Published May 3, 2017
Updated June 6, 2019
The Macros Counting Diet – “IIFYM” If It Fits Your Macros Diet
Where Does The Term “Macros” Come From?
The term “macros” comes from the word macronutrient. Macronutrients are essential nutrients our bodies need in large amounts each day in order to function properly. Why large amounts? Because our bodies cannot make them on their own. The 3 macronutrients that provide energy, or calories, from each day are: Carbohydrates, Fats, and Protein.** All 3 of these macronutrients are extremely important to have in our diet because foods containing each of these three macronutrients provide us with vitamins and minerals needed for proper growth and maintenance.
**Just FYI you also get calories from alcohol but it is not considered a nutrient because it actually impairs growth, maintenance, and repair of body tissues.
What is the Macros Counting Diet based off of?
This diet plan tries to simplify all the numbers, nutrients, percentages, and serving sizes you see on food labels by only focusing on 4 things:
1) How many grams you are consuming from Carbohydrates
2) How many grams you are consuming from Fats
3) How many grams you are consuming from Protein
4) and therefore, how many calories you are consuming each day.
To better understand the rationale behind this diet i’ll explain how grams and calories relate to each other.
Food scientists have calculated that their are 4 calories per 1 gram of carbohydrate, 4 calories per 1 gram of protein, and 9 calories per one gram of fat.
So, this diet is based off the fact that if you count the grams of macronutrients that you are consuming, you can also be counting your calories too. This diet gives you a way to calculate how many calories you need and then tells you to get 40% of your grams from carbohydrates, 40% of grams from protein, and 20% of grams from fat.
People seem to like this diet because you can count your calories, get an increased amount of protein (in hopes to build more muscle and lose fat), and still eat foods containing carbohydrates, protein, and fats.
Now that you understand what this diet is about lets talk about the concerns I have with this diet.
My Biggest Concern with the “Macros-Counting” Diet
While the “Macros-counting” diet encourages you to eat all three different macronutrients (which is a good thing, your body needs all 3 macronutrients), it does not teach or promote which foods to get those macronutrients from (which is a not-so-good thing). This can be a not-so-good thing because you may not be getting all the nutrients your body needs which can lead to long term consequences.
To explain further, it matters where you are getting your “grams” of carbohydrate, protein, and fats from. Remember – just because something contains the same amount of calories does not mean it contains the same amount of nutrients.
Eating 200 calories (~22 grams) of fat from salmon and 200 calories (~22 grams) of fat from cake are technically the same amount of calories, but they are certainly not the same nutritionally. Cake provides a substantial more amount of saturated (unhealthy) fat and added sugar while salmon is packed with unsaturated (healthy) fats and vitamins and minerals that will benefit your health. So, yes, 200 calories or 22 grams of fat are the same calorically, but, no, 200 calories of fat are not necessarily equal nutritionally. You see the problem that can come from someone on this diet who chooses poor food choices regularly.
In other words, you can be following your macros each day while still having a nutrient-poor diet.
Lets look at it this way. If I tell myself that I can have 15 grams of carbohydrates for a snack, I could technically eat half of a snickers bar, or, I could eat a little over 1 cup of sliced strawberries. Both would give me about the same amount of “grams of carbohydrate” and calories but both do not give me the same amount of nutrients. Strawberries would provide you with less fat, sodium, and added sugars and an increased amount of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Half a snickers bar would provide me with a lot of “empty calories”, or very few nutrients.
Now, choosing to eat half a snickers bar every once in a while isn’t going to harm me, but, if I make less healthy food choices regularly, that is where long term consequences come into pay – regardless of if I stay within my allotted macronutrient grams or not.
All in all, Your food choices matter! Nutrition is way more than just counting “calories” or “macros.” The types of foods you put into your body regularly is just as important -if not more important – than being able to hit specific macros or calorie goals. Getting enough “grams” of macronutrients is important and should be appropriate balanced most days, but where you are getting those “grams” from is more important!
You should know upfront that as a nutrition professional I am not a fan of diet plans. I believe they usually bring more harm than good (which is another topic for another day). I believe this diet plan can still make people become to focused on counting calories and not on the more important aspects of nutrition. I also strongly believe that there is no one perfect diet plan for everyone.
I would personally recommend going through other avenues that teach you about managing calories, calculating more personalized macronutrient ranges, loosing weight, or gaining muscle (like visiting a Dietitian, or RDN!) Dietitians are so much more valuable than just calculating your calorie needs! Dietitians are who can transform your mind and body to promote lifelong nutrition that will help meet your most important nutrition goals.
But, can you be on the “Macros Counting” diet and still be healthy? Probably, it all depends on your food choices and lifestyle.
If you feel strongly about being on this diet plan, I am mostly concerned that you are
1) Getting enough of all 40 nutrients you need from food sources (not supplements, ie protein shakes, oils or pills)
2) That you are choosing good food choices most of the time.
So, if you really want to count your macros AND are making high quality food choices most of the time, it is probably fine to stay on this diet plan as long as it doesn’t become an obsession. If you are using this diet and find that you are consuming less healthy food options more often than not, try a different approach at learning to make healthier choices!