The lazy girl’s guide to macro-counting

Always wanted to try counting your macros but don’t want to spend your day doing maths? Dietitian Melissa Meiers has a quick and easy guide to help get you started.

Macro counting is all the rage these days. The idea is that you calculate how much of each macronutrient your body needs each day to reach your health goal (weight loss, weight maintenance or muscle gain), and then track your intake accordingly. Coined ‘flexible dieting’, there’s a lot of buzz around macro counting – so if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, here’s your easy-peasy guide.

What exactly are macros?

Macronutrients are the nutrients that give your body energy – protein, carbs and fat (FYI alcohol also contains energy, but that’s a story for another day). These ‘macros’ provide different amounts of energy per gram. Carbs and protein contain 4 calories (17 kilojoules) per gram (yes – they’re exactly the same!), while fats contain 9 calories (37 kilojoules) per gram.

Now for a quick maths lesson: the average adult requires 2080 calories (8700 kilojoules) to maintain their weight. For optimal health and nutritional adequacy, this intake is recommended to be split three ways: 45-65% carbs, 20-35% fat and 15-25% protein. That equates to 230-333g of carbs, 47-82g of fat and 77-128g of protein per day.

And for weight loss? The same ratios apply, but the general recommendation drops to 1510 calories (6300 kilojoules) per day. That’s 167-241g of carbs, 33-58g of fat and 56-93g of protein per day.

Phew, that’s a lot of numbers!

Pros and cons of macro counting

There are a few solid perks of counting your macros. If nothing else, it can help you to become more aware of what you’re eating, which in itself can help you to improve your eating habits and manage your weight.

Along the same lines, counting your macros can help you to understand the concept of serving sizes. Macro counting can also help you to eat more and lose weight by teaching you about energy density. Eventually, you’ll figure out you can eat more whole foods for the same energy cost of a smaller amount of a treat food.

My list of gripes, however, is a fair bit longer:

  1. Macro counting can be complex and time consuming. For this reason, it can actually limit the variety of foods you’re eating (which is not a good thing), because eating the same meals requires far less effort and time spent calculating.
  2. Macro counting can hinder your relationship with food. For many people, calculating your every mouthful can actually backfire and turn into an obsessive habit that won’t do you any good in the long run.
  3. The concept of ‘if it fits your macros’ essentially means you can eat anything you want, without giving any thought to the quality of the food you’re putting in your mouth. That means an ice cream could become your lunch just because you can make it work within a pre-defined set of numbers – and that’s not a healthy way to eat, in my books.
  4. Counting macros isn’t as individualised as you might think. Sure, a calculator or personal trainer might spit out a set of macros that are supposedly ideal for your goals, but having a truly healthy diet is about far more than a perfect macro count. Are you eating enough fibre? Are you drinking enough water? Are you getting your two and five a day? Are you actually enjoying what you’re eating? How are your iron levels? And while we’re at it, how are your exercise habits tracking? You get the picture…

An easier alternative

Say hello to the healthy plate model – it’s a far easier way to eat that still ensures you’re getting the right balance of macronutrients in every meal, without the need for a calculator. It goes like this:

  1. Fill half of your plate with non-starchy veggies. Essentially, that’s anything that’s not potato, sweet potato or corn (think: broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, tomato, mushrooms, cucumber, lettuce). A piece of fruit can also replace this portion.
  2. Fill a quarter of your plate with lean protein: meat, seafood, eggs, tofu, legumes, nuts or seeds. Dairy foods provide a decent protein punch too.
  3. Fill the remaining quarter of your plate with quality carbs. That’s whole grains (like wholemeal pasta, rolled oats or quinoa) and starchy veg (potato, sweet potato or corn).

Top it off with a hint of healthy fats and you’re good to go.

To give you a little inspo, for breakfast, that could be:

  • half a cup of natural muesli with raw nuts (quality carbs and healthy fats), half a cup of yoghurt (lean protein) and a couple of passionfruit (fruit or non-starchy veg)
  • two pieces of wholegrain toast (quality carbs) with two poached eggs (lean protein) served with a side of tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms (non-starchy veg) and a quarter of an avocado (healthy fats).

For lunch, it could be:

  • a wholegrain wrap (quality carbs) topped with a large handful of garden salad (non-starchy veg), a quarter of an avocado (healthy fats), a tin of tuna and a slice of cheese (lean protein)
  • a salad made of wholemeal couscous (quality carbs), shredded chicken (lean protein), as many non-starchy veggies as you please and a dressing made of extra virgin olive oil (healthy fats).

And for dinner, it could be:

  • a piece of salmon (lean protein and healthy fats) with roasted sweet potatoes (quality carbs) and grilled broccolini (non-starchy veg)
  • a stir fry made of tofu (lean protein), brown basmati rice (quality carbs) and onion, carrot, squash, zucchini and capsicum (non-starchy veg) cooked in extra virgin olive oil (healthy fats).

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can connect with her at www.honestnutrition.com.au or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.