“Macros”. I hear that word a lot in various health and fitness circles and before the start of this year I never really understood what it meant – and honestly didn’t really care to either. But my local CrossFit box were putting on a thirty day challenge, inviting members to learn how to use macros to help achieve their fitness goals; whether that be to lose, maintain or gain weight. I was interested right away and it was perfect timing as the challenge was to begin the week after we got back from our honeymoon. Two weeks of all inclusive food and alcohol certainly takes its toll!
Macros – what is it?
Put very simply, macros (short for macronutrients) is a term used to describe the three main food groups: carbohydrates, protein and fat. Your balance of these food groups will vary greatly depending on your goals, which is why counting macros is a much better way of eating for fitness goals as not all calories are created equal.
How do I do it?
We worked out our macros with the help of our coach and ensured that they were tailored to our individual needs and goals. Out of courtesy I’m not going to publish his information all over the internets (because, rude!) but also I think that it’s really important to do this with the help of someone who knows what they’re talking about. We were lucky enough to have constant support throughout the 30 days where we could ask questions (I asked a lot!) and I still got muddled up with my macros. However a simple google will assist you if you’re determined to go it alone.
Once we had our macros calculated (taking into account how much and what types of exercise we each did on a weekly basis) we were pretty much good to go. In a nutshell, the idea was to stick as closely to your macros as possible using wholesome, nutritious foods.
For example – to meet my energy needs and not lose any muscle, 50% of my food each day needed to be made up of carbohydrates. Now this would be easy if I could just stuff my face with cake, potatoes and pizza! But the idea is to get as many nutrients from your food as possible. So white pasta, rice and bread were replaced with wholegrain versions; snacks of crisps and chocolate were replaced with cottage cheese, apples with peanut butter and peppers with home-made hummus and potatoes were replaced with sweet potatoes and lots of fresh vegetables. I can assure you, it really is quite difficult to meet your daily numbers when you’re eating loads of the good stuff!
To give you a good idea of the meals I was eating (and just how much!), below is an example of what an average weekday consisted of for me:
Pre-Crossfit – a small home-made ‘high energy’ muffin and a coffee with whole milk
Post-Crossfit – sweet potato fritter with a poached egg or a bowl of porridge with a sliced banana
Lunch – home-made butternut squash soup and a wholemeal bagel with chicken, avocado and tomatoes
Pre-run – a small banana with some good quality peanut butter
Dinner – salmon fillet with cajun rice, green beans and brocolli
Snacks – tea, coffee, small handful of nuts, cottage cheese on a wholemeal rice cake
I certainly didn’t go hungry! I’ll admit I found the first week a struggle, rarely managing to hit the amount of carbs that I needed. But I stuck with it and it was just a case of trial and error and seeing what worked and what didn’t.
I used ‘myfitnesspal’ to track my macros. In the first few days this was a right pain in the arse. It took a lot of time inputting ingredients and creating meals and it was a bit of a chore weighing stuff out. However the scanner on the mobile app was fascinating (you scan the barcode of your food and the nutritional value just pops up on your screen – what a time to be alive!). It was definitely worth the effort and by the second week it took no time at all. Plus I was getting better at judging quantity of food by sight and didn’t have to rely on the scales so much.
Typical breakfast! You can see on the pie chart that I was waaay off the macros on that particular day.
Thirty days is not a great amount of time and we were advised that we definitely shouldn’t have a big jump in numbers either way – the whole point of the challenge was to use the thrity days to get to grips with everything and utilise the knowledge of the coaches so that we can hopefully continue and incorporate our new way of eating into a healthy lifestyle change. A big jump in numbers wouldn’t be sustainable. With that in mind I was thrilled by my results – I dropped 1.5% bodyfat, weight pretty much stayed the same but I also put on a bit of muscle.
The biggest gain for me though was my energy levels. I felt so much better both during and after workouts and I recovered a lot quicker with less aches and pains the next day. I slept better, felt stronger and faster and achieved PBs in pretty much every lift during the 30 days.
Was it Worth It?
Absolutely. I was genuinely amazed at the difference and I really enjoyed cooking with new foods and learning new recipes. We had a fantastic support network and we all gave each other tips which helped a lot – especially at the start.
I’m definitely going to continue using macros. I will still have the occasional take away and dirty kebab (just like I did in the challenge). I will still eat the odd doughnut and enjoy a glass of wine because that’s the beauty of a lifestyle change. If you restrict yourself something silly then that’s a recipe for disaster.
I think the biggest reason that this new way of eating has worked so well for me is because it doesn’t restrict any particular food group. I tried a six week challenge last year and whilst it was great at the time, I gradually eased out of the good habits because it was very restrictive of things like oats and bread (even wholegrain) and dairy was also frowned upon. Using macros takes the individual into account. I perform best eating a lot of carbs and as long as I made good choices, I pretty much had free reign to dive head-first into a bowl of sweet potatoes and rice. This makes for a very happy runner!
I’m now forty-something days into the challenge and I’m still seeing improvements. Now I have a much better understanding of what my body needs and how best to fuel it, I can’t wait to see where it takes me.