What are macros and should you count them?

I have recently wrote a guest blog on Kiht Collective’s website all about counting macros, and after great feedback I thought it would be good to have on here too!

What are Macros?

Macronutrients (known as macros) are nutrients that we need daily and in large quantities to provide our body with energy. These nutrients consist of carbohydrates, protein and fat.

Energy requirements vary from one person to the next, with factors influencing this such as age, sex, body composition and physical activity.

Counting calories and tracking macros has been a big fitness trend over many years, with endless online calculators breaking down your percentages of each nutrient to reach an overall calorie goal.

Energy expenditure is the sum of the basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy expended while at complete rest), the thermic effect of food (TEF, the energy required to digest and absorb food) and the energy expended in physical activity.

There is no denying that if we use more energy or ‘calories’ than we consume over a long period of time, then we are highly likely to lose weight, this is called a calorie deficit which many people support as a weight loss tool.

However, if it was as simple as calorie counting would there be an obesity epidemic? Should we be looking at food as numbers or should we be eating intuitively? This article is going to objectively discuss both sides of this argument.

Calorie and Macro Counting:

Calorie and macro counting are usually tracked on fitness apps which have a huge database of nutrition information for you to select and log on the app. The app may tell you how much of each macro you have consumed and compare it to the calculated recommendation it has given you.

This is a great way to gain an idea of what is in your food and a quick way to understand what you are consuming. However, logging everything you eat on these apps can lead to obsessive behaviours and take away the aspect of eating for enjoyment. Not to mention that the nutrition information is not always accurate, with the food industry having a 20% tolerance on the nutrition information they provide.

Using this method may eliminate the educational side of nutrition, leading to ignoring hunger cues or being afraid to eat something because it does not fit in with your macro count which over time may lead to a damaged relationship with food. If this sounds familiar it is important to talk to a health care professional.

*an example of myfitnesspal a popular app among calorie counters

Sports nutrition on the other hand, predominately relies on macro and calorie counting to ensure that the athlete is performing to the best of their ability. A nutrition strategy can enhance performance and reduce the risk of fatigue and delayed recovery. However, it is important to notice the difference between eating to support a training schedule to be the best in your sport and eating to maintain/lose/gain weight. Athletes are also under the care and guidance of multidisciplinary team including a coach, nutritionists, doctor and psychologist who monitor the behaviours of the athlete and may intervene if a particular method is not in the individual’s best interest.

Eating Intuitively:

Intuitive Eating is defined as a ‘weight inclusive, evidence-based model with principles which include; rejecting the diet mentality, honouring your hunger, making peace with food and respecting your fullness’*

A huge pro to being an ‘intuitive eater’ is that they make food choices without experiencing guilt or ethical dilemma and enjoys the pleasure of eating whilst honouring hunger. This is a great tool to help you listen to your body and form a healthy relationship with food.

However, like any way of eating it is personal and people’s perception on food is very different, it is important to work with a nutritionist on this to ensure that you have a healthy relationship with food whilst still consuming a healthy diet. For example; somebody who is underweight may have a completely different perception of intuitive eating compared to someone who is classed as overweight.

Intuitive eating is not for everyone but some of the principles shadow the message of eating a healthy, balanced diet.

*the original book behind intuitive eating

Eating a balanced diet:

There is no right or wrong method just as there are not any good or bad foods. If your relationship with food is overwhelming then a good place to start is by making yourself familiar with the eat well guide to help you plan your meals around nutrients that nourish your body whilst still enjoying foods you may not see as ‘nourishing’ … life is about balance after all. Filling your diet with foods such as wholegrains, proteins, healthy fats and is rich in fruit and vegetables is a great place to start without having to calorie count, listening to your body if you fancy chocolate and wine and not having to second think it is a very lucky place to be with food. However, this may not come naturally to you personally and so finding a nutritionist or dietitian who understands this may be beneficial.

*the eatwell guide supported by the UK government and many professional health bodies

In Conclusion:

Nutrition is not black and white, and it is important to recognise that what works for one person, may not work for another. Working with a nutritionist can help you explore what works for you, maybe a bit of both methods work for some people, by counting calories at the beginning to help get an understanding of what food consists of and then adopting principles of intuitive eating to take forward throughout your life.

There is no need to count calories or macros if you know this is not the method for you, you can eat a balanced diet with nutritious meals and snacks as well as foods that are purely there for enjoyment hand in hand.





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