Updated: May 13
Step 1: Track your Macros. Nutrition is the most important requirement in any health wellness routine. Having good nutrition means being healthy on the inside. “You are what you eat”, is an old adage that holds true as a measurement of daily function. As important as it is to maintain a healthy level of activity, it is almost twice as important to give our bodies the nutrition that it requires to function optimally and efficiently. You don’t want to throw away all that hard work. Encompassing all of Nutrition is not as simple as condensing it into one blog article. There are many professionals that focus on nutrition and its importance in fueling our bodies for maintaining function. Nevertheless, it does not have to be as complicated as many can imagine it to be. A good place to start is by keeping track of your macronutrient consumption. Macros are essential dietary requirements that we need to maintain basic physiological functions. They are called macros because these are nutrients that we need in large amounts. Namely, these are Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats; let’s break down their importance and how to track your macros:
1. Caloric intake
First, you have to know what your caloric intake requirements are. There are many online calculators that you can use that tell you how many calories you should be eating based on height, weight, and even activity level. Once you find your maintenance calories, which is the amount of energy needed to maintain daily function and maintain your current weight, you can adjust based on your goals. If you wish to lose weight start off by subtracting 200 calories a day; conversely, if you wish to gain weight add 200 calories. (This number can further be adjusted to your goals.) Tracking caloric intake is really the key to success if you want to be accurate in your nutrition. To do this most effectively, you will need to own a food scale. You can use a food scale to measure serving and portion sizes of your meal, based on the nutrition label, so you can know exactly what is going into your body. It works best to keep a journal of your intake daily. There are even apps that you can download that help make this process much simpler.
Carbohydrates are first on this list for a reason; they tend to be demonized. Let's establish, however, Carbohydrates are exclusively important for being the main source of energy for your body and the many functions that keep you alive. Deprivation of carbohydrates is likely to lead to fatigue and have adverse effects on mood, personality, and brain function. Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen within muscle cells and allow you to do heavy lifting during your training sessions. It’s important to draw a distinction between simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are typically digested quickly to be used as energy and may spike blood sugar levels (glycemic index). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if your goal is to bulk up and gain muscle mass (Moderation is a keyword and the best consumption time is post-workout), however, if you’re dieting to lose fat, or as a better alternative, you may want to skip these for complex carbohydrates. As the name states, complex carbohydrates typically take more time to be broken down and provide a steady supply of glycogen to your muscles. Complex carbohydrates are typically higher in fiber as well leaving you feeling satiated after a meal. Muscle size increases as glycogen is stored in the muscles, and muscle repair is more quickly achieved. 1g of carbs is equivalent to 4 calories, so oftentimes people cut out carbs first because they are more easily accessible and adjusted.
For most athletes and fitness enthusiasts, protein is a closely monitored macronutrient. Protein is used by the body for muscle tissue repair, building, and maintenance. Your body needs about 20 amino acids (protein building blocks) to function optimally, some of these are called essential amino acids. You may often hear that at least 1g of Protein per pound of body weight is necessary to be in a muscle-building (anabolic) state. This means a 185lb person would consume 185g(.5g-1g is adequate). Protein can be found in eggs, fish, meats, and some vegetables or grains. Eating a good portion of protein with every meal will also leave you feeling satiated for a longer period of time. You’ll often hear bodybuilders mention being in an anabolic state for muscle hypertrophy, this comes from high protein consumption. So-called good sources or lean sources of protein are typically high in the macro and low in the other macronutrients. 1g of protein is equivalent to 4 calories, and its consumption is typically kept at high levels for both cutting and bulking.
Certainly not the least of the macronutrients is Fat. Dietary fats are the most calorically dense of all the macronutrients and supply energy long-term. Fats function as stored energy in the body, as cushioning to protect internal organs, and as an insulator; they’re also important for various hormonal functions. Fats additionally have an effect on cholesterol levels in your body. You want to be wary of consuming high levels of trans fat and saturated fats as they can lead to heart disease and a little extra padding around the waistline. “Good fats” (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) can be found in various fish, nuts, as well as certain fruits and vegetables. As mentioned before fats are calorically dense at 1g being equivalent to 9 calories, so overconsumption of fats must be watched. Nevertheless, healthy fats are essential for a good metabolism and fat loss.
Now that you know the importance of the macronutrients and their equivalent caloric value, you can keep track of them. Any one particular diet is not universal for everyone. Many people have diet restrictions due to health or personal reasons. It is important to talk to a professional or a physician to break down what may work for you. Many people understand dieting from trial and error, seeing how their bodies respond to nutrition and keeping a log. As you learn about nutrition it will become second hand and knowing what works, is a simple task.
Before starting any fitness program or dietary changes, including supplementation, please consult your physician for a thorough examination.