There are as many theories on how to lose weight as there are pounds needing to be lost, and one of the newest weight loss trends involves a food macro counter. Macro is shorthand for macronutrient, of which there are three.
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Carbohydrates are a macronutrient, as are fat and protein. Eating them in certain percentages is one way to plan a weight loss diet. Where it gets tricky is deciding on those proportions. A diet like Atkins or a ketogenic or paleo diet might have your ratio of carbs, fat and protein as severely restricted as 5:75:25, while the experts at Texas A&M University Health Science Centers recommend a more balanced 30:30:40 ratio.
Figuring out which ratio of carbohydrates, fat and protein works best for you may involve a bit of trial and error because there is no one ratio that will guarantee steady, healthy and maintainable weight loss for everyone. Once you find that balance, you should be able to lose the extra weight and keep it off.
There is no magic carb, protein and fat ratio for weight loss that is guaranteed to work for everyone, so it is best to find the one that works for you.
Understand Weight Loss
If weight loss was merely a matter of burning off more calories than you take in, nobody would ever be overweight. Unfortunately, not all calories are created the same, and the internal makeup of each calorie has a different effect on your body. For example, calories that are mostly insoluble fiber like that found in oat bran can help you feel full for longer and aid in healthy elimination, explain the experts at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
Choosing fresh foods and preparing your meals at home can also help you keep to the carb/fat/protein ratio that works for you because it lets you control all of the ingredients as well as your portion sizes, the University of Kansas Medical Center reminds you. Reading labels for prepared foods can also help you make informed choices.
The university also recommends that you eat frequent small meals and healthy snacks and make sure you stay hydrated in order to keep from becoming too hungry and letting crankiness and cravings make your food choices for you. Losing weight requires a commitment to nutrition, exercise, hydration and sleep in order for weight loss to be healthy and sustainable.
Comprehend Your Carbohydrates
There are two types of carbohydrates, explains Deborah Murphy, MS, RD, at Food and Nutrition. The first is simple carbohydrates, and the second is complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are processed very quickly by your body. Simple carbs are basically sugar and can cause an insulin spike as your body tries to process it, explains Murphy. Once that is done, your blood sugar level drops, which can cause a loss of energy and may prompt your brain to send out hunger signals.
Complex carbohydrates take longer for your body to process, Murphy says. Because they are not broken down so fast, any sugars they contain do not flood your bloodstream. This means that your pancreas does not have to release insulin to mop up all of the extra sugar and get it stored away. This helps give your body a steady, slow stream of energy rather than the sugar rush and energy drop common when your afternoon snack of choice is a donut.
The best way to ensure that the carbohydrates in your ratio of carbs, fat and protein are complex carbs is to stick with whole foods, Murphy advises. Stay away from anything processed or refined such as white sugar, bleached flour, white rice, pasta, white bread, cookies, pastries, breakfast cereals, chips and crackers that are not whole grain. Choose whole grains such as brown rice, oats, popcorn, quinoa and other complex carbs such as beans, edamame, lentils, nuts and seeds.
Read more: A Complete Guide to Carbohydrates
Find Out About Fat
Fat is necessary to a healthy diet, reminds Liz Weinandy, RD of the University of Ohio - Wexner Medical Center. Dietary fats are required to help you metabolize vitamins A and D, to cushion your organs, make hormones, feed your brain, help your growth and development and provide essential fatty acids. Weinandy also points out that fat is burned to provide energy. There are four basic types of fat:
- Monounsaturated fat
- Polyunsaturated fat
- Saturated fat
- Trans fats
The healthiest types of fat are the unsaturate_d variety, explains Weinandy. These include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are found in avocados, nuts, olive oil and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats are found in chia seeds, salmon, sesame seeds and walnuts. Unsaturated fats help raise the levels of good cholesterol and lower the levels of bad, explains Weinandy. _Saturated fats are found in animal products and can raise your levels of bad cholesterol. Trans-fats are the least healthy and should be avoided altogether.
Read more: Why Is Hydrogenated Oil Bad for You?
Appreciate Your Protein
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of all life. Amino acids come in all shapes and sizes, and your body can put them together, take them apart, rearrange them and put them back together to make whatever it needs. Your body requires 20 amino acids in order to function, explains Cedars-Sinai Clinical Nutrition Services' administrative dietitian Stephanie Cramer. Of those 20 amino acids, your body can manufacture 11, but the other nine must be acquired through dietary means, Cramer says.
