Do I Need to “Count Macros”? A Dietitians View by Michele Memmo
A personal view
I have wanted to write about this topic for quite some time. The reason for this is I personally feel this is one of the worst fitness trends that is over-quantifying everything. And I emphasize the word "over" (e.g. protein, reps, tempos, macros, calories-crunching, rest times by the clock, FitPal, Fitbit etc.) All the time I am reminding people of this and I refer to a great man who states "Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted."-Einstein
The human body will always be far more than a bunch of mathematical equations and I know this because I see it daily at my career and trying to use such calculations, but not always having the result you expect. Things like recovery needs, maximum versus optimum work capacity, internal biochemical and hormonal environments, refeeds to replenish glycogen stores and to optimize metabolism – these qualitative elements can't be number-crunched. They can only be assessed and observed.
What are “Macros”?
If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM), or Flexible dieting, has become a “diet trend” that involves meeting daily macronutrient intake targets. Or if you are a dietitian (or diabetes educator), this trend is called Carb Counting. Counting your macros is the grandchild of counting your carbs, which has been around for 20 years! Yes I said it. I need to hire this marketing person because she/he is simply rebranding a concept to make it cool and trendy. BRILLIANT!
Basically a macronutrient is a food that is required by the human body in large amounts. There are 3 macronutrients that our bodies need: Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats. All of these are crucial in the regulation of metabolism and all the functions in our bodies. The amounts of macros we need are based on many factors including sex, age, height, weight, and physical activity. Typically in my day, I would do a nutritional assessment for any person wanting to find out these 3 Macros and get these calculations for them or……….oh yeah, there’s an app for that (lol).
What is the guideline for IIFYM?
Like I said, since we are all different, the guidelines can vary and also there is no ‘perfect diet’ that fits everyone. The 40/40/20, rule has been use by many nutrition professionals, personal trainers and gym elites, but I would ignore this for most people. You will feel tired having only 40 per cent of their diet from carbs, and others will feel tired if they have more than 25 per cent of their diet from carbs. It’s about finding what feels good for your individual body, hence why it does not work.
Is IIFYM really “Flexible”?
In theory, counting macros is flexible eating but also bit ridiculous. The motto people think or “promote” follows “As long as the food fits your plan, go nuts.” Really, not so fast! All calories are not created equally. Those chips you stuff in your face before bed with the queso might be the same calories as the dinner of baked chicken, roasted veggies and a baked potato. OR that doughnut and 3 slices of pizza every other night might not be the same as homemade tacos with avocados. Which do you think I want you to eat? Nutrition trumps calories and calculations every time. I am a huge advocate for eating REAL, whole food over junk food and/or smoothies. REAL, whole food has vitamins, minerals, fiber and other essential nutrients while juices/smoothies (depending on how they are made) are full of sugar and calories. Yes, a pop tart is the same macros as oatmeal, but is that going to help you reach your goals?
So in the end the pros of IIFYM are if you love counting things, measure serving sizes, then it might be for you. But the cons are you can technically fill up on junk food if you abuse the system.
Competition Eating: Finding What Works!
It’s that time of year, a lot of you are Prepin’ for the Open, possibly for the first time OR this isn’t your first rodeo so you know what to expect. Blood, sweat and tears! No way because you've practiced hard and psyched yourself up for the big event, preparing for a super performance. You're already... BUT there's just one thing lacking every time - proper nutrition that will keep you going throughout the competition!
Now one of the most important things to remember in designing a pre-event meal is that it should fit YOUR body with what foods you are most familiar with AND stick with it every time. The day of the big competition is no time to start experimenting with new meals or other peoples’ advice (even me!) –always try new things during training first! If this is your first time competing or doing an intense workout day, such as the Open, below are some tips.
Some guidelines for choosing your pre-event meal:
I know plenty of athletes that have said they can’teat before events. We get it, you are aggravated in the sport, it jostles the insides, and in less trained athletes, those under emotional or mental stress, it is even worse. If this is you, be absolutely sure that you eat very good the day before and also early on the big day if possible (if the event is later on in the day).
Example eating before events:
Items to have handy- Shakes and bars can be convenient. We are now seeing more and more of them being produced with cleaner, less-processed ingredients. A few brands that I would recommend on game day and personally love are: About Time, Rx Bar, Exoprotein bar, Julian Bakery bar and Larabar.
