Are you finding yourself counting calories, sticking to your numbers, and even still not seeing results? The problem might be not about the number of calories, but the kind of calories.
We chatted with certified personal trainer and nutrition coach Carrie McMahon, author of the e-book Why You Should Count Macronutrients, Not Calories. With a life revolving around calorie counting and uncontrollable cheat days (sound familiar?), McMahon was stuck in a restrict-and-binge cycle that she couldn't seem to escape. She soon realized that in order to make a change in her health, she needed to change her approach to food — so she ditched the calorie counting in favor of a less mainstream concept: macronutrient counting.
"Macronutrients are what make up the caloric content of a food," says McMahon. Sometimes referred to as "macros," the three categories of macronutrients are carbohydrates, fat, and protein. The caloric combination of the macros is where that mysterious total number of calories comes from. Here's the breakdown:
- 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
- 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
- 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
So it's not about how many calories are in your food, but what kind of calories are in your food. Even if you set a strict calorie limit and stick to it, you could be eating total garbage and not getting the nutrients you need. McMahon herself said that back in her days of calorie counting, she would eat "low-fat bars and cereals, fat-free ready meals, et cetera . . . all day long." The result? "I felt like sh*t."
What are the benefits of ditching your calorie-counting ways? For starters, you can indulge with a little less guilt. "Let yourself eat those treats!" says McMahon. "Fit them into your macro allowances, and don't just stick to 'boring foods' or you'll burn out" — and in turn, binge. When you're eating a balanced diet, "cravings go away, because you're not deficient in anything." This balance will "give you more energy, better workouts, and better results." Feeling better, working out better, killing cravings, and treating yo'self? Sign us up!
Ready to get started? Decide whether you want to increase your metabolism, lose fat, or build muscle. McMahon recommends the following daily proportions to her clients beginning this nutritional program:
- Boost Metabolism and/or Build Muscle: 40 percent protein, 35 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent fat
- Lose Fat: 45 percent protein, 35 percent carbohydrates, 20 percent fat
Since tracking can be tough (and a tad math intensive), download a macro-counting app (she recommends My Macros+ app ($3)), where you can enter your foods for each meal while the app does the math for you. That way, you can see if you're reaching your daily numbers, and start reaching your healthy goals.