The Healthy Eating Plan That Doesn't Cut Carbs (And It Works)
If the idea of cutting out food groups, banishing carbs, and avoiding chocolate sounds like a nightmare, we’re 100% with you. However, if you’re looking to tone up, or kick a few kilos, a macro nutrition plan could be the perfect solution – notice how we didn’t say diet? Well, that’s because a macro plan doesn’t categorize foods into “yes” and “no” categories, and it doesn’t include shrinking your meal size. Instead, it focuses on finding the right balance of proteins, carbs, and fats for your body, while factoring in your daily exercise regimen. You may have heard of it as the ‘IIFYM’ plan (if it fits your macros).
For all the deets on how it works, we spoke to Nutri-coach and Co-Founder of Food4Thoughts, Eden Thomas. In the name of research, we even trialed a macro diet created by the Food4Thoughts team, and we were amazed by the results. Here’s everything you need to know.
What is a Macro Diet?
“A macro diet is a diet that focuses on getting the right macronutrients for your body,” says Eden. This means everyone’s macro plan is different. Eden explains, “Dependant on the client’s personal goal, each individual will require a different number of macros. Only once your diet is catered to your body’s needs, will you reach your body and fitness goals.”
What Are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients or “macros” are the four types of food molecules that the body can use for energy. Eden explains macronutrients include fats, which have nine calories per gram, carbs, which have four calories per gram, and proteins, which also have four calories per gram. The fourth is alcohol, containing 7 calories per gram. And while it’s not recommended with most nutrition plans, you can factor it into your daily macro count. A ‘diet’ that includes vino and bread? We’re sold…
How Many Macronutrients Do You Need Daily?
As we’ve mentioned, a macro diet is tailored to your current weight, level of fitness, and your end goal, whether that’s to lose or gain weight, or change muscle mass. Eden explains that in most cases, “If someone is looking to tone up or lose weight, it’s important that protein makes up the highest percentage of their diet. This will ensure they retain the muscle already on their body and so when they’re in a calorie deficit, they’ll primarily lose body fat.”
He continues, “The number of carbs and fats someone needs will fluctuate according to the individual’s activity level. For instance, if you’re an athlete, who is training daily, then a larger percentage of their macros will come from carbohydrates as opposed to fats.”
How to Calculate Your Macros
There are various ways in which you can track your macros and calories. Despite some inaccuracies, Eden recommends using MyFitnessPal as a starting point to help track your macros and calorie intake daily. You can also calculate your macro intake manually, but be warned, it gets very technical.
Step 1. Calculate your metabolic rate: Based on your age, sex, height, and weight, a BSR calculator will determine how much energy your body uses at rest. This is known as your basal metabolic rate.
Step 2. Adjust for activity level: The BMR is multiplied by your physical activity to increase calories based on your exercise regimen. This is known as your total daily energy expenditure or TDEE. While exercise isn’t mandatory for a macro diet to get results, it’s recommended for a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle.
Step 3. Adjust based on your goals: If you’re looking to lose weight, reduce your calorie intake by 15-25%. If you want to gain weight, increase it by 5-15%.
Step 4. Determine your macros: The final step is to calculate your macros. You need to break it down into the three macro groups, AKA how much protein, fat, and carbs should be in your diet.
Protein: Between 1 to 0.7 grams per pound of body weight. Foods high in protein include foods such as beef, chicken, lamb, pork and turkey, cheese, milk, whey protein, and yogurt.
Fat: Between 0.25 to 0.4 grams per pound of body weight. Foods high in fat include avocado, egg yolks, salmon, chia seeds, and flax.
Carbs: The remaining calories should be carbs such as bread, cereals, pasta, legumes, like beans, lentils, peanuts, peas, and soy.
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These calculations should indicate how many calories and how many grams of carbs, proteins, and fats should be in your diet. As accuracy is super important for a macronutrient-based diet, it’s recommended that you weigh each food. With that said, we realize this can be tedious and as we didn’t want to become overly obsessed with counting calories/ macros, we weighed the recommended amount to see the measurement, then guestimated after that.
When you create your macro plan, Eden stresses the importance to calculate your macros in alignment with your goals, whether that’s to tone up, lose weight, or bulk up. Depending on this goal, your macro intake should be adjusted accordingly. This is when consulting a nutritionist could be beneficial.
Are There Any Foods You Need To Avoid?
“The beauty of macros is there are no foods you need to avoid,” confirms Eden. Amen to that! He clarifies, “As long as at the end of the day, the calorie intake fits within the right profile of macros, you can eat it. For example, if you’ve had protein all day, and you have 300 calories left within your diet, there’s nothing to say you can’t treat yourself to a chocolate bar or an ice cream as long as it fits within your program.” Although he does add that this doesn’t mean you eat ice cream all day. “Of course, if you’re constantly eating ice cream, it would upset the balance. That’s why balance is key.”
After gaining a little weight during lockdown, I was keen to lose a few pounds and feel like my usual self. As gyms began to open, I resumed my regular exercise routine, which included spin classes, boxing, and HIIT workouts. However, after five weeks of hitting the gym, I didn’t see a noticeable difference, which is why I decided to take a deeper dive into macronutrients – something I’d heard about but never tried.
I contacted Eden from Food4Thoughts and he created a personalized plan, which outlined what food I should eat every day according to my optimum macro intake. Here’s a quick example of what I eat in a day:
Breakfast: Cinnamon oatmeal with almond milk and blueberries
Lunch: Salmon, avocado, and beetroot salad
Dinner: Ginger and chili chicken stir fry with rice
Snacks: 1 protein shake, 1 protein yogurt, a handful of raspberries
Throughout the week, I have a mixture of proteins, including chicken, prawns, tuna, or veggie burgers. I can also incorporate carbs, like rice, sweet potato and French fries – the latter being my fave food on the planet! I was even able to have ice cream. There are also plenty of sites that provide macro-friendly recipes, like The Macro Experiment, which is super helpful at the beginning. Overall, I found the plan easy to stick to as I was never hungry, plus, I was able to eat many of my favorite foods (in moderation), which is why I didn’t feel like I was actually on a “diet”.
I’m now into the third week of my macro-nutrient plan and the results are insane – I have more energy, my sleeping habits have improved, I find it easier to wake up in the morning, and I’ve lost five pounds (2.2 kg) in just two weeks. I’ll update you when I hit the 1-month mark!
Have you ever tried a macro diet? Let us know in the comments below.