How to Count Macros the Lazy Way
Or: “How to Count Macros Without Trying”
Have you ever wondered how to count macros, or wondered what people are talking about when they talk about counting macros?
“Macros” is a common term in the bodybuilding/weightlifting/physique world of exercise, and it’s short for “macronutrients.” The three macros are:
Calorie Counting vs. Macro Counting
Many people, when they try to lose weight, count calories almost exclusively. It’s traditional, and companies like Weight Watchers and other weight-loss models rely heavily on calorie-counting. Calorie-counting is a great place to start in terms of dietary awareness, and it is extremely helpful. I don’t hate it, especially if you have a larger amount of weight to lose.
However, if you have more detailed physique goals (i.e., you’re already a healthy weight but you’d like to see some abs emerge), then macros will definitely help steer you towards your goal. Macros can work for weight loss, as well, but they are most efficient and effective for people already at a low level of body fat who want to see nuanced body changes.
Most simply put:
- Calories = Weight Change
- Macros = Body Composition Change
“Body composition” refers to how much muscle and fat you have in your body. The more muscle and the less fat you have, the more lean and sculpted you will appear. There are, of course, healthy ranges (especially for women) and there is a “too low” as well as a “too high” level of body fat, but in general, a lower body fat percentage achieved through a healthy training regimen combined with macro-counting strategies will yield you a slamming and strong physique.
So Why Don’t More People Count Macros?
The short answer: because it’s hard and complicated. Instead of glancing at the top of the package and plugging in the one calorie count, macros involve three different numbers in addition to calories. Macros are also calculated in grams, so you have to use an app unless you want to do lots and lots of math. And sometimes you have to look things up because there is no package. When I am counting macros, I find myself Googling “apple nutrition facts,” for example!
However, counting macros confers a tremendous number of benefits, including:
- Nutrition education
- Clients read labels for the first time, and discover what their favorite foods contain, and perhaps learn to avoid certain foods that have been holding them back in their quest for a leaner body.
- Positive rather than negative goals
- Instead of trying to “stay under” a calorie range, it is more fun, playful, and interesting to “hit” macro targets, like a higher protein goal.
- Counting macros (instead of calories) helps clients plan for the big picture – grocery shopping, meal planning, preparation, and cooking become more important!
- Counting macros allows people to be more in touch with how different foods make them feel, because they are aware of a variety of food groups instead of just counting calories.
More than anything, I love the mindset of counting macros. It is the opposite of restrictive – in fact, counting macros allows clients to meet their physical needs without shame. The goal in life isn’t zero fat – it may be 20%, 25%, or 30% of the diet, but it’s not 0%!
What Should Your Macro Ratio Be?
Macros are expressed in varying ratios, and different combinations lead to different goals, all equally valid. They’re usually expressed in a group of three numbers like this: 40%-40%-20%, or 25%-45%-30%. You always need to double-check to make sure that you know which numbers represent which macros (in other words, if you read a certain recommendation, make absolutely sure you know which number is which).
But it’s key to point out that the ratios can be different for everyone, even people with the same goals – there’s no one right way to calculate macros. My ratio right now, for example, is 40% protein, 40% carbohydrates, and 20% fat. It’s a pretty happy ratio for me – it helps me feel great, stay extremely active and energetic, and maintain a pretty lean physique at the same time. For other people, it will be different!
Medical needs (managing high cholesterol or diabetes, for example) or pregnancy can impact your nutritional needs, and different body types can respond differently to the same macro ratios. It’s an individual game, and the macros are the road map, not the destination. You just need to learn what works for you, and structure helps with that!
I’m going to take a wild guess that, if you’re reading my blog, you’re interested in losing fat. If this is true, then the main goal for you is going to be to increase your protein and decrease your carbohydrates and fat, regardless of the exact ratio. You can look up a macronutrient ratio that takes into account your age, gender, level of activity, and weight, but in general, tilting your body composition in a leaner direction involves a larger protein intake and a lower carbohydrate and fat intake, while maintaining a slight caloric deficit (more on that later).
I’m also going to assume that – if you clicked on a post that includes “the lazy way” in the title, you are probably not interested in making these calculations, and general tips would be more helpful. So without further ado, here are my top tips for effective, consistent fat loss through macro manipulation without excessive counting and calculating.
