When it comes down to improving your performance whether in your box, personal life, at work, etc., you are what you eat. The old cliche holds true. If you eat like crap, you’ll feel like crap and perform just the same. As I repeat to our VIP’s daily, it’s not a matter of “IF”, it’s a matter of “when”… when we figure out “HOW” to balance our metabolism, we can’t expect much change. Did you know that your body is designed to burn fat in between meals. If you’re ready this right now, I’m betting you’re not there yet. Rest assure, after reading this post, you’ll have a much better idea on how to improve your daily nutrition which leads towards balancing your metabolism in return, your workout performance will improve, your stress levels will go down, and best of all, your body composition will be a thing of beauty.
Let’s dig in >>>
Have you ever had one of those conversations with a fellow CrossFitter at your box and all they can talk about is counting macros? Their excitement is palpable as they enthusiastically show you a Six-Pack Bag filled with precisely measured and portioned out food made complete with a portable scale in case of emergencies.
As you stand there impressed by their commitment to eating well, they shatter that impression by popping open a Kill Cliff and chowing down on a recovery bar they found at GNC. They see the perplexed look on your face and answer with the Macro Creed: “Hey, this fits my macros. So it is legit.”
Here in lies the problem. Many CrossFitters jump towards counting macros as a means of controlling their nutrition before they address the underlying problems with what they eat. They haven’t made the shift towards eating real foods and avoiding processed and fast foods. This creates a system where loopholes are used repeatedly to justify the end goal of keeping everything balanced. Except, keeping bad food choices balanced doesn’t really address the problem. So are macros even worth the time? If you are willing to lay a solid foundation first, they are. To keep things simple and efficient, we are giving you a clear 4 step action plan to using macros correctly. We even have a 3-day meal plan ready for you to jump on board with.
WHAT IS A MACRO?
Put simply, macronutrients are the carbohydrates, protein, and fat in food. Take the uncooked sweet potato in the picture above. It has 30g of carbs, 0g of fat, and 2g of protein in a serving that weighs 148g (roughly 5 oz). This sweet potato obviously provides other nutrients like potassium and vitamin A, but for this blog we focus on the big 3. You should also note that there are different types of carbs, fats, and proteins, and some are definitely better than others. For now, we want you to have a basic understanding that non-starchy vegetables are your preferred source of carbohydrates, but there are other starches like the sweet potato that can be used in limited amounts. For fats, we prefer the chewable types like olives, nuts, seeds, and avocado over the oils like olive oil and other seed oils. For protein, we prefer quality sources like wild-caught fish, organic beef, and chicken. We cover food quality in detail inside Nutrition WOD University.
Now that we know what a macro is, let’s look at how to start figuring out your macro needs. The classic mistake made here is thinking you need to jump in the deep end and follow the lead of some of the elite CrossFit athletes. For example, one particular female athlete had a daily nutrition plan that looked like this:
7am – Scoop of protein powder
8am – 2 eggs, 5 egg whites, 2/3 cup of oats
11am – tuna, 2/3 cup of oats, 1 scoop of peanut butter, 1 pickle
2pm – 4 eggs and 2/3 cup of oats
4:30pm – 6oz of fish and 2/3 cup of oats, 1 banana
6:30pm – Scoop of protein powder and table sugar
8pm – 6oz of fish and a banana
9:30pm – 1 cup of cottage cheese with granola
Anybody notice the redundancy here?
The rest of her week looked very similar.
Now, is it effective? Sure. Is it sustainable?
Probably not beyond 90 days.
So should this be the standard to follow just because it works for this particular athlete?
No. It doesn’t have to be this complicated, or frankly, this boring.
Most of us are not training for Regionals or even to be high-level athletes.
We need a simpler plan that allows us to use the good parts of counting macros without losing sight of the bigger goal of eating real foods and moving away from the processed and junk foods. To do this, we start with our protein needs.
STEP 1: FIGURE OUT YOUR DAILY PROTEIN
There are multiple ways to come up with this figure.
For example, I’m 140 pounds, 5’4″ and have an approximate body fat percentage of 7%. If I was to follow the Renaissance Periodization (RP) diet, I would start with 125 grams daily. This number does not move regardless of whether you are on a training day or rest day and even remains constant through the different phases of their diet.
If I followed the Zone Diet, I would use the conversion tables from Zone to figure out my protein needs. Based on my activity level, it states my protein needs are roughly 120g per day and does not distinguish between training days and rest days.
Our recommendation is based off of our belief that the easiest way to count portions is to use the hand and plate method. Fill your plate up with two fist size portions of non-starchy vegetables, a palm-sized portion of protein, a fist-sized portion of starchy carbs or fruits, and a thumb-sized portion of healthy fats (two thumb-sized portions of chewable fats). If I use this method for 3 meals a day, I will eat roughly 4oz of protein or 26g per meal. Factor in a protein powder like collagen, whey, or casein twice a day at 25g per serving and I am at 128g a day. I also have to factor in that the other foods on my plate like the non-starchy vegetables, starches, and some of the fats also contain protein. So without doing any difficult calculations, I end the day at roughly 140-150g of protein which is in line with RP and slightly higher than Zone.