Protein comes from two sources, Cramer explains. Animal proteins such as those that come from meat, poultry, eggs and dairy contain all of the nine amino acids that your body cannot produce, making them complete proteins. Protein from plant-based sources such as beans, legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains and leafy green vegetables such as kale and broccoli do not, so it is best to combine them with foods that provide the missing amino acids. Quinoa is the only grain which contains all nine amino acids, Cramer says.
Protein is also available in the form of whey powder and in soy-based products such as soy milk, soy yogurt and tofu as well as in edamame, which are soybeans, Cramer reminds you. When deciding upon which kind of protein to choose for your protein ratio, it is best to mix it up. Cramer recommends concentrating more on plant-based proteins because too much meat can raise your risk of denser pressure, ischemic heart disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Use the Best Macro Calculator
Deciding to use a macro calculator for weight loss requires even more commitment and attention to detail then counting calories, warn the experts at the International Sports Science Association, because every single thing you put into your mouth must be weighed, measured and the macros counted and recorded. The upside is that you can eat any type of food you like as long as you have hit your mark on the ratio of macros at the end of the day, ISSA says.
Once you know how many calories per day you require to reach your goal, you can figure out which ratio should work for you. There are several ratio combinations of carbs/fat/protein to try, advises ISSA. If you are trying to build muscle, shoot for a ratio of 30-40/15-25/25-35. To burn fat and lose weight, aim for 10-30/30-40/40-50. To maintain your muscle or weight loss, try a ratio of 30-50/25-35
Each gram of every macro contains a set number of calories. Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. Protein also has 4 calories per gram, while fats contain 9 calories. Counting macros is one of the few weight loss programs that allow alcohol, which contains 7 calories per gram, ISSA states. Because each macro has a different effect on your body, tailoring the ratio, as well as the calorie count, gives you a weight loss program that is specific to you and your needs, which can ensure success at reaching and maintaining your goals.
Include Consistent Exercise
Exercise is just as important to weight loss as counting your calories and your macros, reminds ISSA. Exercise helps burn calories and build muscle, but it is important to pair your workouts with the proper nutrition to achieve maximum results. Now that you have figured out what to eat, your next step, according to ISSA is to figure out when to eat each macro.
It is not that complicated, ISSA reassures. All effective workout regimens include aerobic exercise and weight training. When you are doing a low-intensity workout such as light cardio, you should eat less fat before your workout, ISSA advises. You can keep to your ratio, just have most of your fats well after your workout. On high-intensity days, increase your calorie count while sticking to your ratio. This will help ensure that you do not burn muscle tissue instead of fat, ISSA says.
If you are consistently keeping to your macro ratios and exercising regularly but are not dropping any more pounds, you might want to see a health care or fitness provider with access to a muscle mass calculator. One cubic inch of muscle weighs more than 1 cubic inch of fat because 1 pound of muscle is far denser than 1 pound of fat. You may be building muscle and losing inches instead of seeing smaller numbers on the scale.
Put Your Plan to Work
Once you have figured out your optimum macro ratio and have figured out a workout schedule which includes both cardiovascular workouts and weight training, it is time to put the entire program together. There are three main components to a successful weight loss strategy, explain the experts at Concordia University-Saint Paul. Nutrition, exercise and sleep are the three key ingredients to losing weight the university says.
Nutrition not only refers to your macro and calorie counts, but you must also stay fully hydrated, the university advises. Concordia-Saint Paul advises drinking 17 ounces of water no more than 30 minutes before every meal. This will help you feel full enough that it can help you avoid overeating, and it also revs up your metabolism.
Getting enough sleep is also crucial to successfully hitting your weight loss goals, the university says. They go on to explain that a hormone called ghrelin tells your body that it is hungry. When you are not getting an average of seven to nine hours of sleep every night, your body produces more ghrelin. Another hormone affected by sleep, explains CU-SP is leptin. Leptin tells your body when it has had enough to eat, but if you are sleep deprived, your leptin level can become too low. Getting enough sleep helps keep these hormones in balance.
- University of Kansas Medical Center: "Weight Loss Tips"
- Food & Nutrition: "Carbohydrates 101"
- Ohio State University - Wexner Medical Center: "Good Fats Versus Bad Fats - 5 Things to Know"
- Cedars-Sinai Blog: "Are Animal Proteins Better for You Than Plant Proteins?"
- International Sports Science Association: "What Are Macros?"
- International Sports Science Association: "The Right Way to Burn Fat, Not Muscle"
- Concordia University - Saint Paul: "The Science of Weight Loss"
- Texas A&M University Health Science Center: "A Beginner's Guide to Bulking Up"