What Are Macros? The Definitive Guide to Learning About Why Macronutrients Are Important

What Are Macros? The Definitive Guide to Learning About Why Macronutrients Are Important

With more and more information circulating the internet these days, it’s becoming difficult for people to decide what’s useful and what isn’t.

In this definitive guide to macronutrients, we’re going to address what are macros. Along with that, we’re going to address why you should stop counting calories and instead shift your focus to macronutrients along with learning how to read a food label. Let’s get started.

What are calories

A calorie is a measurement of heat (energy) equal to 4.18400 Joules (in case you were curious). The proper definition for the studious individuals is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1° C (Celcius).

What are macros

The word “macro” means large, so you should already assume that these nutrients are needed in large quantities. Macronutrients affect many different processes in your body such as:

  • Hormonal production
  • Immune system health
  • Ability to digest food and absorb nutrients
  • Cellular structure and function
  • Body composition (your lean body mass and body fat)
  • Metabolic functioning
  • And much much more

A brief primer on the major macronutrients

When thinking about what are macros are, they break down into 4 major units that provide energy to your body. These consist of protein, carbohydrates, dietary fats, and alcohol.

Each of these nutrients provides a specific amount of calories which varies:

  • Protein provides 4 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram
  • Dietary fats provide 9 calories per gram
  • Alcohol provides 7 calories per gram

The lowdown on protein

Why are proteins useful? Basic building block of life that plays an important role for healthy skin, hair, eyes, organs, and nails along with repairing muscle tissue and cells. Besides those functions, protein helps with creating hormones and forming antibodies that help prevent infections.

What is a protein? It’s made up of hydrogen and carbon molecules but also contains nitrogen as part of the amino groups. At the smallest unit of a protein is the amino acid. When these join together, they form peptides. Most of these proteins are a long chain of amino acid, these proteins form secondary, tertiary, and quaternary structures (most foods are in the later three structures).

How do proteins travel? The process starts in the stomach through gastric hydrochloric acid breaking apart (denaturing) the secondary, tertiary, and quaternary structures of the ingested proteins and the enzyme pepsin, which breaks down the peptide bonds.

After hanging in the stomach, the next destination is the small intestine where proenzymes (secreted by the pancreas) make their grand entrance. These normally inactive proenzymes have to be activated by other enzymes and chemicals released into the small intestine which forms enzymes for carrying out the peptide digestion and leading to free amino acids to roam to their various destinations.

After absorption into the cells of the intestinal brush border, these amino acids are used for things such as energy, new digestive enzymes, hormones, and heading to the liver (most amino acids head here). In the liver, many different functions will happen depending on what our body needs at the moment in time.

Average daily needs: For the average sedentary healthy adult who isn’t training or exercising intensely, about .8 grams of protein per kg of body mass is enough to cover daily requirements: Ex: 72 g of protein per day for a 200 lb (90 kg) person.

But, remember that protein is involved in the repair and rebuilding of our tissues, hormones, and maintaining a healthy immune system. Thus, if you’re training hard (i.e. strength training), injured or sick, or trying to lose weight—increasing your protein intake will be key.

With that said, around .8 – 1 grams of protein per BW seems to be the sweet spot. This is at the top end 2.2 grams of protein per kg of body mass. If you’re 200 lb (90 kg), then 200 grams of protein per day is the top you would need to go. Not to go down a rabbit hole, but I usually set my protein intake for clients based on their desired/target bodyweight.

Good/ideal sources: Any kind of animal meat, eggs, fish and seafood, tofu, beans and legumes, protein powder (whey, egg, hemp, plant-based, & many others), Greek yogurt.

The lowdown on carbs

Why are carbs useful? They’re your go-to energy source for your body. Helps with your central nervous system, muscles, kidneys, brain, and immune system among many other functions.

What is a carbohydrate? It’s a sugar molecule that’s either a simple or complex carb depending on the number of sugar molecules it holds (so sugar isn’t part of the evil empire since all carbs are a sugar).

Carbs break down into 3 types: monosaccharides, polysaccharides, and oligosaccharides.

  • Monosaccharides: The simplest form of carbs with one one sugar chain (ex: think glucose traveling through your bloodstream)
  • Oligosaccharides: Short chains of monosaccharide units linked together in the form of disaccharides (“two sugars”, trisaccharides (“three sugars”, and so forth. Most popular are the disaccharides which show up through maltose, sucrose, and lactose (think fruit & honey as a few examples).
  • Polysaccharides: These have many chains (10 or more) and are complex chains of carbs teaming up (think rice, potatoes, areas, empanadas, veggies, beans, and much more).

