By Michael P. Abramovitz, www.forgedphysiques.com
What You Are Noshing on NOW Unlocks Where You Want to GO
This is the second article in our exclusive Flexible Dieting (IIFYM) series. Be sure to check out the first article Fad Diets and Flexible Dieting: What Works and What Doesn’t to understand the underpinnings of this nutrition approach.
Macros are a hot topic as the concept of “flexible dieting” aka “IIFYM” (If It Fits Your Macros) is gaining mainstream attention. The beautiful and fit Cameron Diaz reportedly follows macronutrient principles. So what’s the buzz all about?
The appeal of macro management is it’s free of food restrictions. This means no foods are ‘off limits’ as you pursue your physique goals. Proponents of flexible dieting point out that restrictions will, for the most part, lead to difficulties in sustaining your dietary practices for the long-term. The key word here is “long-term” as the majority of people who successfully lose weight will regain the weight back almost entirely in the first year . It’s keeping the weight off that is most often the real challenge!
In this second article of our exclusive flexible dieting series, we discuss some basic nutritional concepts like “What the Heck are Macros?”, as well as your first step in finding out just how much (or how little) macros you’re actually eating. This article acts as a basic primer on nutrition that will lead into our next article that explains how to adjust your macronutrients to achieve your goals.
What the Heck Are Macros?!
Macronutrients, or “macros” are nutrients that provide energy to the body and are essential for growth, metabolism, and for other normal bodily functions.
There are three macronutrients: proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
Each macronutrient (protein/fats/carbs) provides the body with a certain number of calories per gram.
While alcohol is not a macronutrient, it is a source of calories and should be accounted for when tracking your calories.
- Alcohol provides approximately 7 calories per gram
Let’s now tackle understanding the basic purpose of each macronutrient so that you can see the power of each macro and need for them in your diet.
As a Gorgo girl, you’ve lifted a dumbbell or two and so inherently know the importance of protein. Let’s go a little deeper than “lift and eat protein”!
Protein is required by your body in large quantities because it is important for growth, immune function, hormone and enzyme function, and tissue repair.
Proteins are comprised of amino acids, which are categorized as essential, nonessential and conditional amino acids . Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Once protein is consumed it is broken down by the body into amino acids that are then used by the body for various functions. Keeping it simple, you just need to know that some amino acids cannot be created by your body and must be consumed through food (essential amino acids), others can be created by your body (non-essential), and some cannot be created by your body except under certain conditions (conditionally essential).
Some proteins, called complete proteins, provide your body with all of the essential amino acids, whereas some proteins, called incomplete proteins, do not provide your body with all of the essential amino acids. Animal foods such as dairy, eggs, beef, poultry, and fish are considered complete proteins.
Two incomplete protein sources can be paired to provide complete protein sources. You can pair the following foods to form complete proteins, this is of particular relevance for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet:
- Dairy with nuts (e.g. beans, lentils and peas)
- Grains (e.g. wheat, barley and rice) with legumes
- Grains with dairy
- Seeds (e.g. sunflower and pumpkin) with legumes
Caring about Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates aka “carbs” are primarily used to provide energy to the cells of the body, including the brain. Carbohydrates are also used to spare muscle protein and to facilitate the body’s metabolism of fat .
Gorgo girl, you’re smart. But let’s read that last paragraph again in case you missed the main message…your brain and muscles need carbs!
The three major classes of carbohydrates are: monosaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides.
- Monosaccharides are the simplest form and are sometimes referred to as simple sugar (e.g. glucose)
- Oligosaccharides consist of small chains of monosaccharides (e.g. sucrose)
- Polysaccharides, often referred to as complex carbohydrates, are long chains of monosaccharides (e.g. starch and fiber)
Common sources of carbohydrates include:
- White potatoes
- Sweet potatoes
- White and brown rice
Fats for Fuel
Dietary fat is important to many functions of the body.
- Fat provides a large amount of energy to the body’s tissues and organs and contains twice the amount of energy as carbohydrates
- Cell membranes contain a specific type of fats, called phospholipids
- Fat is important for the transmission of nerve signals and muscle contraction
- Vitamins A, D, E and K are transported by fats
- Fats provide protection of vital organs and provide insulation from the cold
- Dietary fat helps to keep you feeling full 
It’s important to realize that the body can store unlimited amounts of fat.
