Moving macros around can be an effective weight loss tool when done correctly.
Let’s first get to the basics…
We eat food to get energy from it and support various functions. “Calorie” is a unit used to measure the energy of food.
Everything that you eat is majorly (macros) a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. These are called “Macronutrients”.
Each macronutrient has a different biological makeup. They play different roles in our body.
The word “macro” originated from the bodybuilding community.
Micronutrients are nutrients that are needed by our body in small (micro) quantities. They supplement the function of Macros in food. This includes vitamins and minerals
Carbohydrates (1gm = 4 Calories)
Carbohydrate (or carbs) is the most preferred source of energy for our body.
Carbohydrate from food is converted to glucose. Glucose is a readily available energy source for our body. Our brain in particular needs glucose at all times to function optimally.
Carbohydrates are mainly of two types – Simple and Complex.
Simple carbohydrates mainly have some form of sugar. Sugar in the form of sucrose, glucose, galactose, fructose or in combination.
These are fast acting carbohydrates.They become readily available to the body, the moment we put them in your mouth.
They taste very sweet. Examples – Energy drinks, smoothies, candies, and chocolates. Simple carbohydrates spike insulin which results in fat storage.
A sweeter way to become fat…
At any moment our body doesn’t need more than 1 teaspoon of sugar. If we eat 2-3 teaspoons in one sitting, the excess will always result in fat storage in our body.
High fructose corn syrup found in most packaged snacks make these snacks very addictive.
High intake of sugar is being considered as the most common reason for the current obesity epidemic.
If you want to lose weight should first try to reduce simple carbohydrate intake. The goal should be to completely eliminate added sugar from the diet.
Insulin is a hormone which helps to regulate blood sugar levels. It does this by transporting sugar to muscles and organs to provide them with energy. Once the cells are full, excess sugar is stored as fat. When the insulin spikes over normal levels, the body enters in fat storage mode. Insulin spike in your blood is directly proportional to the amount of sugar you consume in one sitting. More the sugar more is the spike.
But I like pasta…
Complex carbohydrates are a combination of starch and fiber which makes them savory.
Complex sources of carbohydrates include Brown Rice and whole grain cereals like Oats. Whole grain pasta is also a complex carbohydrate.
These are slow acting carbohydrates. They release the sugar slowly without spiking the insulin.
Complex carbs also keep you full for a longer period.
no more sweets…
For regular individuals, daily intake of carbohydrates shouldn’t exceed 150 – 200 grams.
Individuals involved in stressful physical activities or bodybuilders can go up to 300 – 400 grams.
When you are trying to lose weight, you should try not to consume more than 150 grams of carbs (if possible even less). This can easily be achieved by cutting down on all foods with added sugar in your diet.
Fruits, vegetables, and grains should be your go-to sources of carbs.
Protein (1gm= 4 Calories)
Amino acids are building blocks of protein.
Amino acids are organic compounds which are also found in the cells of our body. Our body can make some of these amino acids while the rest need to be obtained through food.
Essential Amino Acids
Our body is 16% protein
Protein plays many roles in your body.
- It helps in the growth of lean muscles and tissue repair.
- Protein is essential for the production of hormones and enzymes.
- It also helps in strengthening your immune system.
Why is everyone going crazy over Protein?
Protein is very important for growing children and pregnant women.
It is of utmost importance for people trying to put on lean muscle mass. It is also an important macronutrient for people trying to lose weight.
Protein helps to perverse lean muscle mass when restricting Calories. Remember the goal of any weight loss program should be to lose as much as fat as possible while preserving lean body mass. This is true for both sexes.
Maintaining muscles is expensive for the body from a metabolic standpoint. More muscles you have, higher is your metabolic rate. Which means more Calories you can get away with eating on your cheat day.
I don’t lift a spoon…
Protein recommendation depends on the activity level of an individual. If you are mostly sedentary and do not workout, consuming 0.5g/pound or 1g/kg of body weight is sufficient.
