It’s a big debate by many leading fitness professionals. Which is better?
- Give people a set meal plan and tell them to learn about food in finer detail. Or,
- Give people set ‘macros’ and say they can eat what they like within those boundaries ‘If It Fits Your Macros’
My answer is, you need both. You need to be aware of what it is you’re chomping and why your body needs it, but also have the freedom to have minor slip ups and magically tailor them into your macros to minimise damage to goals and health. The first step to better understanding nutrition and specifically macros, is to define your personal goal. For example, I personally didn’t start caring about what I ate until I was unhappy with my body. As soon as I created a goal (initially to lose weight), it led me to really want to learn about nutrition. If you’re wanting to transform your body, exercise alone is not going to cut it. It is the fuel we feed ourselves that makes up 70% of the required effort to make change.
So if you’re now in this position of wanting better from your health and your physique, then this is what I suggest you to do:
- Seek a certified fitness professional (shameless promotion – Ambitious Bodies) to have your measurements recorded:
- Weight, age, gender, body fat %, girth cm, body type – Ectomorph/ Mesomorph / Endomorph
- Your health and exercise history (current/past illnesses, daily activity level, job type, exercise schedule etc.)
- and most obviously your fitness goals! (Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Timed)
- Based off this information you’re going to need help with nutrition to ensure your goals are met:
- Recommended calories, macronutrients and micronutrients
- Breakdown of what each macros and micros’ role is, within the body
- Suggested meals you should be eating to obtain these nutrients
- Macro-friendly recipes to boost flavour, give variety and make things more interesting!
So, set meal plans or set macros? Wouldn’t it be nice to eat an omelette one morning, then a cheeky bit of Nutella on toast the next, without compromising your goals? Of course the omelette is the better choice, but if you had the knowledge and ability to adjust your macros over the day to account for the Nutella, wouldn’t you do it?
In the past when I was given a set meal plan, I’d been less interested and more resistant to complying. I didn’t like to be told exactly what to eat, and therefore I felt if I wasn’t doing it 100%, why do it at all. My coach, and World Beauty Fitness & Fashion World Champion, Hattie Boydle, gives me personalised macros. With this more lenient approach to nutrition, I have completely transformed my physique, and managed to eat chocolate spread on toast right up to one week out from competing in the WBFF Bikini 2017. I’d see other girls with crazy diet rules, literally eating fish three times per day, and really struggling to function. Which of these methods is more enticing to you?
This comparison is no different for my experiences as a Personal Trainer. I see girls go on strict diets – like ’12 week transformations’- where they cut out pretty much everything but chicken and broccoli and struggle until they give in, or on completion rebound with fat-gain – sometimes even heavier than before they started! When you can begin to understand macro tracking, you are giving yourself freedom, control, and an amazing power over your body. You can learn to get your proteins, fats, carbohydrates etc. from an incredible variety of foods. No more boredom.
Right, so let’s talk about food!
Your body is going to benefit most from fresh, unprocessed (think plucked from the earth!) whole, organic, nutrient dense foods. That’s going to be vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruit, grains, legumes, and meat. The more a food is in its natural state, the more chance of it holding onto its nutrients (though some things are more beneficial cooked). When buying foods from the supermarket you want be able to understand the ingredients listed on the label. If it’s got a million scientific words you can’t pronounce, it is not the best choice. Though this is inevitable for some things, every effort you make towards keeping natural will improve your intake of nutrients.
But let’s be honest, in this day and age the ‘food’ available is limitless, it is processed, artificial, lower in nutrients and most commonly cheaper the further away from fresh and ‘organic’ it is. With its easy availability, cheap price and advertising plastered left right and centre, we fall into the trap of fast food. It is because of this reason we to need to learn to make the most of what’s unavoidable for the majority of the western population.
