My mom didn’t know how to cook or how to eat. It wasn’t her fault; a combination of little (zero) nutritional understanding combined with a heavy dose of believing marketing in lieu having of the time, energy and understanding to learn herself, provided us both with a steady diet of sugar and poor body image. We were always trying to “lose weight” when I was growing up, but we didn’t know how. My dad didn’t help – he would say super nice things like “no one likes a fat redhead” which somehow made our thick thighs worse. Not only were we chubby, which was apparently sinful, but being fat AND a redhead made that sin cardinal.
I was anorexic through high school and abused laxatives as well as restricting my diet and living for my daily hours of Tae Bo. Only through pole dancing have I gained the courage to even learn about fueling my body for my activity rather than loving food and hating myself for loving it. I’m not a nutritionist but if you’re considering changing how you feel about food, this blog may help you take the first step to understand how to eat for recovery rather than to eat (or not eat) for some imaginary body standard.
What are macros and why are they important
Maybe it’s more common in nutrition classes today, but I never heard of “macros” until I started studying for my personal trainer certification in 2013 when I was about to open my own pole studio. Prior to understanding this concept, I believed lots of fad diets that promised you could eat cookies and lose weight—spoiler alert, that doesn’t work.
Macros or macronutrients are the building blocks of food commonly measured in grams and separated into three categories: protein, fat and carbohydrates. Each has an assigned calorie count but counting calories alone does not give you a clear picture of how to eat. A calorie is a unit of measure for the energy released as it is digested by your body. If you only count calories, you could eat cookies all day and still eat within a prescribed number of calories. You wouldn’t be fueling your body though and likely you’d be eating less quantities of higher calorie foods as opposed to eating more appropriate and healthy foods that will help you build muscle and improve how you feel as you work out.
It’s important to note that food is not bad. Fat is not bad. Carbs are not bad. Eating a Whopper is not bad. Understanding how you should eat and knowing when you want to eat something that is not 100% in line with whatever your goals are (feeling better, looking a certain way, improving athletic performance, etc.) is called living.
How to calculate your macros
Now that you’re aware of these things –– what do you do with them? First, understand what your goals are. Do you want to have a certain body image? Do you want to perform better on the pole? Once you have that information, you can start to calculate your macros based on those goals. Now you have to do some math.
Don’t be scared—the internet once again has come to our rescue and provided several calculators, like this one: https://www.katyhearnfit.com/macro-calculator
Plop your gender, age, height, weight, exercise level and primary goal in the calculator. Note that “gain” refers to muscle gain.
The calculator spits out a result with your macros per day. You now have the option for how you’re going to “spend” those macros. Many athletic performance nutritionists/trainers recommend eating four or five times per day. They also may also recommend moving around your macros so rather than these numbers dividing equally by four or five, you shuffle more carbs around your workouts (protein can stay the same; fat can sometimes stay the same – depends what nutritionist you ask).
Example: Pole class is at night, so you would eat maybe 25% of your carbs before pole class, 35% of your carbs after and then the other 40% spread out equally in your other two meals. This means that for many of us, we eat the biggest meal at 10 or 10:30pm which is contrary to many “old wives tales” about not eating too much before bed.
I weigh somewhere between 150-155lbs depending on the day and am 5’6, 36 years old. I work out a lot and I’m interested in maintaining my strength and how my body looks rather than specifically losing weight, so I picked “recomp.” These are my results using 154lb:
These match very closely to what I had a nutritionist prepare for me.
Using my above example for how to move your carbs around I could eat something like this:
Breakfast: 55g carbs, 32g protein, 13g fat
Lunch: 55g carbs, 32g protein, 13g fat
Dinner: 68g carbs, 32g protein, 13g fat
Second Dinner/Late Night “snack”: 95g carbs, 32g protein, 13g fat
Note: If you’ve never eaten like this before, at first it will seem like a lot of food. You may even lose some weight or inches as you change how you eat even doing the recomp button.
Second Note: There’s some debate as to how important it is to eat around your workout. Some trainers swear by it and may have even more drastic percentages that what’s in the example, others say timing is less important and the total per day is more critical. A trainer may also recommend that you eat or others take protein or carbs (like in a protein shake) during your workout.
How about some habit changes?
If macros are a bit too much of a change for how you’re currently eating, try making some small changes to your habits first like these:
- Make a food diary. Sometimes we have no idea what we’re eating. A good way to start updating your diet (as in method of eating, not as in restricting what you eat) is to understand what you’re doing in the first place. You might not be eating enough protein to maintain your muscles (protein specifically builds muscle in our bodies) or you might be eating too many carbs (carbs give us energy to move) for a lifestyle that other than one pole class a week is pretty sedentary.
- Start cutting out added sugar. Sugar is more addictive than cocaine and there are now several scary documentaries on Netflix. Seriously scary.
- Drink more water. Start by replacing one soda per day with sparkling water. You still get the fun bubbles but without the empty (as in they provide no nutritional value such as no protein, no vitamins and no minerals) carbs/sugar/calories.
- Find a buddy. It’s super hard to make changes to your lifestyle especially if everyone around you is not on the same path. It can feel like you’re always a saying no to fun food options or not bonding with your pole mates over drinks and snacks. My most often said phrase is “that’s not in my macros” and I’m sure my friends are tired of hearing it! Finding a buddy who appreciates that you’re giving up short term things for long term goals is important for success.
- Fake it. If you can’t find a buddy to share your new passion for eating to a specific goal, you can still absolutely enjoy a night out with friends. Going off your plan a little bit won’t hurt that much – even moderation needs moderation! I’ve also found that a seltzer water with a lime looks exactly like a gin and tonic! I’ll clutch one of those on the dance floor and don’t feel as left out.
Bottomline is: you gotta eat. If you don’t put any “gas in the tank” you can’t have fun in pole class. Do some soul searching and understand your goals and when you’re ready, make some small changes to your habits. If you’re ready get specific – try that macro calculator and see how you could be eating. And always ask for help! There’s a wealth of knowledge in the pole community and everyone wants you to be happy and healthy.
- Colleen "Motherfuckin" Jolly, aka HBIC