How do carbs travel? We can’t absorb larger carbohydrate molecules. Thus, we have to break them down into monosaccharides which are released into the bloodstream as glucose. This occurs throughout the GI tract. It starts in the mouth and then travels from the esophagus into the stomach that gets mixed into chyme. Your stomach is destroying any potentially harmful pathogens here.

Next stop is the small intestine and then the liver— where it gets all it needs for energy transfer and glycogen storage. Afterward, it ships the rest out for circulation and this goes through your blood until it’s taken up by your various cells.

Average daily needs: First off, your brain needs around 130 grams of glucose per day (this will come from your diet somehow, someway). If you’re on a super low carb diet, through gluconeogenesis (glucose made from amino acids, glycerol, & glucose metabolism intermediaries) and ketosis will be how you get your glucose unless there isn’t enough protein and fats.


Your carbohydrate intake is dependent upon many factors such as age, gender, body composition goals, your activity levels, intake level of other macronutrients, current metabolic condition levels, and food culture and preferences.

The more active you are, the more carbs your body can use for recovery and optimization. Couch potatoes don’t need to eat cups of rice per day since Xbox live doesn’t burn a lot of calories nor is that strenuous on your body.

Good/ideal sources: Fruits, root vegetables (ex: sweet potatoes), whole grains, beans & legumes, vegetables, fast acting & lower fiber carbs like dextrose (only for post-workout) can be helpful for athletes or those looking to gain weight.

bluerberries - what are macros

The lowdown on dietary fats

Why are dietary fats useful? Provides insulation to maintain our body temperature within a normal range along with cushioning & providing protection for our organs. Fats also help in preventing an array of diseases along with transportation of fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, E, & K through our bodies. Forms our brains, nervous systems, and cell membranes along with providing energy.

What are dietary fats? Consists of carbon and hydrogen elements which form hydrocarbons (long groups). The simplest unit of a fat is a fatty acid. There are two types which are saturated (no double bonds) and unsaturated fats (some double bonds). Unsaturated fats break up into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

How do fats travel? Your body breaks down triglycerides into fatty acids and glycerol (the backbone of a triglyceride) before entering your bloodstream. This action is mostly taking place in the small intestine. After breaking down with the assist of various types of enzymes, these fatty acids diffuse across the intestinal cell layer and become chylomicrons. These chylomicrons release into your lymphatic system and slowly enter into generally circulating in your body.

Next, they can be of use for transporting energy to muscle and other tissues along with converting back into triglycerides for storage in adipose tissue (i.e. fat) and muscle. A full discussion on lipoproteins and various other classifications goes beyond the goal of this article and isn’t needed for the big picture here.

Good/ideal sources of fat: For simplicity sake, let’s break these into three to stay consistent with the explanation about fats. Also worth mentioning is to avoid trans fats which are what a lot of fried and processed foods have. These can lower your HDL (i.e. good cholesterol), suppress the excretion bile acids, increase cholesterol production (making it too high), and create fatty acid deficiencies.

  1. Saturated fats (which are useful and needed, just don’t go overboard) — Butter (prefer grass-fed), coconut (oil, milk), dark chocolate (70% + cacao), fatty cuts of beef, lamb, pork, whole fat milk, yogurt.
  2. Monounsaturated fat — Almonds, avocado, brazil nuts, cashews, egg yolk, hazelnuts, olives (olive oil), safflower & sunflower oil (check the label because it alters depending on how you use it), pecans.
  3. Polyunsaturated fats – chia seeds, cod liver oil, fish, flaxseeds, grapeseed oil, hemp seeds, pine nuts, walnuts.

The lowdown on alcohol

What will an article about what macros are be without mentioning alcohol? This will be covered in detail at another time to give it the attention it needs. To summarize: alcohol can wreak your diet if you’re aware of your usage since it does contain empty calories (no nutritional value) and at 7 cals/per gram). Alcohol isn’t evil nor a sure-fire way to ruin your diet when used intelligently.

It becomes problematic because it often times leads to bad decisions—besides with making people more attractive than they are, but with your food decisions. Binging and eating whatever is around usually accompanies chronic drinkers and this is what leads to the weight gain, not the beverage itself.

