Your body composition, health, and performance are all influenced by the quality of the food you eat and the quantity that you eat it in. Food is made up of macronutrients and food is power – it can not only help you lose weight, build muscle, provide you with energy and vitality, but it can also cause you to do just the opposite.
How can this be possible? How can you influence the fundamental mechanics of your body with food? This concept is the basis for understanding how to track your macros. To better understand how food truly is power, and how you can harness that power to achieve the body that you’ve always desired, let’s take a closer look at the science behind macronutrients aka macros.
A good macronutrient plan should help you accomplish three things:
Eat the right amount of calories and macros for your goals
Understand appropriate portion sizes
Improve your food choices and eating habits
What Are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients (or macros for short) are the specific molecules that contain energy and nutrients to make up calories. Every calorie of food that you eat can be broken down into three main groups that contain energy (aka calories).
Carbohydrates (1g carb = 4 calories)
Protein (1g Protein = 4 calories)
Fats (1g Fat = 9 calories)
Alcohol (1g alcohol = 7 calories)
Your body breaks down macronutrients and uses their nutrient density to create energy, build the body structurally, create chemical reactions, and stimulate the healthy functioning and release of hormones. What you eat can positively or negatively impact the way you feel, perform, your mood and even your behavior.
What Are Calories?
A calorie is an energy that your body takes to raise 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. By tracking calories, you can understand if you’re eating the right amount of food for your goals.
It’s probably safe to assume that at some point in your journey, you’ve counted calories, and probably didn’t get very good results. But why? To lose weight? Gain muscle? Feel more energized during the day? Chances are, it didn’t work out for you, and to understand why not, we must understand calories in the first place.
The more calories you have, the more energy you have, and the fewer calories you have the less energy you have. This is also referred to as ‘calories in, calories out’, and while on a general level this can work for someone who is extremely new to watching what they eat and becoming more aware of how they eat.
The Problem With Tracking Calories
Tracking calories is extremely limited because it doesn’t ensure you’re getting the right amounts of energy derived from carbs, protein, and fat. Depending on what you aim to achieve, not getting enough of the right macros can adversely affect appetite, energy levels, hormones, and nutrient consumption.
If you’re looking to achieve real, long-lasting results, then tracking your macros is the advantage you’ve been looking for. When you count macros, you do not count calories directly. Instead, you log in the three (or four, if you consume alcohol) categories above.
When counting macros, you’re indirectly counting total calories from carbohydrates, protein, and fat, respectively. This is known as your macronutrient ratio.
What Is A Macronutrient Ratio?
A macronutrient ratio is how much energy and nutrition comes from each total of protein, carb, or fat in our specific diet. This ratio changes from diet to diet, goal to goal, and person to person, but there are a few general ratios out there (see chart below for examples).
Macronutrient ratios are found and adjusted based on a few pieces of information, including age, gender, daily activity levels, purposeful activity levels, goals, and preferences. Before you can find your ratio, it’s important to understand the four macronutrients, roles, and functions, before determining how much of what you need for your health and goals.
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Macronutrient #1: Carbohydrates
The main job of carbohydrates in the human body is to provide energy, either immediately (from blood glucose) or for later (from the stored liver and muscle glycogen). Our brain is the most energy-intensive of all organs and requires about 20% of our total daily resting energy expenditure. The preferred fuel for our brain is glucose and it requires ~125-130 grams of carbohydrates (500-520 calories) per day.
RELATED ARTICLE: Carb Loading For Athletes
That being said, carbohydrates are not an essential macronutrient in the same way that amino acids or fatty acids are. We don’t actually need carbohydrates to function and our bodies can fascinatingly make them from other things, like amino acids.
