Fitness is definitely a big deal these days. We all want to look our best, feel our best, and be as healthy as possible.
But when you’re a beginner, or even a seasoned vet trying to take your game to the next level, it can be hard to know exactly where to begin.
With so many factors to consider and a ton of voices talking at once, it can definitely all feel a little overwhelming sometimes. But not to worry! I’m here with all the information you ever wanted to know.
Whether you’re just starting out on your fitness journey, or looking to learn more about a topic or two, we’ve got you covered!
In this comprehensive how-to, I’m going to hit on a few of the hottest and most important fitness topics today.
You can think of this as your information buffet. Take what you want, and skip what you don’t. This overview will cover the following topics in pretty good detail:
- What are they
- How to track them
- Why they are important
- What is it
- Why it’s important
- How to do it effectively
- What they do
- Popular supplements
- How they work together
- Burning fat
- Building muscle
- The right way for you
By the end of this blog, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle any obstacle standing in your way on the road to reaching your fitness goals!
Among trending fitness topics these days, macros is definitely near the top of the list. Chances are you’ve heard mention of them at the gym, in a blog, or elsewhere.
Most people also talk about macros in the context of counting or tracking them. Even though it’s a hot topic it’s not necessarily anything new. It’s basically a form of calorie counting, just taken one step further.
At the most basic level, the number of calories eaten compared to the number of calories burned determines whether you will lose, gain, or maintain your weight.
But the makeup of how those calories are obtained is also a determining factor that will influence the outcome of your training. That’s where macros come in.
Macros include carbs, fat, and protein, and every calorie you consume comes from one of the three (Alcohol also provides calories, but we’ll just stick with the big 3 here).
Getting your daily calorie count on point is definitely important, but it’s not the whole story. The percentage of those calories that you get from each of the three macros also plays a big role in helping you reach your goals. Let me explain.
What Are They?
Like I said, macros, or macronutrients, include carbs, fat, and protein. Each one of them contains a certain number of calories per gram.
Calories are the source of fuel used by your body for energy and, as you know, they’re obtained from the foods you eat.
A lot of the time calories are cast in a negative light as something that causes you to gain weight. While it’s true that eating too many calories will eventually lead to weight gain, they’re actually not bad at all! It’s important to get enough of them every day to make sure you have the fuel to keep up with your active lifestyle.
How Calories Relate to Macros
Each of the macros provides a certain number of calories per gram. Every 1g of carbs provides 4 calories, every 1g of protein provides 4 calories, and every 1g of fat provides 9 calories.
So when you read the nutrition label and it tells you how many calories are in that item of food, each of those calories come from either carbs, protein, or fat.
Let me show you an example of this in action. Consider the following nutritional breakdown for 1 cup of a certain yogurt product. The label shows 130 calories, 2g Fat, 8g carbs, 20g protein.
The breakdown of macros would look like this:
Fat: 2g x 9 cals/g = 18 calories
Carbs: 8g x 4 cals/g = 32 calories
Protein: 20g x 4 cals/g = 80 calories
If you do the math, the number of calories from each macronutrient adds up to total 130 calories, which is what was reported on the label. It’s all starting to come together, right?
How to Track Them
When it comes to tracking your macros, there are a couple variables to take into account.
Like you’ve heard me say before, eating right is important to reaching your goals. But it’s hard to truly eat right unless you actually know what you’re eating.
The purpose of keeping track of your macros is to provide yourself the full picture of what you ate that day.
When it comes to counting your macros, it really only takes a little practice to become a pro. Especially with the help of a calorie counting app, like MyFitnessPal, the art of tracking macros can be mastered pretty quickly!
When counting your macros, do your best to account for every single calorie you eat over the course of a day and record which macro they came from.
Let’s go back to the yogurt example from above. If you ate 1 cup of this yogurt product, you would find out the number of each macro that it provided and record it. You would also keep a running total of the calorie sum.
If this sounds like it’s going to take a lot of time, don’t panic just yet! Macro tracking apps usually have a huge food database and will also do all the calculations for you.
So all you really have to do is enter which food you ate and how much.
Tracking your macros is only half the battle though. Calculating your macros is also important.
Making these calculations can be as specific and complicated as you want them to be. When you’re starting out though, I recommend keeping things simple.
Start by tracking everything you eat for a week or so to get your average caloric intake. If your goal is to lose weight, set your calorie limit a little less than your current consumption. If you want to gain weight make your calorie goal a little higher.