Why count/track macros instead of calories

Tracking your macros instead of calories ensures that the calories you’re consuming are all going to the right places in your body. You’re going to preserve lean muscle mass along with removing unwanted body fat. Also, focusing only on calorie counting doesn’t take into account what you’re eating (calories alone isn’t the solution). Remember, the quality of your food comes before anything else.

Portion control can work (it’s often how I start with clients completely new or those more concerned with a generally healthy lifestyle). But unless you’re eating the right foods, your plan won’t last for the long-term. The right foods leave you satiated even while on your fat loss plan.

Before we of any further, let’s get the basics of weight gain and fat loss out of the way. To lose fat, you need to consume fewer calories than your body expends (caloric deficit). To gain weight, you need to consume more calories than your body expends (caloric surplus)

what are macros – calories 101

Focusing on calories will lead to some weight loss in all actuality, providing you’re eating at a deficit. But, the problem with this is the likelihood of not having the proper ratio of the macronutrients. This can lead to muscle loss, loss of strength and performance, and moodiness among other things. Your macros are important because…

  • Not having enough fats in your diet could lead to hormone issues.
  • Not having enough carbs in your diet will lead to sluggish workouts. lethargy, foggy brain, and moodiness.
  • Not enough protein in your diet will cause your body to start using precious muscle as energy (no one wants that).

Here’s how this looks

Knowing your total caloric intake is a must. After deciding on your number, you’ll keep up with macros instead. If you hit your macros, then you’ll be well within your daily caloric needs.

Here’s an example of a 200 lb client of mine who is eating 2085 calories.

  • 200g protein (4cal/gram)
  • 175g carbs (4cal/gram)
  • 65g fat (9cal/gram)

200 x 4= 800 calories 175 x 4 = 700 calories

65 x 9 = 585 calories

800+700+ 585 = 2085 calories

Keeping up with 3 numbers is all it takes. If you’re tracking your macros and hitting the same numbers, you’re reaching roughly the same calorie goal each day.

How to break down a nutritional label like a pro

Now that you understand how to count macros and realize the importance of this skill, let’s look at a food label. Below is a food label from an ice cream spot in Nashville.

food label

The label reads 280 calories, 16g fat, 31g carbs,& 5g protein.
A quick run through of the numbers here:

  • 16g of (fat) x 9cals/gram = 144 calories
  • 5g of (protein )x 4cals/gram = 20 calories
  • 31g of (carbs) x 4cals/gram = 124 calories
  • Total amount of cals= 288 calories (it’s a little different than the listed number, don’t worry, this happens from time to time)

Watch out for the trap. Notice the label reads per serving which is a 1/2 cup. There is a total of 4 servings in this container which people fail to notice. It’s easy to overeat foods when most people grab handfuls or in this case, eat out of the container while watching tv or playing video games (maybe that’s only me). If you eat the entire pint at once (it happens), your total calories would be 1152 calories, 64g fat, 124 carbs, & 20g protein. The takeaway from this is to be mindful of your serving sizes when eating foods.

If you eat the entire pint at once (it happens), your total calories would be 1152 calories, 64g fat, 124 carbs, & 20g protein. The takeaway from this is to be mindful of your serving sizes when eating foods.

Explaining each section on the nutrition label

Here’s a brief explanation of each item on the label.

Calories – As mentioned already, calories provide our body with energy. Calories come from only protein, carbs, fats, & alcohol (these are empty cals though). Once you determine how many calories you need, then counting calories becomes unnecessary.

Total Fat – This includes your saturated fats, trans fats, unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats.

Saturated Fats – Saturated fats have been the ugly step-sister for some time. People who have been blaming saturated fat for the increase in obesity and heart disease are delusional. Saturated fat has proven to be of benefit when it comes to regulating testosterone.

With all that said, there’s no need to keep track of daily saturated fat intake.

Trans fat – Also called ‘partially hydrogenated oils’. These fats are long lasting, cheap to produce, and easy to use, making them a prime candidate to use in fast food establishments. Avoid trans fat unless it’s a naturally occurring trace amount in select meat and dairy products.

Cholesterol – It’s naturally produced by our bodies. Its reputation is finally turning around for the good after years of taking the blame for a myriad of health issues. Feel free to keep eating the yolk (who really likes egg whites?). No need to track your intake unless you have a family history of high cholesterol. Remember that HDL is the good cholesterol and LDL is the bad one.