I want to get ripped…
If you workout, you would need to consume more protein. 0.8g/pound or 2g/kg is recommended for people trying to put on lean muscle mass.
If you are trying to lose body fat, you might consume even higher amounts of protein. Adding protein to the diet also helps with satiety and makes dieting easier.
Since Protein has the highest thermic effect of food, it helps to cut down on Calories even further.
drink a gallon….
Remember to increase your water intake when increasing protein in the diet. Water helps to flush out the excess protein in the form of nitrates from the body.
Good sources of protein are fish, egg, chicken and lean meat. For Vegans, you can get the complete range of protein (amino acids) by combining rice and beans, nuts and seeds.
Fat (1gm = 9 Calories)
I eat fat but I am not fat…
Fat is the most energy dense macronutrient.
Fats found in naturally occurring foods are not bad. On the contrary, they are essential to our health and wellbeing.
- Fats help to regulate our hormones and keep our skin healthy.
- Fats reduce the risk of cancer and help in the development of stronger bones.
- They also help in the absorption of many essential vitamins.
- Fat maintains the cell membranes and provides a cushion to organs.
- Fats enhance the taste of our food and help in keeping cooked food fresh for long.
- Fats take time to digest and help us to stay satiated longer.
Vitamins need fat too…
- List of Fat-Soluble Vitamins – Vitamin A, D, E & K
- List of Water-Soluble Vitamins – B Complex Vitamins and Vitamin C
Saturated fats are not bad…
Fats are mainly found in two forms – Saturated Fat and Unsaturated Fat.
Saturated fats are found in dairy products and meat.
Unsaturated fats are found in fish. Oils derived from seeds and nuts are mainly unsaturated fats.
The real Evil…
There is a third form of fat – Trans Fat.
These are fats that are chemically altered to increase taste and shelf life of foods.
Trans fats are the worst forms of fats. They have an adverse effect on health even when taken in small quantities.
Food manufacturers often label trans fat as Partially Hydrogenated Oil.
Good Sources of fat…
Some of the good sources fat are fish, eggs, meat, nuts, cottage cheese, olive and coconut oil. You should consume at least 40 to 70 grams of fat, depending on your current weight.
Processed cheese and meats are bad sources of fat.
Most Peanut and Almond butter are not 100% natural. They have either partially hydrogenated oil or trans-fat added along with sugar. These need to be avoided as well.
Thermogenesis of Macros
Thermogenesis or Thermic effect of food is the amount of energy consumed to digest and process a particular food or macronutrient. More the thermic effect, the lesser net Calories are left to be burnt off.
Below are the approximate numbers for thermic effect of different macronutrients.
- Protein – 20-30% of Calories get burned through thermogenesis. Hence, Protein is the most energy inefficient macronutrient.
- Carbohydrates – 5-10% of Calories are burned during thermogenesis.
- Fats – Only 0-5% of Calories are consumed during thermogenesis. Fat is the most energy efficient macronutrient.
Did you forget about Glycemic Index?
The Glycemic index (GI) is a way to rank carbohydrates relative to its effect on blood sugar (or glucose).
GI of carbohydrates can range from 0 to 100. 100 represent GI of pure glucose.
Low GI Carbs (55 or less) – beans, seeds, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
Medium GI Carbs (55-69) – refined sugar, potatoes, raisins, many fruit juices, brown rice, ice cream, and banana.
High GI Carbs (70 and above) – glucose (dextrose), high fructose corn syrup, white refined flour, white rice and multi-ingredient breakfast cereals.
A low-GI food like rolled or steel cut Oats will steadily release glucose and will not spike blood glucose levels. Whereas, a high-GI food like energy drinks will result in a rapid rise in blood glucose.
I hope by now you have realized that all Macros are different. Our body reacts to each macronutrient in a different way.
Manipulating Macros to lose weight
Eating Carbs triggers insulin and fat storage mode.
