DON’T COUNT ON MACRO MANAGEMENT
Measuring meals to the gram is a lot of effort for little return. Our expert explains why eating by numbers just doesn’t add up
AS A GENERATION, we’re keen to quantify things. Fitness is measured in PBS; social influence by Instagram likes. And dietary virtue – so some would have us believe – by our macros. Not a number cruncher? A quick explainer: macronutrients are proteins, carbs and fats, and ingesting the right amounts will purportedly earn you the perfect physique. But, to borrow a common aphorism, not everything that can be counted counts.
Macro counting usually centres on a daily target: 120g of protein, say, or 300g carbs. But this is as arbitrary as setting a daily “breath target” or putting a cap on the number of times you yawn per week. The quantity of macros your body needs varies hugely day to day, affected not only by your activity levels, but illness, injury, even the weather. To view your target as anything other than a forkstab in the dark is self-delusion.
Your body does not reset at the end of each 24-hour period. When you eat your macros is as crucial as whether you eat them. If you’re shy of your protein target, it’s no use choking down a lumpy shake after dinner and mentally high-fiving yourself. You need that protein to drip feed your muscles all day long. Likewise, carbs. They’re your body’s chief source of energy, so you need a hit before and after training. Without them, you’ll burn through your glycogen stores and start to break down muscle, regardless of what your Myfitnesspal total says. Hell, you wouldn’t let your iphone run out of juice, just because you’d charged it once already that day.
It’s all too easy to forget that what we eat is more than the sum of its parts. Fats, for example, tend to be neglected. You might stay within your kilojoule limits while weighing out chicken and rice, but you risk missing out on the fatsoluble vitamins your body needs to build brain cells. Similarly, your whey shake might be engineered to cover your amino acid needs, but it won’t contain the iron, zinc, selenium and B12 you’d find in a hot-offthe-pan ribeye. In many cases, your body would benefit if the numbers didn’t always add up.
But perhaps you know all this. Perhaps you’re punctiliously divvying up macros throughout the day, switching chicken for steak for salmon on a weekly rota. Consider, then, that you’re applying maximal effort for marginal gain. A 20g discrepancy makes little difference. And how sure are you that the figures on the packet are accurate? No kilojoule-tracking site can tell you exactly what’s in your dinner. In fact, the American Dietetic Association found foodlabel figures are out by an average 8 per cent. It’s just a best guess.
Instead, listen to your body. If you’re hungry and sore after training, you need to eat more. If you’re struggling to shift winter weight, reassess portion sizes. I like to use hand-sized measures: five fist-size servings of slow-release carbs a day, two palm-sized portions of protein and five handfuls of veg. It’s not precise, but that’s the point. And if this doesn’t work for you, keep experimenting until you find what does. You’re a human being, not a machine. So start eating like one.