Adequate intake is not the same as optimal intake
Groups of people need carbohydrates to fuel their health, wellness, function, and performance such as:
- Athletes benefit from carbohydrates to feel, perform and recover better
- Trauma and Sepsis patients require more energy from carbohydrates for recovery, in addition to L-Glutamine
- Carbohydrates provide a vast array of nutrients for individuals seeking improved health and wellness
- People looking to build muscle need to incorporate carbohydrates for anabolic signaling (build, rebuild, and repairing of muscle tissue)
- Active individuals looking to recover and repair depleted glycogen stores from high-intensity workouts
RELATED ARTICLE: 5 Reasons Why You Need To Eat More Carbs
Carbohydrates can be found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. When consumed in their natural, unrefined and unprocessed states, they can contain a whole gamete of micronutrients in the way of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which are beneficial to the body as a whole. Within the two types of this macronutrient, people often classify them between ‘good carbs’ and ‘bad carbs’, which is really the difference between simple and complex.
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There are two types of carbohydrates:
Simple Carbohydrates (Glucose, Fructose)
Complex Carbohydrates (Starch, Fiber)
Simple carbohydrates aren’t much more than just sugar. These are often known as ‘bad carbs’. The two main sources of sugar in the form of a simple carb are glucose and fructose (aka single sugars). When combined, they make sucrose, which you probably are familiar with as table sugar.
Glucose is your body and your brain’s main source of energy. Because it’s in the bloodstream in a readily available form, this is the type of carbohydrate that raises blood sugar the fastest. The higher a food is on the glycemic index (GI) the more of an impact it will have on your blood sugar. During exercise, glycogen is released into the bloodstream as fuel for your muscles, helping delay the negative effects of fatigue.
Below is a quick reference chart for ideal blood glucose levels.
2-3 Hours After Eating
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However, if you overeat or overconsume simple carbohydrates, glycogen stores are full, and whatever is excess is stored as body fat. This is the store that your body will count on being there when you’re running from tigers when the world freezes over, or count on for your cushion as you sit on the couch… either way, it’s not good to have to hang around.
On the other hand, fructose is naturally found in fruit, but it’s also added to processed foods. Unlike glucose, fructose doesn’t spike blood sugar because the way your body converts it to glucose and stores it from the liver is different. However, if you already have full glucose stores, well, fructose is just converted to body fat.
Wondering why you’ve got a higher amount of fat around your midsection? Fructose is probably to blame (not necessarily from fruit, but from the processed/packaged foods you consume). After all, the stomach is the place that your body most efficiently stores excess calories, especially those that come from sugar.
Complex carbohydrates are categorized as any food that is composed of two or more sugar molecules. In other words, complex carbs are turned to glucose and used as energy. Because of their longer molecular structure, this macronutrient takes longer to break down in the body and provides more long-lasting and sustainable energy than simple carbohydrates (sugars).
Starch is the stored form of glucose derived from plant-based foods, such as potatoes, legumes, root vegetables, and grains. Starch is easily broken down in the digestive tract creating pure glucose. When starch-based carbohydrates are eaten without fat or fiber, starch can raise blood sugar levels quite quickly.
While fiber is not digested and absorbed, it does play a very important role in our health. Unlike starch, fiber has no effect on blood sugar. In short, unlike the weak molecular bonds of starch, the digestive system cannot break the strong bonds of fiber. Fiber can bind to substances such as cholesterol or hormones passing it through the digestive tract and out of the body. This is why fiber is deemed a “nondigestible fiber”.
There are two types of fiber:
Soluble fiber is found in oats, beans, barley, and some fruits. It dissolves in the body into a gel-like material in the GI tract, slowing the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
Insoluble fiber is found in wheat bran, vegetables, and nuts. It will not dissolve in water, so it passes through the digestive tract creating bulk in your stool. The result? Healthy poops!
RELATED ARTICLE: How Much Fiber Do You Really Need?
If you’re an athlete and you’re serious about improving your performance, then opt for a natural carbohydrate product made with real whole-foods. What you put in your body matters. The fact is that carbohydrates should not be genetically altered to become more bioavailable. Clean, complex carbohydrates derived from real whole-foods provide long-lasting energy for prolonged exercise performance, without spiking blood sugar and without being genetically modified.
Looking for a clean carbohydrate supplement instead of just sugar? Swolverine's Clean Carbs is made with 100% natural whole-foods from complex carbohydrates, including Sweet potatoes, Yams, Oats, and Blueberries to provide the long-lasting and sustained energy your body needs to fuel performance and optimize recovery. Delicious and rich you can add it to your smoothies, shakes, or mix with water, for a rich and tasty treat.
