24 Apr Common Questions About Macros and Flexible Dieting
When it comes to flexible dieting and macro tracking there are a slew of questions that I always get asked via DM’s, private messages, or email.
I pondered to myself: “how great would it be to have a collection of the commonly asked questions, and my answers to these questions for someone to be able to refer to?
Per usual, I was astounded by my own brilliance and foresight 🙂
Thus, I am creating that tome here. A lot of this content has contributions from my team of amazing clients so as always, I am SO appreciative of you guys. I learn just as much from you, as I hope you learn from me!
Q): What the heck are macros?!
A): Simply put, macronutrients are the protein, carbohydrates, and fats that we obtain calories from. You can read a much more in-depth analysis on macros here: The Complete Guide To Tracking Your Macros
Q): Is macro tracking the new fad diet?
A): Absolutely not. You know how I know that? Because there is nothing about this that promises rapid results or over night transformations. Macro tracking at it’s premise is about creating awareness and enabling people to make smarter choices based on knowledge of what they are consuming daily.
Q): How does someone know what their “macros” should be for weight loss?
A): For most people what they do is they google search “calorie calculator” and then plug in basic information such as: age, height, weight, and maybe activity level. This is an OK starting point, but this does not tell the full picture. The problem with these static equations is the fact that human metabolism is very dynamic.
What if a female client who has yo-yo dieted for the last 5 years and is currently eating 1200 calories per day, working out 5 times per week for an hour or more per day, plugs in her info to a calorie calculator and it shoots out something like “2500 calories per day.”
How is that applicable to her? Calorie equations do not take into account critical variables for creating a nutrition protocol such as: A persons current metabolic health, their past weight loss history, their current sleep and stress levels, etc.
A much more effective way to determine someones caloric needs is to have them to track their intake for 7 days as accurately as possible. Then assess what the body is doing. If you have been eating the same way for the last month or so, and you are not losing weight, it’s safe to say that your current daily calorie total is your maintenance calories. Then, depending on your goals, you can make adjustments from there. I rely less on calorie equations, and more on my clients bio feedback and a week worth of food logs to determine their maintenance calories.
Q): Is there a difference between macro tracking and If It Fits Your Macros aka IIFYM?
IIFYM started in the body building circles. It was the acronym that answered the universal question of “can I eat X, Y, or Z food and still see results?” IIFYM at it’s core means no foods are off limits as long as total daily calories are controlled, and macronutrients are distributed properly for the end users goal.
Like anything there are people who abuse it and do not do it properly. There should not be a dichotomy when it comes to food quantity and food quality. Any good coach/dietitian should build their nutrition protocols with an equal emphasis on both. I am never going to tell my client that they can’t have their favorite foods, but I do set protein goals, fiber goals, and water goals daily for them to achieve.
So the misconception that “macro trackers just eat cake and ice cream all day and hit their macros” is total BS. How can you achieve 35g of fiber per day eating ice cream all day? You can’t. No foods should be off limits but like anything else, it’s about balance.
Q): Does food quality matter less than food quantity for results?
A): In theory, you can lose weight by consuming a calorie deficit. Even if the bulk of your calories were Twinkies. See the Twinkie Diet study here.
Am I recommending you do that? Of course not. There is a difference between weight loss, and fat loss. In order to lose fat, and preserve muscle (which I am assuming is your goal) you need a proper ratio of protein, micronutrients, and fiber daily. I’ve never had a client come to me and say “I don’t care if I feel like crap, and look like crap, I just want to lose weight.” Everyone wants to feel their best while looking their best. So that means there should be an equal emphasis on nutrition quantity, and nutritional quality. Most diets select one or the other.
Paleo says eat as MUCH, as you want as long as it’s Paleo approved foods.
The Twinkie Diet says eat as many Twinkies a you want, as long as you stay below your calorie goal.
Nutritional quality and overall food quantity should both be considered if you want to look and feel your best. I put an equal emphasis on performance goals, aesthetic goals, and overall health when creating a nutrition protocol for my clients.
Q: How close do I need to be when it comes to hitting my daily macros?
Don’t obsess! Coming with +/- 5-10g for protein and carbs and 2-3g for fat is totally fine. At the end of the day remember this is a tool to help you be successful. Not something to drive you crazy trying to hit perfect numbers.
Q: Should I focus on calories or macro totals?
If you hit your daily macros, your calories will be where they need to be. I don’t ever want a client to hit 1900 kcals, by eating all carbs/fat and disregarding their protein goals.
Q: How much weight should I expect to lose per week while tracking my macros?
