I mentioned macro’s yesterday to my husband and he didn’t know what it was. Once I said it was simply carbohydrates, protein and fat he was still totally clueless. I mean yes, he has heard of them but he is very old school in what he relates them to. He knows bread has carbs in and he thinks that’s bad. He thinks protein is for people wanting big muscles.
I also recently had a friend ask me if the protein shake she is drinking to aid her recovery after a major operation will even help because her husband told her that protein shakes are only for bodybuilders and they will make her fat if she drinks it without training.
I had to write a post about it to help clear the misconceptions up.
Some of you will have heard the term if it fits your macros (IIFYM). You will have heard it’s the only way to lose weight. You can eat whatever you want as long as it fits.
I’d like to break this down and explain what the macros actually are, what they do for our body and why this style of eating can be beneficial but also why it does not suit everyone.
First of all, IIFYM is not just used for fat loss it also very popular for those wanting to build muscle and also just maintain their current body composition (maintenance).
So, let’s take each macro one at a time.
The poor old carbohydrate gets so much bad press but I see it changing with more and more evidence coming out to support its health benefits and also showing that you don’t need to cut it out to lose fat. Although this macro is not essential to the body like the other macros are the carbohydrate offers so much benefit to the healthy function of our bodies.
First of all, it’s the preferred source of fuel and the main source of fuel for all living organisms. If you go for a work out then its carbs that will be burnt first if your body has access to them (if you have eaten them). It’s also the main source of fuel for our brains. Have you ever cut out carbs and had that horrible brain fog? Your brain uses around 20% of your energy requirements every day, its wants to be fuelled to have optimal function.
There are 3 types of carbohydrates and theses are sugar, starch and fibre.
Carbohydrates can be simple or complex.
Simple carbs are made up of sugars or sugar and starch. Things like white rice and white bread. The sugar hits your blood stream quicker which mean you get a quick hit of energy; these are called high glycemic foods. (GI)
Then you have complex carbohydrates which are made up of starch and fibre. These foods include wholegrains, brown rice, pulses and lentils to name only a few.
It’s the complex carbs we need to be having more of and we should be reducing the simple carbs. I am only talking in terms of optimal health.
Here’s why carbs are great for us.
Energy – 1 gram of carbohydrates equals 4 calories. This is the same for both simple and complex. When carbs are digested, they are turned into glucose which is the body’s main source of energy. Simple carbs are released quickly into the blood stream but complex is released more slowly so you get energy for complex carbs for a longer period of time.
Digestive health – The fibre in the complex carbs helps to stop constipation and also help the formation of the stool to prevent diarrhea.
Weight control – Complex carbs can help us to feel fuller for longer and also help us to feel satisfied by our food. This is only the complex kind though; the simple carbs can actually do the opposite and can be overconsumed!
It’s recommended that we get 45-60% of our calories from carbohydrates. This may seem high but it is very individual based as we tolerate them very differently. Conditions such as IBS can have an impact on your tolerance of fibre for example. You may feel better having a lower amount. You will need higher carbs if you are very active.
I think it is important to note here that each gram of carbohydrate holds 3 molecules of water. Have you ever cut back on carbs for a few days and jumped on the scales to find you have lost 3kgs in weight and you get all excited and think going low carb is the only way? It’s just water, it’s not fat! Sorry to disappoint.
Complex carbs are also very high in essential vitamins and minerals, if you cut them out you are cutting out not only the amazing benefits you get from fibre but also a mass of nutrients your body needs.
I only became aware of how important Protein is for our bodies in the last couple of years. What a wonder macro this is. People think protein is for weight lifters and to grow big muscles. Yes, it does help with that (however you also need to lift heavy weights) but it’s so much more and this is an essential macro nutrient we all need and most of us do not get enough of. I’m going to try hard to keep it shorter than I did with carbs and maybe do a whole post on protein another time.
What is protein? Proteins are a large molecule consisting of amino acids. Proteins are made up of essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids. I’m not going to go into the science so I will just tell you why we need it and why it’s great.