STEP 2: USE 40/30/30
40/30/30 stands for a macro break down of 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. Despite diets like RP making it seem like they are using complex calculations, they along with most solid nutrition plans start with this prescription. In fact, this is the exact combination used by Zone, the one the plate diagram above is based on and we advocate, and the CrossFit prescription (based on our interpretation). If you fill your plate up by eating “meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some starch, little fruit, and no sugar”, your plate is going to look a lot like ours.
Using the hand and plate method is the easiest way to go about counting macros and you can definitely stop here for step 2. However, if you want to see how it all breaks down, read on. Otherwise, move on to Step 3.
If I am eating 145g of protein daily, I can quickly figure out my carbs and fat. We start by multiplying grams of protein by 4 since there are 4 calories in each gram. That gives me a daily caloric intake of 580. Since we are looking to take in the same amount of calories from fat, we divide 580 by 9 since there are 9 calories per gram of fat. This works out to 64g of healthy fat daily. Finally, we need 40% of our calories from carbs, so we take our 145g of protein and divide it by .3 (this is our 30%). Now take that total and multiply it by .40 to get your 40% carbs which comes out to 193g of carbs or 773 calories (4 calories/gram just like for protein). Add this all together and I have a daily caloric intake of 1933 and a daily macro break down of 193g/145g/64g. Keep in mind that these numbers are all based off my weight and body fat percentage. If we looked at a fairly active 140lb female CrossFitter, all three methods would net us something close to 146g/110g/49g which is the same as using the hand and plate method above.
STEP 3: USE THE MACROS TO BALANCE YOUR DAY
OK, here is where we start to make the whole process easier. Instead of worrying about balancing every meal you eat with 40/30/30, start with balancing your entire day. Diets like Zone and RP are great and produce results, but typically at the expense of your sanity.
To put it bluntly: Weighing and measuring every meal sucks.
It is time consuming and can lead to bad habits like eating beyond the point of feeling full or satisfied. To be clear, we believe you should strive to balance every meal to help regulate insulin spikes. However, we want you to succeed quickly, so give yourself a break and focus on hitting your goals for the day.
To make this even easier, you can use a free app called Fitocracy Macros. It is super simple. I plug in my 193/145/64 goal and it keeps a running tally for me. I still have to enter my protein, carbs, and fat into the app, but I find it to be a fairly fast process and I like that I can always take a peek to see where I am for the day. If my meals don’t exactly hit 40/30/30, I don’t sweat it. I know my nutrition needs are not made or broken by one meal or even one day. The daily, weekly, and monthly consistency will yield results.
You can also skip all of the tracking and just use the hand and plate method. It will take you a long way if you are being careful to fill up your plate with real foods and not junk. Junk food is a loophole and not the intended purpose of counting macros for health.
STEP 4: DECIDE WHERE YOU WANT TO GO NEXT
If you are not currently using macros, we suggest following 40/30/30 for at least two weeks to determine if you are gaining muscle mass, losing body fat percentage, or simply maintaining your current weight. If you are moving in the direction you want and 40/30/30 keeps you going there, then Great! No need to adjust anything. However, if you are not moving in your desired direction, you need to start adjusting our ratios.
One of the biggest mistakes we see when CrossFitters want to either lose body fat or gain muscle mass is to adjust their protein intake. However, protein should typically stay put. For losing body fat, we suggest cutting your fat intake and leaving your protein and carbs consistent and an initial change. This change adjusts your macros to something like 45/35/20. Once you make any adjustment, go another two weeks without changing anything else and re-assess your progress. If you lost roughly 1-2 pounds a week (possibly more if you weigh more), you are losing weight at a reasonable pace. Less is also OK. The goal is to see a slow but consistent change in the direction you want to be heading. Too much weight loss to fast ends up being more than just the body fat loss.
For gaining muscle mass, we suggest leaving your protein and carbs alone and increasing your fat intake slightly. You want a 1-2 pounds increase per week. You might end up having to increase your carbs as well depending on multiple factors including lifestyle, workout routines, and daily activities.
Anybody that tells you there is a magic macro ratio for gaining muscle mass or losing body fat percentage is lying. However, most of us will benefit greatly from first focusing on eating a diet rich in real foods and few if any processed or fast foods. Start there. Then adjust your macros to 40/30/30 without sacrificing the healthy foods. Don’t worry about balancing each meal, but do make an effort to do so without going crazy measuring and counting. The bigger goal is to achieve an overall balance. Once you have that down for a while, start to look at how you can improve with meal timing and individual meal macro breakdowns. Give yourself the benefit of waiting a few weeks before trying to lose fat or gain muscle. You will be better off for being patient and allowing your body to give you the cues you need to make smart decisions.
I hope this helps…
Article Compliments of Nutrition WOD