While macronutrients are what you need in large quantities for your body’s optimal nutrition, it doesn’t start and end with macros. Micronutrients are your mini-powerhouses micronutrients are your vitamins and minerals. Deficiencies in micronutrients can cause decrements in athletic performance and in the look of your physique and skin, as well as in normal physiological function . These little guys are called “micro”nutrients, as you don’t need for example, Vitamin C, in as large of a quantity as you need protein - but your body still of course needs Vitamin C!
Vitamins are comprised of water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A, D, E, and K. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in fat and can accumulate substantially in the body. Each vitamin plays a different role in maintaining the normal physiological function of the human body.
Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin and B complex vitamins. Water-soluble vitamins are found in the fluid portion of the body and do not accumulate to a large degree.
Minerals are inorganic substances required by the body in small quantities. Each mineral plays a different role in maintaining the normal physiological function of the human body. For example, calcium is a mineral required for normal cellular function and is required for proper function of your nerve cells.
Do you really know how much (or how little) macros you’re eating? Let’s find out.
So how many macronutrients and resulting calories do you require to meet your physique goals? ”I like to ask my clients to track their intake using MyFitnessPal (or a similar app) for 4-7 days. This exercise will help you familiarize yourself with tracking your food and will give you a sense of how many calories you’re consuming.” says Michael P. Abramovitz, a certified Sports Nutritionist. “In my experience, most women typically think they’re eating much more than they are. Try guessing how many calories you eat per day. Write it down and check back in 4-7 days. I think you’ll be surprised on a number of fronts – consider it a ‘food-u-cation’.”
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to get started using MyFitnessPal (a free application for tracking calories and macros).
Step 1: Register!
- Go to myfitnesspal.com OR download the free app on your phone.
- Create a username and password.
Step 2: Enter Your Stats and Set Your Goals
- Enter your stats and set some basic goals.
- MyFitnessPal will provide your total caloric needs. From our experience, these values are typically inaccurate for active women who strength train. Remember, the goal of this exercise is to track your current intake. Don’t pay attention to the values that MyFitnessPal provides you.
Step 3: Familiarize Yourself with Your Food Diary
The below snapshot shows you the basics of your food diary:
- Daily meals broken down into breakfast, lunch dinner and snacks (you can add extra meals and change the headings under Home > Settings). Make this customized to how YOU eat. For example, add in “Post-Workout” if you take a meal or shake after your workout.
- Current calendar date (you can also back track or plan ahead by writing out your meals for future dates).
- Total calories, carbs, fat, protein, sodium and sugar are calculated and listed.
Step 4: Begin Tracking Your Intake
Pay attention to:
- Accurately weighing out your food (until you get a better sense of portion sizes)
- Inputting correct brand names
You’ll notice in the below screenshot that I’ve searched the MyFitnessPal database for “Bun” and a number of different entries appeared. Try your best to find the exact brand name. Not all buns are equal! If you’re eating something such as a homemade hamburger, then track each ingredient separately. Yes, we understand this is a bit tedious but consider this a “food-u-cation”, where you will put in some extra effort while you learn and then leverage that knowledge long after.
Step 5: Look Back and Reflect
“Once you’ve tracked for 4-7 days, I recommend looking back and reflecting on your intake. Is your intake what you expected? Does anything about your diary surprise you? Perhaps you’re surprised at how well, or how poor your nutrition currently is. Try not to feel guilty if your nutrition isn’t quite as good as you thought. The purpose of the exercise is to learn so that you can take positive steps forward to reach your goals. Onwards and upwards!” says Abramovitz.
Now you know where you’re at...how do you get to where you want to go?
In our next article in this Flexible Dieting series, we’ll dive into how to calculate your baseline calories and how to adjust the calories and macronutrients based on your specific goals.
Michael P. Abramovitz
Michael P. Abramovitz holds a Bachelor of Science (honours) in Kinesiology and Physical Education and holds top certifications as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Sports Nutritionist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the International Society of Sports Nutrition, respectively. Michael is a professionally qualified fitness model, natural competitive bodybuilder, exercise fanatic and an aspiring power lifter. He is a physique and performance coach with Dreams Fitness and he is a business development professional.
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