To grow, repair and maintain muscles and tissues in the body
Boosts your immune system - proteins help form antibodies to fight infection
High satiety – Protein keeps you fuller for longer
Higher thermic effect of food – the body works harder to process the protein thus burning more calories (approx. 80-100 extra per day)
Can help to lower blood pressure
Eating more protein can help with recovery of an injury or after an operation
Like carbohydrates protein also has 4 calories per gram.
The government guideline recommends 0.8g per kg of body weight. This is an absolute minimum and nutritionists would recommend 1.5-2g of protein per kg of bodyweight to get more benefits.
Protein can be found in all animal products in higher quantities and is also available in plant-based food such as oats, pulses, rice, quinoa and other cereals.
Again, we are all different. Muscle Michael will need a lot more than laid back Lucy who isn’t very active. Michael will need a lot more protein to make sure he is recovering from his gym sessions and building up his muscle for his goals. Lucy needs 0.8g per kg plus to maintain good health so it really does depend on your goals.
Protein drinks and shakes are not necessary but they do have a place. Again, they are not just for muscle Michael. They are convenient for anyone struggling to hit their protein target and they are a complete protein with all the essential amino acids our body needs.
Many people are not hitting their protein target. Check yours, you might be surprised!
Fats have also been in the firing line in the past. I even remember back in the early 2000’s trying to eat as little fat as possible with absolutely no idea why but someone said it would help me lose weight. Low fat diets were the thing to do. Then came Atkins and the roles reverse completely.
Fat is an essential macro nutrient and is a major source of energy. It helps you absorb vitamins and minerals, helps with muscle movement, inflammation and is essential for blood clotting.
Fat has 9 calories per gram therefore is the most calorie dense out of the 3 macros.
Let’s talk about the different types of fat.
The good stuff – monounsaturated (MUFA’s) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA’s)
MUFA’s – olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds PUFA’s – essential fats. These are your omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Great for your cholesterol and heart health. Found in fatty fish, flaxseeds and walnuts to name a few.
Most of your fats should be coming from MUFA’s and PUFA’s.
This is the bad fat. There are no known benefits to them so we should get rid of them from our diets. They increase harmful cholesterol, create inflammation and contribute to heart disease. You will find these in highly processed foods.
They are not bad in moderation but can be if over consumed. It is said that high consumption of saturated fat is linked to heart disease and high cholesterol. However recent studies have shown that this link isn’t what we thought and it may not be as bad as we have been led to believe. I think we all know that bacon, high processed meats and large amounts of high fat dairy is not great for out waistline and heart health. I say moderation on this one but don’t fear it.
The recommended daily amount of fat we should be eating is between 20-35% of our calories.
Ok, not a macro but I thought it was worth a mention. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram and has absolutely no health benefit to us. It’s literally empty calories.
Still confused?? Me too, so much to take in and I’ve barely scratched the surface but I think I have covered the basics.
If it fits your macros (IIFYM) and why it’s good for some people
It’s a flexible approach to eating that is planned around your needs. Your needs being your age, activity levels, gender. It’s also based on your goals if that’s weight loss, muscle gain or even weight gain.
This is what the Australian government recommends for good health. 45-65% carbs, 15-20% protein, 20-35% fat for good health. Again, this is very general.
The downside to tracking your macros
It can be quite obsessive. I know, I’ve been there. You need to know that macro content of every single food and it can become very time consuming. You also start to keep your foods the same once you have mastered what fits therefore you lack variety therefore lack vitamins and minerals. It also doesn’t promote eating good quality food as you can eat a tub of ice-cream if you fit it into your macros.
The take home summary
IIFYM is basically down to calories at the end of the day, it’s just another way of tracking them
That each macro is super important for our health and there is no need for extreme diets to cut whole macros out (unless for a specific health condition)
Moderation is key – it always comes back to this
What works for one person does not always work for another person
Eat complex carbs and reduce simple carbs
Up your protein intake if you are not meeting the requirements
Avoid trans fats and moderate saturated fats
I hope this helps