Following a Macro based Nutrition Program: Macros for a Bikini Contest Prep
My clients are prescribed custom nutrition plans that come in the form of daily macronutrient values. Why do I take this approach? I am true to the “no food off limits” promise. For most clients, I recommend an 80/20 approach. This means 80% of their daily macronutrient values should come from nutritious, wholesome, and minimally processed foods, while 20% can come from other foods they enjoy. Allowing my clients the freedom of mixing in the foods they crave and enjoy will ensure long-term nutrition adherence (instead of a few weeks adhering before giving up). Nutrition plans for my clients are adjusted periodically based on changes in their body composition, goals, and energy levels on an as-needed basis.
Let’s learn more about what a macro-based nutrution program looks like and why I believe it’s superior to prescribing strict meal plans.
What are macros?
Macronutrients consist of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. These are all energy yielding nutrients and are derived from the foods we consume. The energy that these nutrients provide is expressed in calories. Nutrition labels will provide their values in grams and from there you can use basic math to calculate calories.
Protein: 1 gram = 4 calories
Carbohydrates: 1 gram = 4 calories
Fats: 1 gram = 9 calories
Protein is made up of many nitrogen-containing structures called amino acids. These are the building blocks of pretty much all structures within the body including muscle. There are 20 different amino acids. The body can synthesize only 11 so 9 must come from the diet, which is why they are termed “essential.” You may have heard the term “complete protein.” This refers to a protein source that contains all 9 of the essential amino acids. Animal sourced and soy proteins are complete proteins. Amino acids have endless functions within the body and are not relied upon as a primary source of energy.
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source. Contrary to what the media wants you to believe, carbohydrates are a very important component of the diet. Carbohydrates fuel muscles and our central nervous system throughout the day. Carbohydrates come in the flavors of simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are typically called sugars and come as monosaccharide, such as glucose and fructose, and/or disaccharides, such as lactose and sucrose. Complex carbohydrates are also referred to as starchy and/or fibrous carbs. These carbohydrates contain large strands of glucose, some of which the body can break down and others they cannot. Complex carbohydrates should make up the largest portion of carbohydrate daily values, which will ensure adequate fiber intake and a plethora of micronutrients.
Fats serve as the body’s large energy reservoir and have many other functions including hormonal regulation, vitamin absorption, satiety, and central nervous system function, among many more. The media has also dragged fats through the ringer over the last two decades. Much of the information was unfounded with little scientific evidence justifying the claims. Fats also come in a few different flavors. There are trans fats, saturated, and unsaturated. Trans fats should be consumed minimally, period. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature, such as butter and coconut oil. Saturated fats should be consumed sparingly as this will improve blood lipid panels. There are no essential saturated fats; the body can synthesize all that it needs. Unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature and come in two forms, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fat sources include avocados and nuts, among many more. Polyunsaturated fats provide the essential fatty acids including both the omega-3 and omega-6. Polyunsaturated fats sources include fatty fish, walnuts, and olive oil, among many more. Focus on filling a majority of your daily fat macronutrient values with unsaturated fats.
Most of the time you will see food lists that include “good” sources of protein, carbohydrate, or fat. Although a food may consist primarily of one macronutrient, it often contains the other macros and these must be tracked as well.
While following a macro-based meal plan, there is no need to calculate the calories in your diet. If you consume the prescribed amount of macronutrients each day, your calories will be exactly where we want them to be.
How are macros calculated?
There are many factors that come into play when calculating macros and these vary on an individual basis. Typically I will use body composition, activity level, a nutrition history assessment, dietary restrictions, age, and target goals to get an approximate baseline. From there, wIcan make adjustments relative to what goal we are trying to achieve. It takes time to understand how each person’s body will adapt to changes in nutrition, so it is important to follow the prescribed macros with precision. That means tracking every little bite, lick, and tastes including all sauces, dressings, and oils with a digital food scale. Volume measurements (tsp/cups) are not as accurate.
How do I track these so said macros?
Tracking macros will take practice; luckily there are many tools that increase the convenience of doing so. For iPhone users the app I recommend is MyFitnessPal. I am most familiar with it and feel that it is superior when it comes to user friendliness. It also syncs with my Steph Dorworth app, so I love using it with my clients so I can check-in on them every day.