There is no one size fits all answer here. Rapid weight loss should NEVER be your goal. There is a difference between fat loss and weight loss.
With that being said, usually a weight loss of about 0.5-1lb per week is safe and sustainable. I know that isn’t the sexy answer, but that’s the truth when it comes down to being able to lose weight and keep it off for good. It’s always my goal to feed a client the most amount of food possible, with the least amount of cardio, to induce weight loss that can be sustained in the long run. Sure, you may lose weight faster if you drastically cut calories, and do extensive cardio, but can you sustain that is the real question.
Q: What to do when progress stalls and what exactly is a fat loss plateau?
Another great question here. My definition of a fat loss plateau would be 10-14 days without seeing ANY progress (scale, weight, or measurements.)
Most people freak out if they do not see week by week progress and I am telling you from the experience of coaching people for almost 10 years now that you should NOT expect to see progress every single week. Focus on the big picture. Every 10-14 days is the perfect amount of time to assess progress for fat loss. I will also add that when I get a new client progress may come a bit slower at first. That is totally OK and normal! Be patient at first. Make changes slow. Take the time to dial things in and focus on the BIG PICTURE. Trust the process 🙂
Now that we have that defined let’s talk about what to do when a fat loss plateau occurs. Your body is designed for survival, not to be lean and muscular. Fat loss plateaus are to be expected as your body is doing it’s survival job. If you are curious as to why this occurs and what happens to metabolism during fat loss, watch one of my more popular videos Why Your Diet Is Making You Fat.
Back to the plateau.
Let’s say my client Cindy Lou Hoo is eating 200g of protein/200g of carbs/75g of fat daily, doing 3 days of steady state cardio at 20 mins total each session, and we haven’t seen the progress we wanted over the last two weeks. I can change a few things:
I can add in cardio to help increase expenditure. At this point I can either increase to 30 minutes per session, or add in some interval cardio.
I can decrease her intake. I would cut away maybe 30-40g of carbs daily and 10g of fat. I like to go slow with my changes. All of this is 100% dependent on multiple factors like her training intensity, her overall goals, her timeline to achieve these goals, and her biofeedback. But this is at least a broad outline of how I approach this process. I make changes slow!
Q: What are the most common mistakes people make with tracking macros?
It comes down to three main mistakes:
1. Not being honest with themselves and not tracking accurately (forgetting about those Hershey bars every day adds up.)
2. Not being consistent enough. Tracking Monday-Thursday and then skipping Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will only yield minimal results compared to someone who tracks their intake, and makes smart choices seven days per week. I’m not saying you MUST track every day, but the more consistent, the better your results will be.
3. Not giving it enough time. I have some clients that it takes a few weeks to get their body to respond the way we want. That’s just human metabolism for ya. I’d be lying to you if I said EVERY nutrition protocol I create is spot on and produces instant results. I can’t do that. No coach can. Human metabolism is complex and dynamic. So being patient in the beginning, and make adjustments as necessary until progress is made is sometimes essential.
Q: Can you eat out and be successful with macros?
Hell to the yeah! First off, most chain restaurants are available in My Fitness Pal. All you have to do is search your meal and the nutritional data will come up. Super simple and easy!
If your restaurant is not available in My Fitness Pal then you can just estimate. So if I had a New York strip steak, asparagus, and sweet potato for dinner, I can find the closest alternatives in MFP to select and log.
REMEMBER – It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just be consistent. If this causes too much stress I’d rather my client eat out, enjoy it, and then just get back on track with the next meal. Long term compliance will always out weigh short term perfection.
Q: What do you do when you go over on one macro, but you are under on another?
For this one I asked input from my friend and colleague Monica Salafia RD/CPT of www.mindonnutrition.com
“First off, do not stress!”
“Secondly, tune into what your body would benefit the most from. If it’s going to be adding in a single macronutrient like carbs, then go for it. Or, defer back to your coach and ask what their opinion would be. Ask for resources on carb only foods, or protein only foods so you can hit your daily totals without adjusting other macros.”
“Most importantly, take it all as a learning experience and use it to adjust your food choices the next day for long term success!”
Q: Do I need to track my macros for the rest of my life?
Abso-fruitly NOT! (dietitian joke.)
I will force my clients to take breaks from tracking macros even if they don’t want to. It’s a tool for education, awareness, and to produce aesthetic changes. It should NOT be a life long practice. There should always be periods where we put the food scale away and focus on intuitive eating. What are some of those situations? I discuss three times when you should NOT track your macros in this video here.
Q: Is it better to be perfect with my macros, or long term consistent?
I think you already know the answer here. But for the sake of repeating myself, consistency beats perfection every time.