During the coronavirus pandemic, people have joked about gaining the "Quarantine 15," after indulging in comfort foods or imbibing more than usual. Yet, one celebrity is sharing that she's been able to prioritize her health goals. Hilary Duff posted an Instagram, posing in a bikini and reflecting on her time in quarantine.
"I've still been counting my macros ... and it's truly helped me stay lean even while eating bread, chocolate and wine!" she wrote. "I know it's extra hard to keep up and find normalcy in quarantine but I truly hope you make at least 30 mins a day for yourself to stay connected."
We've all heard about counting calories, but what are macros? As a registered dietitian, I'm happy to break it all down for you.
What are macros?
Duff said she's“counting macros” and others use the phrase “IIFIYM (if it fits into your macros)," though not new, macros are trending as a new approach to slimming down.
Macro stands for macronutrient, or, nutrients you need large amounts of. In the nutrition world, our body relies on micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well as macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins). Like many diets that are trending today, counting macros became popular among bodybuilders who tried to match their protein, fat and carbohydrate content to their specific regimen. Today, it’s embraced by everyone from celebrities to people looking to lose a few pounds. The question everyone is asking of course is, does it work?
The benefit of counting macros over dieting is rather obvious: It allows for flexibility and discourages the elimination of entire food groups. It also may be a more sustainable approach since it provides options that most traditional diets leave out. But for those wanting to jump in with two feet, the approach can be both difficult and confusing.
How to follow a macro diet
Counting macros takes not only calculations in grams or ratios specific to your weight, height and activity level, but you also need to know how to maximize each food group. For example, even though carbohydrates are included in the macro diet, not all carbs fit the same. There is also no “one-plan-fits-all” guide on how your ratios of fat, protein and carbohydrate should be divided.
A good macros diet will be one that encourages a high degree of nutrients. Like most diets, sticking to a whole foods approach that incorporates whole grains, lean sources of protein, healthy fats and plenty of fruits and vegetables is always a good approach. As you work towards achieving success in the diet, keeping sugar, alcohol and white, refined grains low will make a big difference. Therefore, in addition to knowing, and tracking your macros daily, you’re also going to need to understand which foods are better than others to make this work.
How to count macros
A good way to start calculating your macros is to first examine your goals. If the goal is to slim down, then determining an appropriate calorie range to enhance weight loss is a great first step. This can be done by cutting 250–500 calories from your normal daily caloric intake. Once this number is determined, you can divide and fit in your protein, fat and carbohydrate ratios.
Most of my patients counting macros prefer to keep carbohydrates on the low end, with fat and protein taking on higher ratios. For example, a lower carb and higher protein and fat content may be broken down into 25% carbohydrate, 35% fat and 40% protein. If you calculate this ratio in terms of calories, and you follow an 1,800-calorie diet, it would look like this:
- 25% carbohydrate = 450 calories
- 35% fat = 630 calories
- 40% protein = 720 calories
Of course, if your plan is to build more muscle, then you might adjust your numbers so that your protein and fat content are even higher (see why it might be important to get a professional to help you?). You can also calculate in terms of grams, which might work for people who are tired of looking at calories counts. If we take that same 1,800-calorie diet with the goals of losing fat and gaining muscle, perhaps we would see a breakdown of 20% carbohydrate, 40% fat and 40% protein. This would equate to:
- 20% carbohydrate = 360 grams, divided by 4 calories = 90 grams of carbohydrates
- 40% fat = 720 grams divided by 9 calories = 80 grams of fat
- 45% protein = 810 grams divided by 4 calories = 203 grams of protein
Note that 1 gram of protein and carbohydrate are equal to 4 calories, while 1 gram of fat is equal to 9 calories.
Finally, some individuals take a simpler approach by starting with protein as the base (calculating 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight) and adjusting the remaining fat and carbohydrates based on body type and goals.
Who is not a candidate for a macro diet?
What I typically find is certain patients who don’t fit the mold for some diets usually don’t fit the mold for most diets. That includes anyone with obsessive or distorted eating patterns, Type 1 diabetics or individuals who are underweight. Additionally, anyone who becomes stressed or anxious from daily tracking of any kind may want to shy away from the diet. Most of my patients utilize macros apps or even track the numbers on paper or spreadsheets. If you prefer to be more carefree with your diet, or simply don’t have the time, you may find challenges with sticking with it.
Counting macros may be a perfect way to finally find peace and health in your diet, as long as you structure your patterns appropriately and focus on nutrient-dense options. Make an appointment with a nutrition expert to get started and as always, check with your physician first if you have been diagnosed with a chronic illness or are on multiple medications.
This story was originally published in December 2018. Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, R.D., is the manager of wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, and the author of "Skinny Liver." Follow her on Twitter @KristinKirkpat.