Know your macros

There’s a different kind of eating plan that supports your training and allows you to eat any food you like. Sports dietitian Gabrielle Maston explains how the macros approach works and why it’s a favourite of fitness pros.

An effective way to make sure your eating plan supports your training is to take the macros approach, also known as If It Fits Your Macros, or IIFYM.

This eating strategy is one of the least restrictive diets you can follow, because it allows you to eat what you like as long as it fits your macros. In other words, eat whatever you want as long as it has the right daily portions of protein, fat and carbohydrates — known as your macros — required by your training.

What are macros?

Macros, short for macronutrients, are the three compounds all our food is predominately made of — carbohydrates, fat and protein.

Macronutrients are not to be confused with micronutrients, which are the smaller components of our food — the vitamins and minerals we consume.

The proportion of protein, fat and carbs you need every day depends on how you want to change your body composition.

To build lean muscle, you need protein, which is also necessary for muscle recovery after strenuous training sessions.

Carbohydrates are needed for energy.

Fat is needed for nerve conduction and a healthy brain.

Here, we’ll show you how to build your own macro plan, get ideas on how to balance meals for optimal performance and health, and learn how to be flexible so you can still enjoy special occasions with your friends and family. Let’s start.

Step 1: Count your macros

To start calculating your macros, you need to know your daily energy requirements. This varies with age, sex, what exercise you’re doing and how vigorously you’re doing it. The simplest way to find out your macros is by downloading a macro counting app. This will work out your daily energy requirements and calculate your macros based on your weight, sex, age, activity levels and what your fat loss objectives are.

There are many macro counting apps for iOS and Android. One of my favourites is My Fitness Pal because it allows you to count energy intake and macronutrients. It also has the flexibility to adjust the food counting diary to include micronutrients.

Tailored macros

To give you an idea of how macros differ depending on an individual’s age, weight
and sex, we’ve created a macro table (see table A, below) for a person who strength trains 4-5 days a week and would like to lose body fat.

On this plan, you can lose up to ½kg per week. The macronutrient counts have been calculated to provide 1.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight, which is the amount needed for muscle growth and repair. The fat content equates to 25% of your total energy intake, while fibre content is standard at 25g per day for women and 30g for men.

There is no carbohydrate RDI for weight lifting sports, so the remaining energy is made up of carbohydrates.

Use table A to pick an appropriate estimate of your daily energy and macro needs to get started.