Let’s use this real life scenario: you’re out with friends and plan to get take-out, you’ve got the choice of McDonald’s, Subway or Zambrero’s. Would you know which to be the healthiest option? It’s true that none of these would ever be in a set meal plan, so let’s assume your diet goes out the window, you’ve got that “screw it, might as well eat crap all night” mentality, and its not looking good from here. On the other hand, if you had better knowledge of food detail and macros you’d know this is not the end of the world, and you can minimise the set back from choosing more wisely.
If you were going to base your choice off just calories, (McChicken burger 432 calories, Subway fillet 6” 379 calories, Zambrero’s Chicken Power bowl 466 calories), you may be misguided. A McDonald’s McChicken burger is going to give you heavily fried, highly processed meat and bread, and lettuce short of a rabbit’s dinner. Its macros also demonstrate the poor quality, of the three choices it is lowest in protein (19g) and highest in fat (22g) (and not good fat). Subway chicken fillet is a little better than McDonald’s but it is still going to give you to processed meat and carbs (bread, gluten!) but a larger variety of salads. Its macros show it’s slightly higher in protein (21g), and a lot lower in fat (13g). Then we have Zambrero’s Chicken Power bowl, where the meat is less processed, the carbs are natural (rice, gluten free!), and again a larger variety of salads than McDonald’s. Its macros prove the best choice, with a whopping 35g of protein, and fat below 12g.
So based off these simple food details and macros you should now be able to think which is going to give you a better option from the not-so-better options.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail: this is such a well known saying, because it is so true! The more you leave to guessing, the more short-handed you’re going to end up. Meal prep alongside your macros are going to work hand in hand for achieving the physique you’ve been dreaming of. Organisation is key! So here are my suggestions:
- Know your macros. Know what you’re going to need and let this be your go-to for making better food choices. To know your macros you’re going to need to do what I have recommended above, and then begin to measure out (weigh) your foods and complete in the app My Fitness Pal.
- Food shop – load up on unprocessed food first, usually found around the edge of your supermarket.
- Meat, eggs, fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, potatoes etc.
- Go to food that can’t be bought fresh – almond milk, rice milk, gluten free toast / cereal, spreads, rice, rice cakes, honey, protein powder *remember, this is a supplement not a staple food*
- Cook bulk – cook everything in bulk, and freeze what’s not needed immediately. This is a big time saver.
- Cook around 2kg of each meat at once. Cool and either store in zip-lock bags freezer friendly, or divide out into containers for your meals *remember, meat can shrink approx. 15% once cooked, so keep this in mind when weighing out serves*
- Use the fresh veggies first. Freezing fresh veggies for later use isn’t very beneficial, instead, use frozen veg packets for freezer-intended meals
- Use herbs! Spice up the flavour by adding fresh herbs to your cooking. Pink Himalayan salt & Pepper is a life saver
- Colour code containers – divide your meats, carbs, and veggies into suitable serving sizes. Suitable meaning they are convenient for the time of day you’re going to eat, filling enough/appropriate for the activity level to come, and spread out enough to ensure you make it til bed time without starving or having 1,000 calories to trough.
- Colour code your meals – e.g. chicken & rice is blue, turkey & rice is clear, beef and potato is purple
- Each meal has a different sort of vegetable to give variety (e.g. cut beans, minty peas, mixed spring veg, Asian stir-fry packet)
- Dedicate a chunk of your home (and work freezer if lucky) to your meals. Create a system that will help you remember what containers to use first (e.g. In our back freezer, the new containers go on top, and the older containers get pulled from the bottom)
I mentioned it earlier – it is the fuel we feed ourselves that makes up 70% of the required effort to make change. I am not going to say adapting to this ‘healthy eating / understanding your macros’ lifestyle will be easy because it won’t be. It will take time, and a complete mindset change. If you are truly dedicated to turning your life around, and that includes the transformation of your mind, body and soul, then take the time to understand your food, and take the steps (even if they are baby steps at first!) in the right direction to start changing your eating habits to ensure all of your hard work in the gym is being supported by what you are putting into your body.