Hopefully you kill whatever competition is coming up! When it comes to eating the day of a competition you’ll find some trial and correction is in order. The more you do them the better you’ll get at figuring out what’s right for you and what doesn’t. Good Luck!
5 Quick Simple Tips for Successful Eating for Performance
OK, so what I am basically doing is breaking down the most common/big dietary issues first, then narrows things down according to the athlete's needs and goals. If you are already doing some of these things, High Five to you, then I am just giving to a daily reminder that you can pin on the fridge every day or share with someone who has no CLUE where to begin! So here we go.
1-You’re not a Dumpster, Don’t Treat Your Body like one.
I don’t think I need to go into huge details what this means. Basically open up your fridge right now, both doors and be completely honest. If there is more “processed foods” covering those shelves than fresh fruits, vegetables or meats, you need to renovate ASAP. Do the same thing with the cupboards. As hard as it may be, ditch all the chips, crackers, popcorn, candy, soda, juice, etc. You ask why can’t I have these in moderation? Every time a person consumes what we'll classify here as "junk”, “dumpster food" they're either taking a step backward or temporarily halting their progress in whatever it might be. And since many of these foods have addictive properties, that idea of “everything in moderation” shouldn’t be taken literally.
2-Also Ditch “Pretend Foods”
A lot of you might be saying “Pretend food”? NO WAY, I need it for my Gains baby! Well news flash! Once we remove all the obvious crap from the fridge and cupboards, it's time to narrow things down to the "less obvious crap" These are foods often taught and told to us throughout time to be considered healthy, but they really aren't. Example, foods proclaim their health benefits state right on the package: low fat, fat free, low carb, gluten free, high fiber, whole grain, sugar free, low sodium, etc. These are just TRICKS people! For instance, “low-carb” processed foods are usually calorically dense meaning they are filled with the worst type of dietary fats, and “fat-free” processed foods are often sugar bombs where an additional carbohydrate has been substituted such as processed flour. And FYI, Sugar is Gluten free, but it’s not Carb free, therefore “gluten-free” processed foods are usually loaded with added sugar and additional carb fillers.
3-Holy Cow, yes you can Eat Carbs!
Later I’ll blog more into detail about “Good Carbs, Bad Carbs” Or does that even exist? Because people ask me that ALL the time. As Athletes, there is really is no such thing as a bad Carb; it’s based on timing really. Unless you are training to be a bodybuilder, you should be eating most of your carbs at the end of the day, and after your workout, so you’ll never get the crash associated with spiking your blood sugar. This will also ensure your sleep is deeper and comes more effortlessly, in addition to making sure your muscles have all the fuel they need to develop and recover. So when going through that fridge, replace your breads, cereals, and pastas with rice, potatoes, quinoa, oatmeal, buckwheat, and starchy vegetables. Replace your milk with unsweetened almond, coconut, or cashew milk because milk doesn’t always do the body good and you are not a baby cow. And replace your juice with whole fruit and water because we aren’t 2 year olds.
4-Use The 3 P’s
The three P’s-Plan, Prep, Proactive. If you have no clue what is going in vs going out, then your workouts are useless. So, plan your meals for the week. Look up some recipes that you know you love or want to try, are freezer and family friendly (Make and appointment w/ a Dietitian if possible to help out). Write down everything you plan to cook/eat, make sure it fits into you “Macros” if needed (We will go over this more another day). Then get to Preppin! What is it you say, can’t cook? There are so many options
now, so NO EXCUSES BE PROACTIVE. Try meal prepping services, cook with friends take classes whatever it takes!
5-Fill in the Cracks of the Foundation
Basically this means you are allowed to supplement. Many new/amateur athletes are afraid to try a supplement because they are not sure which one or how much to take. That is completely normal. Nutrition is the Foundation for Performance, but sometimes the cement that was laid will crack and needs touch ups, therefore you fill it in; same concept. I will be blogging more about preworkout, postworkout supplementations, but a simple start is taking a Multivitamin that has additional Vit B12 if you are not already taking it. Preferably a chewable or liquid vitamin because Vit B12 will be absorbed better that way.
These are fairly simple tips that can completely change the way you feel during the day or train, hopefully both.
Written by: Michele Memmo, MS, RD, LD
1-Which Foods May Be Addictive? The Roles of Processing, Fat Content, and Glycemic Load http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0117959 2- Nutrition and Athletic Performance: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/717046?src=rss