Macro-counting is all about understanding how many of the calories in your diet come from each of the three macronutrients—protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Though tracking macros certainly has its pros and cons, it can teach you a lot about the nutritional value of the foods you eat.
In fact, according to The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N., L.D.N., C.P.T., counting macros tends to promote more balance amongst carbohydrate, protein, and fat consumption than a simple calorie-focused approach. “Macro-counting teaches much more than the importance of not over-doing it on your calorie allotment; it teaches portion size and meal balance,” she explains. “Even if you were to macro-count short-term, you’d be able to utilize the portion size and meal balance learnings long-term.”
That being said, there’s a little more to macro-counting than meets the eye if you want it to support a nourishing diet that promotes long-term health and wellbeing. Here, nutrition experts share the important information they want all macro-counters to know.
1. Health isn’t just about calories And Macros
The quality of the food we eat—beyond its calorie and macro breakdown—matters, which is why it’s important to look beyond the numbers when selecting what typically makes up your plate. It’s possible that a piece of fruit and a serving of candy may have relatively similar macros, but that doesn’t mean the two options are one and the same. “The body simply knows better what to do with the nutrients from whole foods,” says functional nutritional therapy practitioner Tansy Rodgers, F.N.T.P. Whenever possible, try to focus on whole, unprocessed foods, she recommends. Another reason to do so? Research published in the journal Food & Nutrition Research shows that we actually burn more calories after eating a whole-food meal that’s similar in calories and macros to a processed one.
2. too Much routine Can Come At A Cost
While macro-counting may help you achieve better macronutrient balance, it does have blind spots, which include important nutritional pillars like vitamins and minerals, omega-3s, probiotics, and adequate hydration, according to Michels. For this reason, she recommends against consuming the same meals every day, even though it might seem like an easier way to hit your macros consistently.
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“Each fruit and vegetable color provides different micronutrients and phytochemicals, so try to eat a rainbow of produce,” she suggests. “And switch up your protein and starchy carbohydrate choices for nutrient diversity, too.” Think salmon over your usual chicken breast or parsnips over potatoes.
3. You should enjoy the food you eat
One potential problem that comes with macro-counting is becoming fixated on always, always hitting your numbers, a behavior pattern that does more harm than good. “Part of a healthy diet is the energetic connection, the healthy relationship, and the positive memories that we have of food,” says Rodgers. “Social settings that involve food, the yumminess of the food that we eat, and how the food makes us feel are just as important as the macronutrients in our food—at times, I would argue even more important!” For this reason, Rodgers urges anyone involved in macro-counting to allow for opportunities to indulge and fully enjoy food, as well as the memories and milestones that food can be a part of.
4. snacks can help you better balance blood sugar
When counting macros—especially at first—it may feel easier to think only about the breakdown of your three core meals. After all, it involves some math! However, if you forego snacking for the sake of keeping your macro equations simple, you might end up going too long without eating and end up with low blood sugar, according to Rodgers. She recommends keeping balanced snacks with you wherever you go to help keep your blood sugar stable in between meals without throwing off your macro distribution. A few options: grass-fed beef jerky, almond butter with an apple, or a smoothie made with protein powder, berries, and nut butter. With experience, you’ll figure out which snacks and meals best fit into the puzzle of your daily macro goals, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice stable blood sugar in the meantime.
5. Don’t forget about fiber
Although not generally considered a macronutrient, fiber is still an incredibly important nutrient that you need in your diet. It supports your gut health and overall microbiome and can minimize your risk of myriad diseases when consumed in ample amounts, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Fiber has numerous benefits, from keeping you fuller longer, lowering your risk of heart disease, improving insulin usage, and improving bowel health, just to name a few,” says Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness. “A general rule-of-thumb for fiber needs is that women need 21 to 25 grams of fiber daily and men need 30 to 38 grams.” If you use an app to track your eats, make sure you’re peeping at your fiber intake, in addition to those carbs, proteins, and fats.
6. Make the majority of your fats unsaturated
There’s still a healthy amount of debate out there around the role that saturated fats play in our health (or lack thereof). The American Heart Association asserts that saturated fats play a role in the development of several diseases when consumed in high quantities and research published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology suggests that diets higher in poly- and monounsaturated fats make for less inflammation in the arteries. Despite plenty of arguments that saturated fats, which are found in many animal products, have been unfairly demonized, it still makes sense to emphasize unsaturated fats in your diet.
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As you consider where the fat you’ll consume while macro-counting comes from, Adams recommends replacing fattier meats with lean options and opting for healthy foods like olive oil and avocados.
7. a nutritionist Can Personalize your macro-counting strategy
While you can certainly macro-count on your own, Michels recommends consulting with a nutrition expert who can create personalized macronutrient recommendations that support your specific health goals. “A nutrition expert can help you understand your individualized needs and best support your road to success,” she says. “A perk of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Healthy Awards program is complimentary nutrition consultations.” (You can sign up for one here.) Selecting and sticking to daily macronutrient parameters without personalized expert input could send you in the wrong direction and ultimately backfire on your goals and overall health.
8. Macro-Counting temporarily Might Be Your Best Bet
If you’re curious about macro-counting, trying it as a short-term experiment may be more beneficial than sticking to it indefinitely, according to dietitian Roxana Ehsani, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. After you’ve learned what foods contain carbs, proteins, and fat (and about how much), consider backing off for a while. “Once you see how these foods look on your plate, then make an effort to follow the USDA MyPlate method, which emphasizes eating for long-term health, instead,” she suggests.
You see, staying laser-focused on hitting certain protein, carb, and fat numbers long-term can ultimately lead to restrictive eating patterns and micronutrient deficiencies (especially if you’re under-consuming fats), Ehsani explains. The MyPlate framework, meanwhile, is all about incorporating a variety of nutrient-rich foods on your plate at every meal, which offers more flexibility (read: no number-crunching!) while providing guidance on what a generally healthy eating pattern looks like.