Nutrition Series - What is a macro?
As we continue to look at Nutritional factors for your return to the mat, the next few installments are about the most important thing, Food.
Well, sort of. This article is about what makes up food, specifically macro nutrients (or more commonly know as 'macros’).
Macros are basically what your food is predominantly made of ie protein, fats or carbohydrates. Some food will contain just one type of macro, however most will be made up of two or in some cases all three. To be more specific a macro is defined as,
An essential nutrient that has a large minimal daily requirement, including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and water. The term sometimes specifically includes, and sometimes specifically excludes, minerals required in amounts greater than 100 mg daily: calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, and sulfur.
The topic of macro nutrients has become a murky one lately with the term itself becoming an industry buzz word (I've never known an industry that creates so many trends, fads and buzz words as the nutrition industry). This makes things very confusing for people as Facebook and Instagram is constantly filled with people with great physiques who all recommend different things (eating clean, flexible dieting, people insisting you can eat ice cream etc). They often say every other method but theirs doesn't work and is old fashioned etc. This just isn't the case at all. As I have said in previous articles, these are just methods that can be applied to any nutrition plan in order to get the best results.
In the past people used to talk predominantly about a 'macro split'. This referred to what percentages of which macro made up your nutrition plan. For example you would have, 30% Protein. 40% carbs and 30% fat. Some people may have 30% protein, 30% carbs, 40% fat. It all depends on how your program is set up to achieve a certain goal. Athletes who have a more intense training schedule may have higher carbs while those looking to lose a bit of fat or who aren't as active may have a lower carb, higher fat diet. It is purely down to the individual and how the tailor their nutrition to suit their goals.
These days the current buzz term is IIFYM. This simply means If It Fits Your Macros. This method is aimed at people who want a bit more flexibility in their diet. People who practice IIFYM can eat whatever foods they like as long as it fits a predetermined amount of protein, fats and carbs. So if the person wants a bit of chocolate or a bit of ice cream, they can measure it out, work out the exact amount of protein, fats and carbs and fit it into their plan.
A diet where you can eat treats and still move towards a goal?
"Sign me up!" I hear you cry.
Well it's not that simply really. While I don't want this article to be purely about IIFYM (as it is an article of its own), this series would have been incomplete had I not mentioned it due to its popularity and focus in the media.
Ok, so good points. The diet does indeed allow the individual more flexibility on what they eat. This means that they can have a daily treat to satisfy cravings and still move towards their goal. The good news is that this method is also backed by science. As long as you have your nutritional bases covered (Calories, micro nutrients, health etc) then eating this way does not have a negative impact on your goals.
Now for the bad points. While the diet is indeed very flexible, it requires you to read and understand food labels, weigh and measure all your foods (including your ice cream) and be accurate at the calculations. This is quite a lot of work, especially for someone who is just starting to get a handle on their nutrition. There is also the factor of setting up the diet correctly with the right macro (and micro) breakdowns from the start. You also need to be pretty disciplined if you have having a specific amount of treat food. If you have trouble having just one Jaffa cake or a few Pringles without eating the full tube, this method definitely isn't for you.
Do I have clients on IIFYM? Yes I do. I also have clients on just about every method as I tailor what method I use to what fits them best. The trick is knowing what method to use and when. This all comes down to having priorities in your nutrition, the clients past experiences, their current level of knowledge plus many other factors.
Remember that your macro breakdown and how you decide that is just one type of nutritional priority that you need to address. Don’t forget you also need to make sure you are eating the correct amount of calories, pay attention to nutrient timing, look and foods for health and address issues of intolerances etc. There is a lot to think about when it comes to a nutrition plan optimized for performance and body composition. This series will help you understand one large piece of the puzzle.
In this article series I will take a look at each specific macro and the potential uses for each. We will look at which one you're supposed to eat and when plus which type of macro is best at what times ie fast digesting vs slow digesting. The purpose of this is to help you to tweak your current nutrition plan in order for you to get better recovery, and make you bigger/faster/stronger/leaner or whatever your current goal is (you do have a current goal right?).
For each article I will focus on one of the macros, looking at each of the following topics in depth,
- What the purpose of the macro is.
- How it can specifically benefit you, your training and your health.
- How that macro can be split into sub types.
- When to implement those types into your plan.
- Which types of food are best.
- What types to avoid.
- What to look out for on ingredients labels etc when buying.
- How to combine these macros to get the best results for your goal.
It is worth mentioning again that macros are highly individualistic. I know that sometimes it seems like a cop out from coaches when they say this (and sometimes it is the case, sometimes they are just protecting themselves), but it really is the case when it comes to macros. I wish that I could give you some magical macro breakdown that would give you all the results that you are after, but I just can't.
What I will do is give you guidelines in the following articles that will allow you to adjust your own plans to fit your own goals. This is essentially what great nutrition is all about. Having a sound, healthy plan that will support your goals then adjusting that plan (essentially your macros) based on the results you get. This is when the magic happens.
If you can take the tips and guidelines that I give you and thoughtfully apply them to your own plan, I guarantee that your results will go through the roof.