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Counting macros (short for macronutrients) has become a popular diet method over the past several years, utilized by those looking to lose fat or gain muscle mass. Competitive athletes and non-athletes are trying out these methods, and the trend IIFYM (“if it fits your macros”) is seen frequently across social media. While macro counting does provide benefits, solely focusing on macros may overshadow the most important aspect of nutrition – nourishment. In this blog, I compare the pros and cons of macro counting.

What is the concept of macro counting?

Macro counting has become a common trend that focuses on eating a set amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat – which are our macronutrients. The idea is that consuming the recommended portion of each macronutrient will support your needs and can help you meet specific goals such as body composition changes, weight gain or weight loss. Carbohydrates, fats, and protein all provide a certain number of calories per gram, so without even realizing it, you are also tracking your total calories using this method. Macros will be set to be in a calorie deficit if the goal is weight loss, or surplus if weight gain. The variation in macronutrient distribution can depend on your goals and personal food preferences.

What are the pros of macro counting?

Balanced consumption of macronutrients

By having a set amount of carbs, protein and fat to consume, your body will be consuming enough of all macronutrients to support essential bodily functions. Some people tend to eat a lot more of one macronutrient, and not enough of another. Macro counting ensures that you consume the recommended balance of all three macros which can be beneficial for those who tend to eat more of one than the others.

Portion size awareness

By measuring out your foods, you’ll have an increased awareness of what your recommended portion size looks like. For example, you may tend to eat 1 cup of trail mix when the serving size is actually ⅓ cup. This helps you to become more mindful about the amount of food you eat, but does take some effort to do so.

Can support body composition changes

Studies show that certain amounts of macros per body weight support changes in body composition, weight loss or weight gain. Setting your macros based on these recommendations may help you to meet your goals. Weight loss also occurs when your macronutrients are set within ranges that create a calorie deficit. However in this case, instead of counting calories, you’re counting up your total grams of carbs, protein, and fat throughout the day. It is best to work with a registered dietitian when setting your macros based on your individual needs and goals.

Allows for flexibility in your diet

The IIFYM rule is simply that the foods you eat must fit within your macros, no foods are off limits. In other words, it doesn’t matter where those grams of carbohydrates, fat, or protein are coming from, as long as they add up to your recommended total grams by the end of the day. This is beneficial as it allows you flexibility in the types and amount of foods you consume at any given time. We’ll discuss the potential downsides to this next.

What are the cons of macro counting?

Doesn’t account for food quality

As mentioned, this way of eating allows you to consume any food, as long as it fits within your macros. With that being said, you may consume foods that may be lower quality, highly processed, or contain empty calories that won’t keep you feeling full and satisfied. Food choices shouldn’t be just about their macronutrient content, and low quality foods may negatively impact your health over time.

Doesn’t account for micronutrients

Although all foods are fair game with macro counting, you may be missing out on essential vitamins and minerals (micronutrients). For example, majority of your fat grams may be coming from animal sources such as cheese and meats (saturated fats) rather than foods rich in healthy fats such as avocados or nuts which provide nutrients like Omega-3s, fiber, and potassium. By solely counting macros, you may have inadequate consumption of several essential vitamins and minerals.

Can create excessively strict habits

While macro counting provides awareness to how much you’re eating, the constant measuring and tracking may create some excessively strict habits, and could even promote disordered eating. You may not feel comfortable eating out at restaurants or with friends if you’re worried about how you’re going to measure your food or know the macronutrient breakdown of a meal. If you are mentally preoccupied with dietary choices, to the point it’s negatively impacting your mental health, social life, and relationships, this ‘healthy way of eating’ is no longer healthy. You may also feel guilty if you don’t hit your macro goals for the day, creating more restrictions next. This unnecessary guilt that comes from food choices will impact you more psychologically than it will physically.

May reduce variety of food

While no foods are technically off limits with macro counting, individuals who count macros tend to get in the habit of eating the same food items over and over again. This is because it’s easier to track when you narrow down your consumption to the same few items. By doing so, you may reduce the variety of foods you’re eating to save time from counting up the grams in your meals. Less variety of food also means less variety of vitamins and minerals.

Should I be counting macros?

Counting macros absolutely works for some people, providing structure in eating specific amounts of each macronutrient. It could be a helpful method when trying to understand portion sizes and the makeup of meals. However, proper nutrition also needs to embrace nourishment, and extends far beyond just macronutrient distribution. You can be hitting your macro numbers every single day, but that doesn’t equate to health.

For optimal health both mentally and physically, it is best to look at the whole picture beyond just macros. Finding a balance that allows you to consume foods you enjoy while emphasizing healthy meal patterns. It is best to work with a dietitian who can guide you along your nutrition journey and develop the best plan together to meet your personal goals and nutrition needs.

Article by Nicole Legler RD, Eleat Nutrition Intern

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