The good, bad, and ugly of counting macros
So I've been trying to write this post for a while and kept getting stuck because there was sooooo much I have to say on this topic. Every time I tried to write up a post it would get incredibly long and overwhelming so I just gave up, however, I keep coming back to it so I know it's something important that needs to be shared.
Here's what we're going to do...I'm going to break this topic up into several smaller posts I'll put up on the blog in the coming weeks. I'll walk you through my macro counting journey from start to finish. Each post will explain the initial approach, how it went, and give my perspective on how successful or terrible it was.
This approach will give you some major insight into what NOT to do and hopefully allow you to see that there is a good and balanced way to approach macros.
So...with that, here's Part I of the macro counting experiment!
I've been through many phases with my nutrition. When I was in high school I thought not eating was really the only way to lose weight so that's what I did. In college things shifted and I wanted to be and feel healthy so I set my caloric intake around 1200, ran 5-9 miles daily, and did yoga at least 3 times a week. I felt like I was the epitome of health. Seriously.
I continued to run and do yoga throughout my pregnancy but after Hudson was born I felt I wanted to take a totally different approach to health and fitness. At first I just focused on workouts because nutrition was too much to handle as a new mama. I went back to eating my "generally healthy", totally measly, 1200 calories a day.
I wanted to see my body progress faster, isn't that what we all want? So eventually, I decided to take on nutrition too. I went through several nutrition phases at this point which lead me to increasing my caloric intake a bit. However, I quickly noticed that my body got fluffy quite quickly with even a small increase. It was incredibly frustrating. I upped my workouts and was training even harder and still my body wouldn't lean out.
I shared this concern with an acquaintance who is also a trainer who suggested a macro counting cut. Now, before I tell you about the plan she made for me, I'm going to defend her for min. She did not have a clear understanding of my nutrition history or my training schedule and her plan was mostly based off of what works for her average client. I don't really fit the profile of her average client, but at the time I just wanted to find something that would help this body lean out! So with that, I started my first macro cut.
The cut was to be no longer than 6 weeks with the goal of fat loss. My caloric intake was set at ~1400 calories each day and my macro breakdown was as follows:
At this time my training schedule included:
HIIT sprints 3x/week
I was tracking with my fitness pal and the first week was HARD! I didn't really know how to prepare or plan my meals as macros were so new to me so I was just winging it everyday. When I came home after work I'd just eat random food, instead of preparing a meal, to try to reach my targets. It was miserable, but, I figured it was only 6 weeks so I could do it and then I'd have abs and it would be fine. Ha ha...I was crazy.
In week 2-3 of the cut my energy levels nose dived. My workouts were a total struggle. I started skipping some of them because I was just so tired. I talked to the trainer about this and my fat was increased by 5g/day...but I was just dying.
Early in week 4 I crashed, like full on hit-a-wall-crashed. I was so weak I was near fainting. I had zero energy to just function as a human, let alone workout. My husband got kinda worried and decided to get some fat in me. We went out for a dinner of fatty foods and I felt a million times better in about 45 min. That's when I gave in. Yes I leaned out some, but I definitely lost muscle. I felt awful and that wasn't what this was about for me. I just wanted to feel good and feel comfortable.
My first attempt at macros was a total flop, however, I learned a lot. It gave me a better basis for what nutrients make me feel good. It taught me that balanced nutrition requires a lot of thought and a lot of planning. It also taught me that these macro thresholds were most definitely not right for my body.
If you're looking to change up your nutrition you need to take a long look at your metabolic history and your training. Ideally, a professional look. This trainer did have knowledge of macros, however, I really should have been working with a coach or nutritionist that understands my background. As someone who has eaten very low caloric intake for many years my body doesn't respond the way someone else's might due to metabolic damage (I'll talk more about this in a later part of this series). Additionally, the intensity of training must be taken into consideration. If you're burning significantly more calories than you're taking in you've shifted past a simple deficit and into starvation which will wind up doing a lot more harm than good.
Stay tuned for Part II, a look into reverse dieting.