How to Count Macros the Lazy Way
Eat three square meals and two protein-centered snacks every day, and don’t graze/snack mindlessly.
Part of macro-counting for fat loss is making sure that you are staying in a slight caloric deficit. However, instead of counting calories and intentionally creating restriction, focus on eating on a schedule – three moderately portioned, high-quality meals and two extremely high-protein snacks, never more than four hours apart, every day. This should manage your caloric intake just fine without obsessing over calories.
P.S. Ladies, do not cut your calories below 1500-1800, please. There are so many diet plans online that recommend 1200-1300 calories, and if you eat like this, you are literally starving yourself. I am 5’4″ and very small, and I eat 1800 a day. You need calories to live, let alone exercise!!
Buy and eat a lot of low-fat, plain Greek yogurt.
Fun fact: on the show “Burn Notice” (any fellow fans here??), one of the characters mentions yogurt or is seen eating yogurt in every single episode of the show. That is, in fact, my life. Low-fat, plain Greek yogurt packs an incredible punch of pure protein. I eat it with berries, use it as sour cream, make mac-n-cheese with it, and bake with it. I am a little obsessed with its protein-packing powers.
Buy a high-quality protein powder.
Are you seeing a theme yet? (hint: it’s protein). If you formally count macros, the first thing you notice is how hard it is to hit higher protein goals. 40%, for example, is a lot of protein, even for a tiny gal like me! Many of my protein-acquisition problems were solved by investing in a protein powder like Vega Sport Performance. It’s more expensive than your average grocery store protein powder, but it is low sugar and fat, high in protein, and contains extra goodies like BCAA’s (which help with muscle recovery) and probiotics (for digestion). And it tastes great!
Lay off the drinks.
If you count macros formally and go the whole nine yard with it, you immediately notice the foods that are nutritionally empty. They take up calorie space without giving anything back! Alcohol, along with other sugary, high-carb drinks, top this list. To get the best physique results you possibly can, you will want to minimize the number of drinks you have and the frequency with which you have them. A good target for fat loss is to have just a few drinks a week.
Eat a moderate amount of whole grains, starchy vegetables, and fruit with every meal… EXCEPT DINNER.
Carbohydrates give you energy, so, in my book, you don’t want to eliminate them completely. You need them to feel great throughout the day. Focus on incorporating them in small increments (from high-quality sources like brown rice, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, etc.) with breakfast, lunch, and snacks, and then tapering off the carbohydrates around 5 PM. This will minimize your carbohydrate intake overall, without making you feel low-energy or foggy during the day.
Wait slightly longer to eat breakfast.
A slight fast can help with fat loss, so I advise clients to wait until around 9 AM to eat breakfast. This typically puts about 12 hours into the fast. If you stop eating around 7 or 8 in the evening, then the fast is even longer. However, I don’t advise skipping breakfast entirely. Just wait a little bit longer than you want, so that you are awake a few hours before you eat, and breakfast and lunch are no more than four hours apart.
Plan your meals, shop for groceries, and meal prep like a perfectionist.
This is key. In order to set yourself up for success, you need to menu plan, buy food, and have it in your home. You need to know what you are going to eat, every day, at least on weekdays. Otherwise, you’re starting each day with the hope that you will eat well, without the framework that you need to hit the goals you want. This also includes becoming familiar with convenience food and restaurants in your area, so that when the chips are down and you need to get food out, you can make a default good choice 90% of the time.
Be consistent, patient, and realistic.
Change takes time. If you hit your macro goals 5-6 days per week and consistently engage in intense exercise 4-5 days per week, you will definitely see results, even within a month. However, I recommend that you stay off the scale, and instead use metrics like a tape measure (around your belly button) and clothing fit to gauge progress. Be patient and stay persistent, and your efforts will most certainly pay off with visible results!
Is it Really “The Lazy Way”?
So, it’s really not that lazy, right? It does take some work. However, even though strategically planning your food and abstaining from mindless snacking and empty calories takes attention and work, it is still less work that constantly counting all of your macros and calculating your ratio each day. The good news is that these changes can easily become habits – all it takes is some repetition, and you will begin to automatically plan your meals each day, shop on the weekends, and build an intrinsic awareness of what kinds of foods/meals will help you stay lean.
If you have any questions, drop me a line and I’m happy to answer them!