Once you’ve determined how many calories you should be getting each day, the next step is to decide what percentage of those calories should come from each macro. This percent breakdown will vary depending on your goals, personal preferences, or if you’re experimenting with a special type of diet.
After deciding on a percent breakdown, you do the calculations.
For example, if you decide that your daily calorie limit is 2,000 calories, and that you want 30% of those calories to come from protein, the calculations would look like this:
30% (.30) x 2000 = 600 calories from protein
600 calories ÷ 4 cals/g = 150g protein
So based on the calculations, you would be aiming to get 150g protein during the day. You would then do the same calculations for both carbs and fat.
It may take a little research or experimentation to get your macro distribution just right for you and your goals, but stick with it! For further info and advice on counting macros, click here!
Why is this important?
It’s really true what they say, you are what you eat. At the end of the day, you will not meet your fitness goals if your nutrition is totally off. While your workouts are an extremely important part of the equation, you simply can’t outwork poor nutrition.
That’s why tracking your macros makes such a big difference!
Whether you’re trying to burn fat, build lean muscle, or maintain your current body composition, the foods you choose to eat will make or break your results. Or rather, the macros in the foods you choose to eat.
Tracking your macros lets you truly and accurately see what you’re actually eating. Then you can assess whether you’re on track or if you need to make some adjustments.
If you’re a mom, you’ve probably already been meal planning for your family for a while now. You might do it daily, weekly, or even monthly. But at some point, you plan out the meals you’re going to make before you actually prepare them.
Meal planning as it relates to fitness is pretty similar, with a couple extra calculations.
What Is It?
This goes hand in hand with macro tracking, but takes it to the next level.
Meal planning in the fitness sense is a method of strategically designing your meals ahead of time in a way that will allow you to meet your macro goals. That might sound complicated, but it’s really not too hard.
Most people that practice meal planning decide on a specific day and time during which they sit down to carefully plan out each of their daily meals for the week ahead.
(You can take it even a step further and actually prepare your meals during this time too, although you definitely don’t have to-but trust me, this is a HUGE time saver!)
Why Is This Important?
Even if you’re calculating and counting your macros, it can be easy to get to the end of the day and realize that you either came up short or went over on your goal numbers. This is often the result of taking on your meals one at a time during the day.
On the other hand, making some time to plan your meals in advance can help to eliminate guesswork and last minute decision making when mealtime rolls around. It also allows you to plan out how each of your meals will fit together like puzzle pieces helping you hit your overall calorie and macro goals.
Meal planning can be a serious game changer on the road to reaching your fitness goals!
This is because it helps you seize basically complete control over what you eat. This allows you to provide your body with everything it needs (and nothing that it doesn’t) to grow lean, strong, and powerful from the inside out.
How to Do It Effectively
The first step is to calculate your daily calories and macros (refer to the example from a few sections back for a brief how-to). You can decide the percentages of how you want your calories to be broken down macro by macro based on your current goals as well as personal preference.
Once you’ve determined your daily goal for carbs, fat, and protein, you can break it down even further to determine how much of each macro you’ll need to eat at each meal in order to reach your daily goal.
After you’ve broken down the numbers, pull out your macro tracking app and start plugging foods into the available time slots.
Most apps will allow you to add foods to future dates, which enables you to use the app sort of like a planner. It may take some rearranging and a little trial and error initially, but you’ll soon get a system down.
Just make sure that your planned daily macro total matches up with the overall macro goals that you calculated.
Not to sound like a broken record, but if you want to achieve your fitness goals, solid training and nutrition are irreplaceable. Once both of those are on point, think about adding supplements to your routine to maximize the results of all your hard work!
But consider the benefit claims before you spend your money. If it seems too good to be true, chances are it probably is. There are simply no magic pills that can take the place of putting in the work.
That being said, a lot of supplements are backed by good data and can definitely help you reach your goals.
What They Do
Supplements usually come in powder, liquid, or pill form, and they provide ingredients that can help improve recovery or performance, and results. Taking the right ones in conjunction with hard work and good nutrition can help you get the most out of your efforts.
But once again, no supplement is able to provide results on its own. Only when combined with an effective fitness and nutrition protocol is a supplement able to be effective.
Many of the most popular supplements are popular because they actually deliver a real benefit.
The following supplements have each been shown to have benefits when used properly and in conjunction with solid exercise and nutrition.
