. Typically if your carb intake is higher, your fats should be low, and vice versa. It’s extremely important to remember that everyone is so different and requires such a varying amount in order to feel healthy and happy. Now of course this is not an exact science, it’s just giving you a rough estimate. Remember to listen to your body and use that as feedback. One day you may need more carbs because you had an active day, the next you may need less. The one thing I would advise is to not eat the SAME things in the SAME amounts day in and day out. Our bodies are designed to handle variety.
All that being said, numbers mean nothing to most people. We need a visual. I don’t know about you, but the thought of weighing and measuring every piece of food on my plate makes me crazy! One very “handy” way to ensure you’re getting the appropriate amount of foods is to use your own hand. Your palm size and thickness is perfect for protein, your fist is great for a dense source of carbs such as potatoes or rice, and your thumb is good for measuring fats and oils. Non starchy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, broccoli, etc should be limitless as far as I’m concerned. So when putting food on your plate have a look at your hand to get a rough estimate. Decide first if this meal is higher in carbs or higher in fat. Keep the protein and non starchy veggies the same, then choose either a fist of starchy carbs, or a couple thumbs of fat. Simple!
While macros can be good to track for certain goals, or to look for imbalances, don’t lose sight of your food quality and end up eating things just because they “fit your macros”. You see this in social media quite often. People post pics of donuts, pizza, chips, ice cream, etc because it fits their macro allowance for the day. They compromise elsewhere and skimp on meals so they can still adhere to their macro allowance and eat junk food. THIS IS NOT A HEALTHY PRACTICE.
Macros are only one component of our food. We must not forget the importance of micros as well. Micronutrients are your vitamins and minerals. If you eat to balance just your macros, you will most likely fall short in some essential nutrients. So when building your plate, remember to base it on colourful nutrient dense vegetables, high quality meats and healthy fats. The bottom line is that we don’t just eat protein, fat, carbs, vitamins, and minerals. We eat FOOD. And that food should be in it’s most whole form possible, it should not be obsessively counted to the exact gram, and it should be eaten with your health in mind.
If you still find this all very confusing, or would like more insight in how to tailor a diet to meet your individual needs, have a look at my nutrition services and I’d be happy to help!