Ask the Expert: “Should I Be Counting Macros on My Plant-Based Diet?”
'If it fits your macros' (IIFYM) has become a common phrase among keto followers, bodybuilders, and other hard-core dieters. But is counting macros helpful for someone trying to eat plant-based? Like most things in the nutrition world, the answer is... it depends. Before delving into the pros and cons of counting macros, let’s talk a little about the term “macros.”
What are macros?
“Macros” is short for macronutrients, otherwise known as large nutrients (as opposed to micros, the smaller nutrients). There are four macronutrients: Carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol. Their main purpose of each of these macronutrients is to provide energy to the body. Carbohydrates and protein contain 4 calories per gram, fat contains 9 calories per gram and alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. Generally, the recommendation is to eat 45 to 60 percent of calories from carbs, 15 to 25 percent of calories from protein, and 20 to 30 percent of calories from fat.
If you want to track macros, you need to calculate your body weight and nutrition goals (to lose weight, gain muscle, etc.) in order to come up with an ideal daily macro ratio. A person who hopes to build muscle mass may choose to eat a higher percentage of protein than an endurance athlete, who focuses on refueling with carbs. A macro tracking diet usually starts with a certain number of carbs or protein and then determines the remaining macros (fat and alcohol) from there. Before jumping feet first into tracking macros, consider the pros and cons.
What are the benefits of counting macros?
There are benefits to macro counting, such as:
- It helps you see where your calories are coming from and what macros make up the majority of your diet.
- For plant-based eaters, macro tracking is a good way to assess whether or not you’re eating enough protein.
- Tracking macros can help you pinpoint where you’re taking in excess calories, which can be a helpful weight-loss tool.
What are the downsides of counting macros?
While some may find macro counting beneficial, here are some downsides to tracking your macros.
- You actually have to track everything you eat. That means measuring and logging every single piece of food you put in your body in a calorie tracker. Many people will find this daunting and overwhelming.
- You may become obsessive with macro tracking, which can lead to disordered eating tendencies.
- Since you need to know what’s in every piece of food you eat, it becomes very difficult to eat out (how would you log it?).
- Just because you’re aiming for a certain macro goal doesn’t mean you need to eat healthy foods to achieve it. For example, you can eat carbs from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains or from candy, chips, and desserts. There are no rules about the quality of food.
Should I track my macros?
It may be a useful tool for very dedicated dieters or athletes who want to get a handle on the number of carbs, protein, and fat they eat each day. That said, tracking everything you eat is not sustainable for years. Without the help of a nutrition professional, you may choose a macro range that isn’t ideal for you. If you want to track your macros, I suggest you seek out the advice of a Registered Dietitian to do it safely and efficiently and achieve your goals.
What about micronutrients?
So often people focus on macronutrients and overlook micronutrients. Otherwise known as the small nutrients, micronutrients consist of over 30 essential vitamins and minerals. There are many more micronutrients than macronutrients, and they all have varying levels of recommended intake.
Some micros, like Vitamin C and Vitamin A, are easy to get in large quantities, while others, like Vitamin D and Zinc, aren’t in as many foods. The best way to ensure you’re getting plenty of micronutrients on a daily basis is to eat a varied and well-balanced diet with plenty of colors. Because some nutrients are more prevalent in animal products, vegans sometimes miss out on Iron, Calcium, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin D. If you’re concerned about your micronutrient intake, ask your doctor to do a simple blood draw to see if you’re deficient.