I was talking to a friend this past weekend and he jokingly asked me to tell him how many macros were in the Toaster Strudel he was eating. I tried to explain to him that if he had the box he should know, since it’s required that they be listed on the side. I came to realize that when people hear the phrase “tracking my macros” or “IIFYM” (if it fits your macros), they think that we have some new age scientific way of looking at food. This really isn’t it at all. It’s taking things that we are all aware of, and learning to balance them properly. You don’t need a science background to figure it out.
Macronutrients (or macros) are simply three nutrients that we have in all of our food: Fat, Carbohydrates, and Protein. There are a certain amount of grams of each in mostly everything we eat. So by my friend asking me to tell him how many macros were in his food, I would just be reading him the label. Knowing what a macro is is the easy part; being able to balance the amount of each that you take in can be what’s tricky. Trust me, when we first start taking the idea of tracking our macros seriously, the numbers and ratios seemed overwhelming. How in the world do I know how much of each macro to have? What foods will help me balance them properly? How do I keep track of them?
To explain how to balance your macros and to live the life of flexible dieting, I will offer up an analogy. Stay with me for a minute….
Balancing macros is EXACTLY like balancing a budget
As adults we all most likely have or have tried a budget for our cash flow. There is give and take. Things that must get paid for, and others that are secondary in nature.
Imagine a budget for your life with only three things to pay for: Rent/Mortgage, Utilities and Luxuries. Which one do you pay first?
Rent/Mortgage, of course! You need to keep that roof over your head. This is a non-negotiable. You pay this every month, the same amount, no questions asked. You take care of that first, then you move on to the next expense…
Utilities! You have to keep the lights and the heat on for that home of yours to be a pleasant place to live. Without paying this you have an empty shell of a home where nothing works. You pay this second, making sure it’s taken care of. Once the first two are paid for you move onto….
Luxuries! Everyone wants them and needs them to an extent. They cost a little more, but they feel so good. They are the finer things in life after all. Without these, life is a long, dull journey. We throw money at it, but only after we take care of that mortgage and those utilities.
Okay, are you still with me?
Let’s meet the macro equivalent of each of these three parts of your budget:
Protein a.k.a. the Rent/Mortgage of your macro plan. You take care of your protein amount no matter what. It’s non-negotiable. It helps you heal after a hard workout and allows those muscles to grow. Without it, our bodies can’t be fit. 1 gram of protein is equal to 4 calories. As a general rule, you want to take in 1-1.5 gram of protein per pound of body weight. So let’s say you’re 180 pounds and are going to take in 2200 calories (to find out how many calories you should take in, visit calorieking.com) Take in 180g of protein (at least!). This equates to (180×4 calories) 720 calories. So as I said, this is non-negotiable, 720 of your 2200 calories need to come from protein. That’s roughly 33%. Not bad. Next up…
Carbs a.k.a. the utilities of your macro plan. Carbs are your main energy source. They are the utilities of the body. They keep the lights on and make sure you have enough juice to get through a workout or just your workday. Living without carbs is like living without electricity, heat and water in your home. Could you do it? Maybe. Do you want to? Hell no. Like protein, carbs are worth 4 calories for every gram you take in.
So let’s see. You’re a 180 pound man taking in 33% of your 2200 calories through protein. Since energy will be important for exercise and getting through the day, I like to keep my carbs around 35-40% of my caloric intake. Let’s say you go with 40%. 40% of 2200 is 880 calories. But we want GRAMS of carbs. Take 880, divide it by 4 (4 calories per gram) and we arrive at 220g of carbs. Almost done…
Then there’s Fat a.k.a. the Luxuries of your macro plan. Okay, admittedly this is where the analogy comes up a bit short. Fats are more expensive than other macros (9 calories for 1 gram of fat), just as luxuries could be considered to be of the pricey variety. BUT you actually NEED fat in your diet. In life, you can probably live without luxury. We don’t want to, but we could. Fat is a nutrient that you can’t live without. It allows your body to absorb other nutrients that we digest. It also can be used as an energy source. In fact, if you deprive yourself of fat, your hormones can suffer some severe consequences. Females, specifically, can affect their chances of getting pregnant and can decrease levels of estrogen in their body simply by choosing to take in low levels of fat. In short, incorporating fats in your diet is ABSOLUTELY necessary.
Alright, so back to the numbers (NOT MORE NUMBERS!! Yes, there’s power in numbers if you understand them. Give it a try):
180 pound man-2200 calories
33% calories for protein-180g
40% calories for carbs-220g
How much percentage for Fat??? You guessed it…
27% (percentages must add to to 100%) calories for fat out of the original 200 calories=594 calories divided by 9=66g of fat!
So there you have your macros, all in gram totals. These are your guidelines for a well-balanced diet. One thing that you should be aware of is that these ratios aren’t set in stone for each individual person. That is to say, your ratios of macros may not be 33% protein, 40% carbs and 27% fat. Each individual is going to have different ratios that help their body. Protein is still #1, but think of carbs as 2A and fats as 2B. Every one of them has a purpose within your body. Just to give you some options, here are three different sets of ratios for three different goals:
These are just some options. It’s all about doing what’s right for your body and your goals. To be honest, some of these ratios are a little low (in our opinion). We believe that ALL of the macros are important and serve their purpose. Depleting one to a mere 10% (looking at you low carb pie chart) isn’t the point of the flexible diet. It’s to be purposeful about getting good amounts of each, enjoying some treats along the way.
Time For The Good Stuff
Now here is the fun part about macros and the IIFYM scene: you can meet those requirements however you want. Calories and macronutrients don’t discriminate. They don’t take the grams of fat from your burger and say that they are different from the grams of fat in your “healthy” salad dressing. They take in the food and digest it all the same. That’s why if you go on Twitter and Instagram you probably see the hashtag #IIFYM next to a giant pile of pancakes or a cheeseburger. You can eat the things that you please….If It Fits Your Macros. Now just like with budgeting your money, there will be give and take. If you want to splurge and have a Big Mac, you may have to balance that with a slab of chicken or some egg whites somewhere in your day. You should still take in plenty of foods that are dense in nutrients (vitamins, calcium, iron, etc.). They key is BALANCE them with these fun treats. It’s SO worth it. To have the freedom to enjoy tasty treats all while meeting your macro goals is pretty liberating. It’s a much healthier perspective to have with your food. Most people see the word diet and cringe…we do too! This is more of a lifestyle, and it’s just orchestrated to promote balance.
Look at this for example:
Pretty even in all the macros. Which would you rather have?? There is no wrong answer (although the Big Mac is the right answer…moving on…), because it is your preference and you spend or use your macros however YOU want to.
Okay great, now how do I keep track of all this stuff??
My Fitness Pal. Become best friends with it. It has a HUGE database of food ready to be logged. Take this screen shot for instance.
Just a few things I ate the other day. Notice the macros listed right next to the calories. It keeps a running total for you and you can even set macro goals in your personal settings (P.S. this is a screen shot of the desktop version. I’d say the app is overall easier to use and look at). Once you get in there and get used to logging your food, your awareness for what you eat and what you CAN eat will change forever.
What we love about IIFYM is that it is far more sustainable for us as a way to eat and enjoy a healthy lifestyle. We don’t really restrict anything from our diet, so there aren’t many days where we feel the need to eat all of the “unhealthy foods” that others avoid on their diets. We eat them often, and in moderation. IT IS THE BEST.
If you guys have any questions or want to continue the conversation further, hit us up in the comment section!