Photo: Scary Carbs
In the search for a diet that works and is workable, I decided to try a new one - the macro diet - does it work? Read on...
Why the Macro Diet?
With the hormone medication I’m on to prevent cancer returning, it brings about forced menopause, with it the joys associated i.e weight gain. Add to that a lack of energy from cancer and it’s treatment - so almost 0 motivation to exercise - and you’re in a vicious downward spiral.
What is the Macro Diet?
The Macro Diet has become popular with ladies post cancer and also those of natural menopause age, with the idea that you are able to eat any foods that fit within your daily macronutrient (‘macro’) requirements. That said, it is said to be suitable for everyone.
As is the case with many diets, you’re counting something, but Instead of solely focusing on counting calories, there is an emphasis on counting and tracking macronutrients.
Manipulating the macronutrient intake may be useful for helping people lose weight and reach their health and fitness goals.
So, let's talk about what macronutrients are...
We’re talking about Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat.
In brief we need them all, however, the easiest way to look at it is that carbs and protein give us energy but carbs are fast release and protein is slow - so if we don't use that energy fast that we've just gained from eating carbs it turns to sugar - which causes the weight gain
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and responsible for our glycogen stores. These are muscle energy stores. So what happens is we eat carbohydrates and it fills up our glycogen stores and we then call on those stores during exercise to fuel the workout, to give us energy. Also during the night, when we're in a fasted state we'll also pull from those glycogen stores just for basic body requirements.
Sources of carbohydrates can be found in all starchy foods like bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and breakfast cereals. Starchy carbohydrates that are higher in fibre, like wholegrain varieties, release glucose into the blood slower than high sugary foods and drinks.
Fibre is vital for general health and reduces the risk of some diseases like bowel cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It also helps to promote good digestive health.
Our bodies are more sensitive to carbohydrates in the morning, this impacts us each to different extents. Some of us might feel symptoms of this sensitivity to carbohydrates in the morning, whereas others might not be affected by it at all. Generally our body does a really good job of regulating our blood sugar, which is impacted by carbohydrates, but when your blood glucose is low in the morning after you haven't eaten all night, your body becomes more efficient at storing glucose. So at your first meal of the day - breakfast - which literally means breaking the fast - your body is looking to store all that glycogen, because it's in a fasted state. This is why some people are more sensitive to insulin in the morning because you've been burning those glycogen stores all night because your body is looking to soak it all up. How many carbs are right for you depends on a few things, your activity level or your exercise level, whether you're looking to lose weight or gain weight, along with your personal preference
Protein on the other hand is a long term nutrient (Carbohydrates are short term and we can feel the effects of them, sometimes straight away, certainly within a few hours. So we get a bump in energy, whereas with protein it takes a while to see those impacts) Protein is key to building and maintaining body tissues, such as the muscles, and is also a source of energy. Top sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, soya products, nuts and pulses.
Fats are essential for maintaining the normal structure of cells in the body. They also carry fat-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin A, D, E and K.
How do you count macros?
There are several variations of the macro diet. Some suggest that the daily calorie intake should be based around 40 per cent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat (30/30/40 macro split), others argue this should be 40 per cent carbohydrates, 40 percent protein and 20 percent fat (40/40/20 macro split)or 50 per cent of their calories from carbohydrates, 30 percent from protein and 20 percent from fat (50/30/20 macro split).
The UK government recommendation for the general population suggests that 50 per cent of total dietary energy should come from carbohydrates. In addition, no more than 35 percent of energy should come from fat with no more than 11 per cent from saturated fat.
For protein, the reference nutrient intake (RNI) is set at 0.75g of protein per kg body weight per day in adults living in the UK. This equates to approximately 56g/day and 45g/day for men and women aged 19-64 years, respectively. However, amounts can vary from person to person according to their age, body weight, activity and health status.
The timing of those carbohydrates also impacts people differently. Some people feel if they eat a higher carbs meal or snack, then they end up crashing in terms of energy one to two hours later, whereas other people feel if they eat a higher carbohydrate meal or snack, they have a boost and energy so they might time that snack before they go to do their workout, and then they get peak in their energy, so ideally you need to start becoming aware of how carbohydrates impact you and how you feel, you can then structure that to your own personal preferences, there’s not really a right or wrong in that respect, it's really based on how you feel and the symptoms of that glucose spike and drop.
If you’re looking to lose weight, if your protein targets are met. It doesn't matter if you eat high carb or low carb throughout the day. Weight loss will be the same. What’s important with weight loss is total calories and whether those calories come from fat, but what we have to protect is protein. Protein helps us to save the muscle, we already have maintain that muscle, build new muscle and lean sculpted bodies
So if you're following a macro diet, concentrate on calories first, proteins next then carbs and fat.
Should you try the macro diet?
It does offer some flexibility to eat any food you want if it matches up to your macronutrient ratio and daily energy requirements. However, wow does it take some working out and meal planning. I had a nutritionist work out my macros for me, but the hard part was balancing them. It’s harder than you think to build your protein without building the carbs and fat at the same time, and I had to use protein powder several times. I enjoy food and I admit, it took a lot of the joy of meals away by having to work out the macros before I eat. It can be time-consuming, frustrating, and sometimes I just didn’t fancy what I needed to get my protein level up at the end of the day.
Focusing solely on macronutrients also made me feel like I was overlooking micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). I felt like I wasn't getting enough fruit and veg, because everything had to be counted and seemed carb heavy.
Did it work?
After 5 weeks I’d lost half a stone but I was craving something else. I felt the food I was eating got samey. I don’t really eat red meat (and it’s one of those things you’re advised to avoid to prevent cancer) so it was chicken, eggs, fish, yoghurt and repeat. and I finally succumbed to a heavenly apple crumble. Don’t let one slip up ruin the diet is the rule isn’t it? - but I put 2lb back on and boy did my body cling to it, talk about demotivating. Like every diet, it’s whether it is sustainable.
Will I carry on with it?
Of a fashion. There are elements that I will definitely try and carry on with, such as the high protein, low carb, low fat, but less rigid with the micronutrient math. Is that veering toward Paleo? Maybe, but that’s a whole other blog...and can I ever cut out the sweet stuff? Watch this space.
If you do want to try the macro diet, consult with a registered dietitian, nutritionist or GP.