Studies show that consuming fast-digesting protein right after your workout can lead to more effective recovery and enhanced results over time. Protein plays a key role in recovery after exercise by helping to build and maintain lean muscle.
While it’s true that most Americans already eat a moderate to high protein diet, a good protein supplement can go a long way to helping you reach your goals. That’s because what you consume during the window of time right after your workout is pivotal to how your muscles recover.
It’s important to not only get the right amount of protein during this time but also from the right source. Most experts suggest right around 20g immediately following your workout to promote optimal recovery. And when it comes to the source, whey protein really can’t be beaten.
Whey is a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids. It’s also digested very quickly, so it can get to your muscles right away. A quality whey protein supplement is a must-have for anyone trying to reach their fitness goals.
Another essential part of achieving your goals is having a killer workout session every time you train. Only through consistent, quality training sessions are you able to reach your fitness goals.
But are you constantly showing up for your workout already tired, or find that you don’t have the energy to finish your workout? If so, you’ll be missing out big time on the results of your efforts. That’s where a pre-workout comes into play.
Pre-workout supplements deliver ingredients to help increase energy, focus, and endurance, so that you can up your intensity and crush your workout every single time.
Like any supplement, a pre-workout won’t provide results on its own. But what it can do is help you to have better training sessions day after day, which will lead to greater training outcomes over time.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 known amino acids, each of which performs a slightly different function within your body.
BCAA stands for branch-chain amino acid, of which there are 3. BCAA supplements include a blend of these 3 amino acids in a specific ratio that has been shown to improve recovery.
Protein powders also deliver these three amino acids, but the amount they provide is usually less than optimal, and the ratio is off. That’s why you can still benefit from taking BCAAs even if you’re already using a protein supplement.
Again, the recipe for effective weight loss is good nutrition coupled with consistent quality training sessions. But even when your fitness and nutrition are on point, you may still feel that you need a little something extra to get the results you’re after. That’s where a fat burner might be able to help.
Fat burners (sometimes called thermogenic supplements) usually contain a blend of caffeine and other stimulants designed to help increase energy and support metabolism. Many of them also contain appetite suppressants to help fight off hunger cravings and help you eat less.
A good fat burner can provide that extra oomph you need to push you over the edge into the fat loss zone.
Many people, particularly women, are hesitant to use creatine because of they think that it will cause them to balloon out of control overnight or that it’s unhealthy.
This is simply not true. Creatine alone will not lead to insane muscle growth or unwanted weight gain (although it is true that some people may gain a tiny amount of water weight, it’s usually totally unnoticeable and soon goes away on its own). Creatine has also been shown to be completely safe when used as directed by healthy individuals.
But how does it work? To make a long story short, creatine helps your muscles replenish their fuel stores more quickly after a workout. This means that you’ll be able to have a better workout day after day, which will lead to enhanced training results over time.
So basically, whatever your goal is, creatine can help you work a little bit harder to reach it more quickly!
How They Work Together
Each of these supplements has a distinct role, really without too much overlap between them. Hence they can all be stacked together as part of an effective supplement protocol.
Timing is the most important variable to consider. To get the most out of each of them, here are my suggestions:
A fat burner is typically best when taken in the morning on an empty stomach, while your pre-workout is meant to be taken right before your workout. Since your fat burner and pre-workout likely both contain caffeine, you may not want to take them within a few hours of each other if you’re sensitive to caffeine. If this is the case, I suggest that you take them at different times of the day, or choose a stim-free pre-workout.
BCAA’s are best when taken very near your workout, whether that’s before, during, or right after you get done. This way they can have the greatest impact on recovery. Creatine is similarly versatile, in that it can be used before, during, or after, although most people prefer to take it right after their workout.
Whey protein is perfect for use immediately after your workout when your hungry muscles need to be fed right away. The fast digesting whey is broken down quickly and shuttled to your muscles so the recovery process can begin right away!
When you workout, you put physical stress on your body (the good kind of stress). This stress stimulates your body to adapt and to make the adjustments it needs to. The changes it makes come in the form of fat loss, muscle growth, or both, and over time can they lead to a significant body composition transformation.
But there isn’t one right way to exercise for every person. Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish and what you like to do will determine what your workout looks like. Your workouts will most likely change from time to time as your body adapts and as your goals change.
Different types of training are best for different results, which is why it’s important to know what you want to accomplish with your fitness efforts.
While weight lifting can help for sure, doing cardio is pretty much unavoidable on the road to burning fat. But that doesn’t have to mean hopping on the treadmill for hours on end! There is a better way.
