Should you control your food portions? It’s a question I’ve covered a lot on the blog and in nutrition seminars. My answer is always yes, and no. Whether you should or not is dependent on your goals and your personality traits. But there’s no point getting into that unless you understand what portion control is.
There are some visual guidelines of what your plate should look like, and for some those guidelines work. If you’d like to get it done correctly you do need to measure your macronutrient intake. It makes the amounts specific to YOU, and the numbers enable you to make educated changes about your portion sizes.
What is a Macro?
Macronutrients (macros) are nutrients that provide calories or energy. Nutrients are substances needed for growth, metabolism, rebuilding and all basic body functions. There are three macronutrients that all food is categorised under:
What do Macros Do?
On one hand, all macros provide calories (energy). Carbohydrate provides 4 calories per gram, protein provides 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram. Aside from providing calories to fuel various functions, each macro has a different set of responsibilities in the body.
We need CHO because:
They are the body’s main source of fuel.
They are easily used by the body for energy.
All of the tissues and cells in our body can use glucose for energy.
They are needed for the central nervous system, the kidneys, the brain, the muscles (including the heart) to function properly.
They can be stored in the muscles and liver and later used for energy.
They are important in intestinal health and waste elimination.
We need protein for:
Growth (especially important for children, teens, and pregnant women)
Making essential hormones and enzymes
Energy when carbohydrate is not available
Preserving lean muscle mass
Fat is essential for:
Normal growth and development
Energy (fat is the most concentrated source of energy)
Absorbing certain vitamins ( like vitamins A, D, E, K, and carotenoids)
Providing cushioning for the organs
Maintaining cell membranes
Providing taste, consistency, and stability to foods
Why Measure Macros?
As you can read above, macros provide calories. We need enough calories to support exercise but NOT body fat. One reason for measuring macros helps to ensure that you’re getting the correct amount of calories in. The other reason is to ensure that you’re giving your body the correct amount of nutrients it needs to fuel and recover from exercise, and for basic human function.
Food quality is more important than quantity though. You can’t out-measure a shitty diet.
How to Calculate Macros?
There are a ton of different methods but they essentially come down to a few differences. One thing most methods do have in common is that they should be based on the individual’s body composition and levels/type of activity.
Calorie Based: These methods only calculate macros in order to calculate caloric intake and they do so under the belief that weight management is based simply on balancing calories in and calories out. There’s much more to that equation. More importantly, this method leaves people thinking that a calorie is a calorie, and it’s not.
Sustainability Based: These methods keep food categorised at CHO, fat and protein instead of calculating calories. They also place a high emphasis on food quality. The changes implemented in one’s diet are intended to be lifelong so change is gradual and maintainable.
Sports Based: These methods have been founded on systems used for athletes in weight category sports such as martial arts, weightlifting, and powerlifting. Or in sports that simply require an athlete to be at particular body weights for optimal performance or aesthetics. Such methods are characterised by having “cutting,” “building” and “maintenance” phases.
Yay or Nay?
If you are far above or below a healthy body composition, then yes, learn how to calculate and track your macro amounts. If you’d like to improve your performance in general or specifically for an event, yes, calculate your macros. If you would like to AND are able to manage flexibility with the foods you eat, yes, calculate your macros.
But only if you have the correct mindset.
For example, if you have a problem with balance – you know, the all or nothing sort – I would avoid calculated portion control. (If you’re reading this and are denying that you have a problem with balance, you have a problem with balance). Whereas if you are able to manage balance and flexibility in what you do and don’t eat, counting macros could be extremely valuable.
If you are good at AND are honest in understanding your body needs, you shouldn’t need to measure macros at all. That said, a 2-4 week stint of measuring and tracking would be good because you’d be able to compare it to what you’ve been doing by just listening to your body. If you’re good at listening to your body, there shouldn’t be much difference.
Quality and quantity both matter, but unless you, your goals and your approach fit the bill, there’s no point in measuring quantities. More importantly, you can’t out-measure or out-train a shitty diet 😉