To get started on tracking, you will need to practice using a scale in your kitchen. That means it is time to purchase a digital food scale so you can weigh out everything you consume. Then you will need to practice reading nutrition labels. Most macro-tracking apps have a barcode scanning feature which will automatically input the nutritional data from whatever you are eating into the app. When tracking foods with a nutrition label I am only interested in you recording the fat, carbohydrate, and protein content. You are not required to track subcategories such as saturated fat, unsaturated fats, sugars, fiber, micronutrients, and vitamins. As discussed earlier, if you’re getting a majority of your macro sources from wholesome foods, then meeting fiber and micronutrient values should not be an issue. Pay special attention to the serving size! The nutrition label will display one serving size worth of information. If you are consuming more than one serving size, you will need to multiply the macro information by that amount of serving sizes.
For foods without a nutrition label, such as fresh produce, I like to use Google, Nutrition Data, or Calorie Count to get the accurate nutritional information. Most of these sources will provide a constructed nutrition label with values that can be entered into your tracking app.
When eating at restaurants or eating food you did not prepare, this is when things get a little trickier. You’ll need to develop your skills of eyeballing portions for an approximate macronutrient make up. While I encourage social gatherings, I also encourage smart and easy to track options when eating out. First, you should check the restaurant’s website to see if any nutritional information is provided. If not, see if there is a nutrition menu once you get there. If that is still a no, it’s time to break down the meal into its individual components and log the approximate portion of each. Be cautious of calorie dense add-ons such as nuts, cheese, dressings, butter, and creams. If social gatherings are not an every day occurrence, ball parking values every once in a while will not be detrimental to your overall progress.
When it comes to tracking macros, practice makes perfect. Set up a system at home to easily track the macros of each meal for the first few weeks and it will become a breeze. Prepare meals ahead of time or plan your days accordingly to be able to fit in your required macros.
Why not just give me a cookie cutter meal plan?
With much coaching and contest prep experience, I have found that flexible dieting is the key to long term sustainable dieting. Although I do not like the term “diet,” I really strive to make this a lifelong strategy for health and happiness. Sticking to a cookie cutter meal plan such as “Meal 3: 5oz plain grilled chicken breast topped with ½ tbsp. Mrs. Dash, 3 sticks of asparagus with ¼ oz. lemon juice, 80 grams cooked brown rice,” is not practical. It is a waste of your time and money. This will leave you learning no new skills that are sustainable for the long term. All I see with “meal 3” is approximately 34 grams of protein, 25 grams of carbs, and 3 grams of fat. This would simply be deducted from your daily macronutrient values.
Having a macro-based nutrition plan allows you the freedom to fill your diet with the things you enjoy. Maybe you hate asparagus or maybe you have had a history of stomach ulcers and have trouble consuming lemon juice. This would leave the above meal plan irrelevant and poor adherence would be a serious problem. Above, I have made suggestions as to how a majority of your daily macronutrient values should be filled. The remaining 20% or so of your diet should be the things you really crave throughout the day. If you allow a treat or two each day, this can help prevent binging and feeling the need for “cheat meals” or “cheat days.” Nothing makes me cringe more than either of those phrases coming out of someone’s mouth. These meals or days simply do not exist with a flexible dieting plan because you can eat the things you enjoy in moderation any time we want.
One of my favorite snacks is light greek yogurt + cookies! Yum!
I like to drink when I go out to social events, how do I track these?
Alcohol is indeed a calorie containing substance and it should be tracked. Nothing about alcohol is essential to the body, but some may find it essential at social events.
Alcohol: 1 gram = 7 calories
First, you need find out how many calories are in your drink. You can typically check the manufacture’s website or it may be listed on the package. If both fail to give you the calories you are looking for, try searching online to see if they are posted in a known nutrition database. Once you have the calories, you can subtract the values from your carbohydrates, fats, or a combination of both.
Let’s say a beer contains 120 calories. If I have an excess of carbohydrates left in my daily macros (because you planned ahead), you would divide 120 by 4, which would give us 30 grams of carbohydrates. Next, you would track that beer by deducting 30 grams from your carbohydrate allotment. Now if you didn’t have an excess of carbohydrates left in your diet you could deduct from fats. You would divide 120 by 9 to get 13 grams of fat. If you must, you can divvy up the 120 calories between fats and carbohydrates, say 15 grams of carbohydrates and 7 grams of fat. It doesn’t matter which route you decide to take, however, it is important to track your drinks.
Written by Zach Dorworth of That Flex Life
Want to learn more about macros and flexible dieting? Enroll in our FREE four week online course called Flexible Dieting University now at www.LearnFlexibleDieting.com.
Interested in receiving Coaching from Steph? I will help you reach your goals by writing you a personalized macro-based nutrition plan.
Visit www.stephdorworth.com for regular coaching or the coaching tab on this website for bikini contest prep coaching.