RECOMMENDED PRODUCT: Clean Carbs (45 servings, 26g carbs per scoop)
How Many Carbohydrates Do You Need?
Most People (lightly active)
~0-1.5g per LB bodyweight
Strength Athletes (powerlifter, weightlifter)
~1.5-2.5g per LB bodyweight
Team-Sport Athletes (soccer, volleyball, etc.)
~2-3g per LB bodyweight
Endurance Athletes (marathon runners)
~3-4g per LB bodyweight
Ultra Endurance Athletes (Ironman)
~4.5-5.5g per LB bodyweight
**Note: not every athlete is the same across the board and each athlete should be evaluated individually for their appropriate carbohydrate intakes.**
It’s equally as important to note that some athletes do very well on a low carbohydrate diet with high-fat intakes as opposed to high carbohydrate dietary lifestyles. For most athletes studied, low carbohydrate lifestyles can ultimately decrease high/elite-level performance.
Macronutrient #2: Protein
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the nutritional building blocks for lean, healthy muscle mass. Protein is found in every part of your body, but without amino acids, protein cannot build, rebuild, or repair essential functions, all the way from building muscle, to synthesizing hormones, to helping organs and tissues function correctly.
You may have heard the saying 'amino acids are the building blocks of protein', and it's true. Each amino acid plays a vital role in the quality and the amount of protein that we build in our bodies. Amino acids are grouped based on their ability to dissolve in water. For those who workout, adequate protein intake is crucial for building muscle in the gym and repairing micro-tears in the muscle out of the gym.
There are three ways to classify amino acids:
Non-Essential Amino Acids (the body makes these, you can also get them from your diet)
Essential Amino Acids (the body cannot make these, you must get them from your diet)
Conditionally Essential Amino Acids (the body can make these, but not effectively)
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ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS
NONESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS
CONDITIONALLY ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS
BRANCHED CHAIN AMINO ACIDS
ARGININE (essential in children, not in adults)
The Best Food Sources Of Protein
There are plenty of sources of protein that come from both animals and plants. The key difference between protein is going to be the amino acid profile. Some examples are meats, seafood, bone broth, legumes, dairy, tofu, beans, and vegetables (specifically soy-based vegetables).
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs or Branched Chain Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein and contain a branched molecular structure. BCAAs are comprised of three essential amino acids, Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine.
Branched Chain Amino Acids are one of the most popular and effective sports supplements on the market. Research suggests, that BCAAs positively impact muscle protein synthesis, the muscle-building process and prevent protein degradation or muscle mass breakdown. Maintaining a positive amino acid balance, during high-intensity training is crucial to maintain and build lean muscle mass.
BCAAs are also beneficial for post-workout muscle soreness. If you’re sore after your workout, then BCAAs might be exactly what you’re looking for to speed up your recovery and get you back under the squat rack faster.
RELATED ARTICLE: What Is The Best Amino Acid Ratio For A BCAA Supplement?
Which Should You Take, EAAs or BCAAs?
In short, it’s always best to take the food first approach. If you have a well-balanced diet, then you will receive all of your essential amino acids, through protein intake and food. Therefore, supplementing with BCAAs during and after your workout, will help inhibit muscle protein breakdown, promote endurance during your workout and help achieve overall athletic goals.
This is also why most athletes, choose to supplement with Whey Protein Isolate post-workout, to support muscle growth and recovery. Athletes that have restrictive diets, or those with plant-based diets, will benefit more from consuming a supplement with a complete EAA profile, to replenish and ensure optimal amino acid levels, to promote new muscle growth and repair.
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The Best Protein Supplement
Whey Protein Isolate Supplement
Whey protein isolate is a highly purified form of Whey protein. Whey protein isolate goes through a much more rigorous filtration process, called Cross-Flow Micro-Filtration as compared to whey protein concentrate. Through this filtration process, protein is separated from any additional fat, carbohydrates, cholesterol, and lactose, resulting in a more purified form of protein. We recommend WHEY ISOLATE from Swolverine due to it’s high protein content and low fat/carbohydrate content, which is optimal for athletes. It also has added digestive enzymes (papain & protease for easier digestion).