All excess carbohydrate first gets stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen. Once the glycogen stores are full, insulin turns to fat cells. The body enters fat storage mode.
We definitely don’t want to be in the fat storage mode, when trying to lose weight (fat).
We should be eating enough carbs to support our daily activities. However, we should stop eating carbs as soon as our glycogen stores are full.
When should you stop eating carbs?
Our glycogen stores rarely get depleted. The only exception is for athletes or people who workout regularly. Even for them, only a part of liver and muscle glycogen gets depleted.
If you are mostly inactive, the body doesn’t need to fill the glycogen stores every day.
When you eat carbs, part of it gets used to support daily activities, while the rest gets stored as fat.
Consumption of carbohydrates should be proportional to your activity level. Though there is no magic number for this, 150 grams is a good number to start with.
Let’s assume that the caloric need for you to remain at same body weight level is 2000 Calories. You will be getting about 30% of energy from Carbohydrates.
You don’t need carbs….
It needs to be noted that though fats and protein are essential macronutrients, carbohydrates are not.
The body can convert fat to glucose when there is an energy crisis.
Reducing carbohydrates when trying to lose weight has a positive impact on body composition. Our body is able to tap into fat reserves in absence of carbohydrates (insulin). This is the reason many weight loss diets recommend to reduce carbohydrates.
For beginners starting out to lose weight, it is recommended to slowly cut down carbs. You should not go lower than 100 grams per day.
Fat is an essential macronutrient. But it doesn’t mean that it won’t get stored in the body.
If we consume fat with carbohydrate, we need to limit its consumption. From a metabolic standpoint, it’s very easy for our body to move fat into fat cells when compared to carbs.
Among all macros, fat has the most Calories (9 Calories per gram of fat). It’s easy to over consume fat.
How much is too much?…
We need to consume enough fat to ensure our hormones are in balance. Our body also depends on fat to absorb certain micronutrients. Consumption of fat helps to keep insulin in check when consumed with carbs.
At least, 40 grams of fat (from varied sources) is needed to achieve this. Unless you are on keto diet don’t exceed fat consumption by 60 grams. This is about 15-25% of total caloric need.
I know what you are thinking. Don’t we calculate protein first? Protein is the most important macro.
Yes, it’s true that protein is an essential macro along with fat. However, protein consumption varies according to your goal.
If your goal is weight loss, you should be consuming more protein than carbs and fat combined.
There are 3 reasons for this.
- Among all 3 macros, Protein is the most satiating macro. When trying to lose weight, your goal should be to consume less food (Calories). Protein makes it easy to manage hunger pranks.
- Protein has the highest thermic effect of food. About 20-30% of all the Calories coming from protein, gets burnt off during digestion. This is like adding insult to injury when you are already restricting your Calories.
- Protien helps to preserve lean muscle mass. When you restrict calories, you lose some muscle along with fat. Keeping your protien intake high can minimize the muscle loss to a great extent.
It only makes sense to trade carbs for protein…
Now that we have worked out the Calories for fat and carbs, the remaining gets allocated to protein.
For losing weight, we should be eating about 45-50% energy from protein. This comes around 200 grams of protein per day.
Women have lower energy needs. So for them, protein consumption should be around 150 grams.
200 grams of protein might sound a lot, to begin with. You would need to consume several servings of lean chicken, turkey, egg whites, etc. Supplementing with protein powder like the ones below will make your life easier.
Don’t worry, excessive consumption of protein has no ill effect on health. You would however, need to drink lots of water.
Here is the magic ratio you have been waiting for…
What about Calories in and Calories out?
The principal of energy balance still holds ground.
In effect, your net calorie consumption goes down when 50% of energy comes from protein. Less by about 10-15% due to the high thermic effect of consuming protein. This is the reason why low carb and high protein diet works so well. For beginners, this is the easiest way to lose weight.
Remember to adjust your Calories when you drop an inch. 🙂