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

Men's Health (Australia) - - Nutrition -

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.

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