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Pea Protein Supplement
Pea protein has been proven to fuel athletic performance, through improving strength, increasing lean muscle mass, and optimizing recovery through delivering a higher amount of essential amino acids, than its plant protein counterparts.
As compared to other plant-based protein sources, Pea protein has the highest essential amino acid mix, almost rivaling that of Whey Protein [R]. It also has better bioavailability, delivering essential amino acids with a higher yield of protein, faster.
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Due to its high amount of essential amino acids, specifically arginine, leucine, isoleucine, valine, and alanine, pea protein is an amazing plant-based protein alternative for athletes. Arginine specifically helps facilitate the release of nitric oxide, which increases oxygen and blood flow, translating to increased muscle growth, and better recovery. Pea Protein has nearly three times the amount of arginine than whey protein.
We recommend Swolverine’s PLANTPRO5® as it contains Pea, Sacha Inchi, Quinoa, Pumpkin Seed, and Hemp proteins.
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If you think that whey, casein, and egg are the only protein sources that will help you hit your next PR, it might just be the little green bean, that powers your clean and jerk.
Amino acid composition in g/100 g of whey and pea protein supplements.
What about Collagen Protein?
Often confused, collagen, collagen peptides, and collagen protein are all different names for the same thing. There are different types of collagen and the amount of filtration that the product goes through contributes to the differences, but for all intents and purposes, we’re going to just talk about collagen protein.
Collagen is found in the connective tissues within the body, such as tendons, ligaments, cartilage, skin, hair, nails, non-mineral components of bone, and pretty much anywhere else in the body. You name it, and chances are, collagen is present.
Collagen Protein is unique in that it’s very strong due to it’s tightly woven molecular structure. Unfortunately, unlike whey isolate or pea protein, collagen has little nutritional value and is extremely low in amino acids.
However, supplementing your lifestyle with collagen protein can stimulate the synthesis of collagen in the tendons and ligaments, which is extremely beneficial for active individuals, athletes, and those looking to age more gracefully.
RELATED ARTICLE: The Ultimate Guide To Collagen & The Benefits
Before supplements, Collagen was obtained in the diet from bone broths or slow-cooked organ meats. Considering that Collagen is within every connective tissue such as the skin, hair, nails, and bones, and that chances are you’re not really getting any collagen in your diet through eating liver and onions, supplementing with collagen hydrolysate might be worth considering.
Swolverine’s hydrolyzed collagen doesn’t clump and is easy to mix into a delicious smoothie, cookies, sauce, shake, or even plain water. You can even mix it in your coffee (or any other hot beverage) since it’s virtually tasteless and more heat stable than other forms of protein. Hydrolyzed collagen is also a great alternative for those that have any digestive issues or that don’t consume dairy.
RECOMMENDED PRODUCT: Collagen Protein (35 Servings)
How Much Protein Do You Need In Your Diet?
The amount of protein that you should consume on a daily basis ranges from individual to individual, goal to goal. We recommend working with a nutrition coach from The Swole Kitchen to find your correct amount.
Low (prevent malnutrition)
<0.8g per KG bodyweight
Adequate (sedentary lifestyle)
~0.8-1.2g per KG bodyweight
Adequate (active but overweight/obese)
~1.2-1.6g per KG bodyweight
Adequate (active w/ healthy weight or body composition)
~1.6-2.2g per KG bodyweight
High (healthy & looking to change body weight/composition)
~1.6-3.3g per KG bodyweight
**Note: Unless there is a specific medical reason for low protein intake, most individuals will benefit from eating more protein on a daily basis.
Macronutrient #3: Fat
In our society, fat has been often vilified, making it one of the least appreciated macronutrients on the list. Our bodies need fat to perform essential metabolic functions that range from healing cuts all the way to keeping the brain healthy and functioning efficiently. Another importance of regularly consuming healthy fats? To synthesize other essential vitamins, such as A, D, and E, which are fat-soluble; they’re utilized best when eaten with fat.