When you exercise, the fuel your body uses for energy basically comes from either fat or carbs. At low exercise intensities, your body uses a higher percentage of fat, whereas at high-intensity carbs are your body’s preferred energy source.
So that must mean that low-intensity exercise is the best method for burning fat, right? Not so fast!
Low to moderate exercise, like steady state cardio, does burn the highest percentage of fat. But with this method of training, you burn so few calories overall that it’s NOT the most efficient way.
(For more effective fat burning exercises, check out this infographic)
It’s All About Intensity
Consider the following example. Let’s say that you burned 50 calories doing low-intensity exercise, and that 90% of those calories came from fat. You would have burned 45 calories of fat.
But now let’s say that you increase your intensity to the point where you’re able to burn 200 calories during the same amount of time. At this intensity, only 50% of the calories you burn are coming from your fat stores.
If you do the math though, 50% of 200 calories is 100 fat calories. So even though the percentage of calories from fat is lower at high intensity, you used so many more calories overall, that you ended up burning more calories from fat.
Ok, sorry-enough with math and percentages!
The point is that high-intensity exercise is better for burning fat.
But the problem is, it’s hard to keep up high-intensity exercise for very long. So in order to have a workout that lasts longer than just a few minutes, you can implement some variation of high-intensity interval training.
Now, I’m not hating on prolonged cardio workouts. They just take up a lot of time, and for a lot of people, they aren’t very enjoyable. But it’s still an effective way to burn fat. So if you like that style of training, then you should do it!
If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck however, short stints of higher intensity exercise burn fat more efficiently than long steady state cardio sessions.
For those looking to build muscle, get ready for some good old-fashioned resistance training. While cardio can help you burn fat to expose the muscle underneath, cardio isn’t really a very effective way to build muscle.
In my years of training experience, I’ve come across a lot of women that are hesitant to start lifting weights for fear of getting too bulky and looking masculine. But the fact is, the kind of weightlifting you’ll be doing isn’t going to cause you to blow-up. It’s difficult to get to the point of bulging muscles. You would have to lift some major weight and eat like a horse for quite some time.
In order to signal your body to build muscle mass, you have to overload your muscles. This means using either high weight or high reps to the point where new muscle growth is stimulated.
Proper resistance training, in conjunction with good nutrition, can help you to tone up and give you that lean, muscular look you’re after.
This can be done using weights, but you can also use other things, like bands or even body weight!
The work you do to maintain the body you have is sometimes an overlooked step in the process. Which really is unfortunate, because it’s such an important part of reaching (and holding onto) your fitness goals!
How many people have you seen make an awesome transformation, only to backslide significantly after they get there?
Small fluctuations in body composition are definitely not uncommon and are totally okay, and a little backsliding occasionally happens to everyone. But for the most part you want to do everything you can to hold on to the results you worked so hard for, don’t you?
With that in mind, the most important parts of maintenance are consistency and change. But…aren’t those opposites? Yes, but let me explain!
There really isn’t one right way to train to maintain, and it totally depends on what you like to do. The main thing is that you keep training consistently. Don’t start taking it easy and don’t stop working out.
As you continue with the same workouts though, your body will adapt and become more efficient at performing them. This means you’ll burn fewer calories and put less stress on your body. To combat this, change up your routine every couple of months to prevent complete adaptation and to keep your body guessing.
The Right Way for You
When trying to figure out exactly how you’ll be working out, you need to determine your primary fitness goal. The first step in setting your goal is assessing where you’re at right now. Take a step back and evaluate your current state of health.
Notice the areas where you’re already crushing it, and those in which you could stand to make some improvements. Once you know what you want to accomplish, you can set effective goals and develop an exercise plan for reaching them.
Remember that regardless of what your goal is and how you plan to reach it, consistency is key. The main reason so many people fail to reach their goal is that they give it a half-hearted effort and eventually give up altogether.
Stick it out, and when you achieve the results you’re after you’ll be glad you did!
Tying it all together
Now that you have a basic blueprint to follow, the next step is deciding what your main goal is going to be. So figure out exactly where you’d like to get to, and then dedicate yourself to achieving it!
If any questions arise, or if you just want more awesome info, tips, advice, or even recipes, check out some of our other awesome blogs!
The awesome thing about fitness is that your body is a project you can continually improve upon. Whether you’re an experienced workout warrior or just starting out on your fitness journey, there’s always something to work on!