Eating Paleo proves that diets don’t have to leave you hungry, scrawny, or subsisting on protein shakes. But that doesn’t mean that this particular diet doesn’t have its downfalls. Plain chicken and steamed broccoli is the bane of our dinnertime existence, and eating bacon by the pound and nuts by the fistfuls can lead to muffin tops and high cholesterol just as quickly as downing cheeseburgers every day would. That’s why many Paleo adherents are turning to macro-counting as a way to individualize their nutrition needs and tailor their diets to maximize food volume and variety without weight gain.
Here’s our guide to all things macro-counting—so you can eat more, look fitter, and feel better than ever before.
First, what’s macro-counting?
Macro-counting is different than calorie-counting. It’s making your calories count. Macro-counting focuses the numbers game on making sure that your foods are best for your specific goals and needs—so it’s not just about how much you eat, but what you eat. “Macro-counting breaks down the certain number of grams of fat, protein, and carbohydrates that an individual needs to optimize performance and maximize health,” says Callie Hedblom, nutrition coach and co-owner of Paleo Naturals. “It’s not an exact science, but it gives you a pinpoint breakdown for those three nutrients so you can find out what works for you best and what quantities of food make you feel your best.”
Calculate your macros
The initial calculations can get difficult, so we’ll break it down. Ideal daily intake for protein, carbs, and fat depends upon your weight, body-fat percentage, activity level, and goals. Protein should remain the most consistent, while fats and carbs can flex depending upon whether you want to cut or gain weight. “Do you struggle putting on muscle? Increase carbs and fats. Struggling to lose? Peel back carbs and fats,” Scott Schutte, founder of PureFit Meals, says. “But regardless, keep protein stable. It keeps you feeling full and able to perform well throughout the day.”
To find your ideal amounts of each macro, multiply your lean body mass by each recommended amount of nutrient-per-pound that aligns for your goals.
Grams-per-pound by nutrient
Protein: 0.5-2g per pound of lean body mass
Carbs: 0.5-2g per pound of lean body mass
Fat: 0.35-0.7g per pound of lean body mass
For example, if you weigh 180lbs and are 20% body fat, your lean body mass is 144lbs. If you need a 2,000-calorie daily intake based on your activity level, the nutritional breakdown for your macro intake looks like this:
Protein: 144×1.5= 216g per day
Carbs: 144×1= 144g per day
Fat: 144×0.4= 57.6g per day
Don’t worry, it will make more sense once you get to the next section…
Make your calories count
The amount of calories found in a gram of protein, a gram of carbs, or a gram of fat is always the same; no matter what food you’re eating.
Caloric density of macro-nutrients
A gram of protein contains 4 calories
A gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories
A gram of fat contains 9 calories
So for our example, a 180-lb man with a lean body mass of 144lbs can calculate his calorie breakdown by multiplying each macro’s daily intake by the caloric density of each macro.
216×4= 864 calories of protein per day
144×4= 576 calories of carbs per day
57.6×9=518.4 calories of fat per day
Total daily intake: 1,958.4 calories
This is where the tailoring comes in. If you want to up your protein without taking away from your daily fat caloric allowance, you can choose to eat a portion of Paleo-friendly white fish instead of steak (though it’s of course also Paleo-friendly). Or, if you’re less hungry and want to up your fats and protein at the same time, that’s when a few strips of bacon can do some good.
Maximize your macros
Choosing foods that maximize your macros will allow you to eat more and still meet your daily numbers. “You want to start thinking about how you can eat for volume,” Hedblom says. “You can eat a piece of candy or you can eat a bunch of cherry tomatoes with the same amount of carbs. They both fit into your allowances, but you want to optimize your choices so that you get your macro values with bigger amounts of foods.”
Here are some of Schutte and Hedblom’s favorite Paleo-friendly, macro-dense foods that you can eat in high volumes, thanks to their low caloric density and high nutritional value.
“Paleo doesn’t mean eating tons of bacon,” Schutte says. “And ‘Paelo-friendly’ doesn’t always mean ‘healthy’. You have to choose your proteins wisely.”
“Eggs are my favorite way to get natural, healthy fat because there are so many ways you can eat them,” Schutte says.
With carbs, it’s all about fruits and veggies. “You can eat cups and cups of cabbage and broccoli, and you will hardly use up any of your calorie count while eating foods that are mostly water and have good fiber,” Hedblom says.
Don’t just eat more, eat better
After discovering just how much you can eat now, make sure that you won’t get bored with what you’re eating. “Eating dry chicken and raw broccoli sucks,” Schutte says. “You can only do that for a couple of weeks before you cave and start eating shitty food.” His advice? Find the Paleo-friendly foods you like the most and then figure out different ways to prepare them that you enjoy. “I struggle with raw broccoli, but when I bake it with salt and pepper, I really like it. The best way to discover new ways to season and prepare things is to look at recipes and take a cooking class.”