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Does Fat Make You Fat?
In the early 1980’s big manufacturers in the food industry, marketed fear around fat. Low-fat diets were marketed as a way to prevent heart disease and inspire weight loss, when in fact; fat is not the one to be scared of. The low-fat approach to weight loss became an all-encompassing ideology prescribed by physicians, touted by the federal government and splattered across popular media publications.
America as a society accepted the low-fat diet approach, even though there was no definitive or clear scientific evidence in supporting a low-fat diet, in preventing heart disease or weight loss. America was told to drink things like low-fat milk and avoid cheese. Ironically, the obesity epidemic ensued in the same decade.
Only until very recently, has there been a significant paradigm shift in the belief that fat is not to be feared, and that a low-carbohydrate diet has been more readily accepted as a way to help with weight-loss and body fat optimization. With that said, fats are not created equal. And there is a difference between good fats and bad fats.
The difference between good fats vs bad fats really comes down to the molecular structure of their content. Molecularly, fat is a long chain of carbon atoms that attract hydrogen. Chains with less hydrogen are considered ‘unsaturated’ and those that have more hydrogen are more ‘saturated’ in nature and classified as saturated fats.
There are three categories of fatty acids:
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Saturated Fatty Acids
Good Fatty Acids
Monounsaturated fatty acids are the ‘good’ kind of fat that you’ll find in nuts, olives, olive oil, canola oil, and avocados. These are liquid at room temp, solid when refrigerated, and have a ‘use by’ date on them, as they are perishable. This type of fat, known as MUFAs in short, work to reduce bad cholesterol level while balancing hunger levels. They also help your body burn fat.
Polyunsaturated fats are a combination of both good fats and bad fats. Cooking oil such as corn oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil, are all common examples of essential polyunsaturated fats. PUFAs typically stay liquid whether in warm or cold room temperature. These fats are essential and needed for normal biological functions, such as blood clotting, muscle contraction, and controlling inflammation.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, also known as EFAs. These fatty acids are composed of two crucial components eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have been found to have positive effects on inflammation, decreasing oxidative stress, and enhancing recovery [R] Studies have shown that Omega-3s may have a vast amount of health benefits, linked to brain health, heart health, joint pain, and anti-aging benefits.
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The body requires EFAs for optimal health but cannot make these essential fatty acids on its own. EFAs are ‘essential’ meaning, these types of fats must be consumed in your diet from foods such as avocados, salmon, and other seafood or by a dietary supplement, such as Krill Oil. The human body requires both groups of EFAs (omega-3 and omega-6) to survive. The typical modern-day diet, is much higher in Omega-6 fatty acids than Omega-3, making supplementation critical to your overall health.
RELATED: Should You Take Krill Oil?
Omega 6 Fatty Acids
Omega 6 fatty acids are another type of essential PUFA found in vegetable oil, nuts, and seeds. Like Omega-3, Omega-6 plays a crucial role in brain health, heart health, stimulating hair growth, regulating metabolism, and providing several additional health benefits.
Good-ish Fatty Acids
Saturated Fatty Acids
Saturated fats are very common amongst a typical American diet. Saturated fats are solid at room temperatures, such as butter, coconut milk, and the fat found in a piece of bacon or in prime rib. The problem with saturated fat is the common misconception, that dietary saturated fat is harmful to your health when in reality there’s no evidence that proves saturated fat is actually bad for you. If you were to see a high amount of saturated fat on a nutrition label, you’d probably consider that food to be bad for you, right? Wrong. Why is that?
Traditional thought and research suggested that saturated fats had a negative impact on cholesterol levels, however current studies suggest that saturated fat, is actually not all that bad. According to a meta-analysis of 21 different studies conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, there has been no conclusive evidence found that dietary saturated fat is associated or linked with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, or cardiovascular disease [R].
Saturated fat is a sensitive subject. Despite new research, the USDA Dietary Guidelines and the American Heart Association still recommend limiting your intake and opting for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead.
