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Food For Thought: Counting Macros

“Counting macros” has become a popular trend in the fitness and nutrition world. What does this mean, and is it a valid weight loss strategy?

“Macros” refers to macronutrients, or the nutrients your body needs in large amounts: protein, carbs and fat. “Counting macros” involves setting a limit for your daily allowance of each of these macronutrients, depending on your goals and metabolic profile. Most online macro calculators will first estimate your calorie needs, then have you set your desired ratio of carbs to protein to fat (e.g., 50/20/30). From there, the calculator will provide daily limits (usually in grams) for each macronutrient.

What are the benefits of this strategy? Counting macros allows you to take a step beyond “calories in, calories out” and tailor your diet to your unique metabolic profile (e.g., low-carb, low-fat). We all know that we can fit a bowl of pasta into a reduced-calorie meal plan, but is that going to get you closer to your health goals? This strategy is also often used in the fitness and athletic performance industry to maximize protein intake for muscle building.

What are the downsides? The first (and probably most important) downside is that it requires labor-intensive food tracking and planning. Macro counting takes tracking a step beyond your average calorie tracking app (many of which now have macro counting functionality). As a result, many people struggle to stick with this strategy over the long term. A second pitfall of macro counting is that you can still fit lower-quality foods into this strategy (e.g., you could eat a bowl of sugary cereal if it fell within your carb limit for the day). This may slow your progress toward your goals.

So what’s the verdict on counting macros? There are pros and cons of a macro counting approach to weight loss. At Enara, we generally recommend taking a less “reductionist” approach and focusing on building a balanced plate (keeping in mind any condition-specific recommendations from your dietitian, such as low-carb dinners to help with insulin resistance) with appropriate portions. The calories and recommended macronutrient ratios tend to follow naturally. That being said, if you are trying out a new plan and are particularly focused on your macronutrient breakdown, speak with your dietitian to see if this strategy might be helpful as you get started.

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