Bad Fatty Acids
Trans-fats are man-made fats and a large contributor to the belief and ideology that fat, makes you fat. Especially prevalent in the mid-century throughout the 1990s trans-fat could be found in foods such as vegetable oils, margarine, and shortening. It’s by far the worst type of dietary fat and is made through a process called hydrogenation that solidifies healthy fats, by transforming them with more hydrogen.
By eating foods rich in trans-fat, your body increases the amount of harmful Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and decreases the production of beneficial High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Good news for you, as of 2015 the FDA officially removed the GRAS “Generally recognized as safe” status from trans-fat, and has now been officially banned in the U.S. Food manufacturers have been given until June 2018 to comply and remove all trans-fat from as an ingredient and smaller food companies until July 2019. For now, it’s your responsibility to read nutrition labels and stay away from trans-fat [R].
The Quality of Your Macronutrient Food-Sources Matter
Just by looking at the number of macronutrients in our diet doesn’t tell the full story. For example, one type of fat may cause inflammation while another type may decrease it or one type of carbohydrate may be quickly digested and absorbed while another may not be absorbed or digested, at all.
This is the difference between eating an Oreo to hit your carb total and sweet potato – the molecular makeup is going to generate different results, one more positive than the other. So while you’re out there chasing your macro totals for the day, don’t forget that it’s not just the mentality of ‘if it fits your macros aka IIFYM’ but how it's going to make you feel and the results it's going to yield.
Macronutrient #4: Alcohol
There are various kinds of alcohol, whereas Ethanol is the alcohol found in many alcoholic beverages commonly consumed, such as beer, wine, whiskey, etc. While alcohol is considered the fourth macronutrient to consider in your diet, it is not an essential nutrient but it is rich in energy, providing 7 calories per gram.
In the United States, a typical drink that you’re going to get at a bar contains 15 grams of ethanol (12 fl. oz. regular beer, 5 fl. oz. wine, 1.5fl oz of 80-proof distilled spirits) which equates to ~105 calories in a single serving. While we understand alcohol is a regular part of our society, we recommend consuming in moderation and maybe only 1-2x weekly, if that at all.
Alcohol can greatly influence body composition as well as muscle loss and protein malnutrition. For example, insulin resistance is a common side effect of alcoholism, which results in a lack of glycogen formation and energy store depletion, as well as excessive lactic acid production. Alcohol can also adversely affect nutrient status by impairing amino acid uptake and protein synthesis in the liver. Alcohol intake also diminishes the update of crucial vitamins and minerals, including folic acid, vitamin A, B1, B3, K and vitamin E.
Alcohol is definitely a macronutrient you’re going to want to count in your daily totals if consumed because it is such an energy-dense macronutrient. If you don’t drink, great! If you do, and you’re trying to gain muscle or lose body fat, then we recommend staying away from alcohol in moderation in order to not displace nutrients, increase health risks, and decrease your overall health, functioning, and performance. When the body recognizes alcohol within the system, it is seen as a toxin, and the energy is focused on processing and excreting the alcohol, rather than other things like burning fat, for example.
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Macronutrients & The Power Of Food: In Conclusion
Some people naturally eat the right amounts of food for their bodies, goals, and individual needs. They’re able to maintain stable body weight for years, adjusting as needed to support different goals and seasons of life, all without counting calories, or macros, or measuring their portions out. These people are considered ‘intuitive eaters’ and they only represent a very small handful of people.
The rest of the people out there typically need help with eating habits, patterns, and amounts in the form of structure, accountability, and guidance. Though it may not last forever, having a coach teach you along the way can be very beneficial when it comes to calculating and tracking your macros. When your macronutrients are well balanced, the body has the nutrients it needs to power your active lifestyle. Yet, how do you find that balance and is there a specific ratio to consider for you and your goals?
There are two ways: calculate your macros and try to figure it out on your own -or- hire a professional to calculate them for you and to lead you down a path of transformation and success. Either way can work, but one is a little more secure than the other, and with guaranteed results or a money-back guarantee, like that from The Swole Kitchen, what could go wrong?