Sodium – This mineral is important for muscle contractions, nerve transmissions, proper pH balance, and hydration. Don’t get crazy and follow some low to no sodium diet, unless you have high blood pressure or some other illness. (Note: manipulating sodium levels for physique purposes is another story in and of itself. And I’m not a doctor nor do I play one on the internet—one year was enough, so listen to your doctor if given other directions.)

playing a doctor - bear – what are macros
“I just like wearing white coats, but I do know what macros are”

Total Carbohydrates – Total amount of carbs including fiber and sugars.

Dietary fiber – Made up of soluble and insoluble fiber. Benefits range from controlling blood sugar, lowering cholesterol levels, reduction of heart disease, and good times on the toilet (no constipation here—embrace your poops). No need to keep track of fiber unless you’re having toilet issues & other digestive problems. Good sources of fiber are found in fruits, veggies, nuts, and sweet potatoes to name a few.

Sugar – Sugar isn’t evil nor meant to be some forbidden item. It’s best to consume in moderation.

Protein – This increases our sexy meter by adding muscle on and keeping us satiated.

Micronutrients (various minerals & vitamins) – No need to keep track of these as long as you are eating a balanced diet.

Percent Daily Value – Close your eyes and pretend this isn’t even on the label. No joke. This number is irrelevant (it’s outdated).

What about fruits, veggies, and meats?

Unfortunately, not everything in life includes a nice and clear label. Fruits, veggies, and meats require a little more effort. Foods without a label can be located using a variety of online tools and apps.

Examples are My Fitness Pal (good since it links up with all those wearables and health apps) and Cronometer (I like this one). Expect some variations in numbers across these platforms. The end goal is to be close to your target macros and make good food choices, not to seek perfection.

What about Restaurants?

Most medium to large chain restaurants has their nutritional information online so that makes life easier. Also, on a couple of apps, you can type in the restaurant and their information will pop up. For those small locally owned restaurants, they usually don’t have a menu so you’ll have to estimate to the best of your abilities using your hand for estimated portions along with making smart choices.

How many calories should I eat & FAQ

The rest of this guide is about answering some popular questions that you may have along with questions I’m asked on a consistent basis.

The truth about all calorie formulas

There’s a plethora of options to choose from when deciding on the number of calories you should eat. Caloric formulas are educational guesses at best. There’s an excellent theory behind all formulas, but at the end of the day, it comes down to testing and assessing weeks later. When handing out nutritional information to my clients, I have them wait 4-6 weeks before making any substantial changes.

The simple and stress-free way to determine calories

Below are two of the easiest ways for you to determine calories. I left out detailed formulas for the sake of keeping this article simple and straightforward.

  • Maintenance & body recomposition – 13-15 cals x BW (body weight)
  • Weight loss – 10-12 cals x BW (body weight)
  • Muscle Gain – 16-20 x BW (body weight)

If you have a lot of weight to lose, then you can multiply the number by your target bodyweight. Also, if you have a smaller frame, then err on the side of caution and start with a higher number than the ones given above and then go from there.

Another option:

If you know your bodyfat levels, then you can figure your number by first determining your LBM (lean body mass). Lean body mass is the amount of weight you carry on your body that isn’t fat. Your LBM isn’t your ideal weight because the human body needs fat on it to protect your internal organs, regulate your hormones, and provide energy.

  • LBM = total BW – fat mass
  • Total BW = how much you currently weigh
  • Fat mass=how much fat is on your body

Example: If Peter Parker weighs 202 lbs, bf% is 15.2%

  • His LBM is 171.6..round up to 172lbs
  • How? 202 x .152 = 30.7 (fat mass)
  • 202 – 30.7 = 172 LBM

Remember these are general guidelines which don’t include the type of job you have, your activity levels, and a few other factors. The goal here is to get you going and to begin to learn what are macros.

An example of laying out your macronutrients:

Protein: Use .8 grams – 1.5 grams (highest) x LBM. If LBM is unknown, then use your current bodyweight or target BW and use .8 grams – 1 grams BW (2.2 grams of protein per kg of body mass).

Fats: As previously discussed, fats are important for preventing diseases, providing energy, and helping with many of your hormones. Following a low-fat diet is idiotic and so 1990’s. Fats should make up 20-30% of your total caloric intake. There are diets that go higher than this, but those are specialized diets used for specific situations.

Carbs: Reducing carbohydrates is one of the most effective methods to losing weight. With that said, eating 25–75 grams per day isn’t the smartest of things to do over time. Living in a carb phobic world, people shit a brick when you tell them to eat 150 grams a day (Btw…that isn’t close to being a lot for most people).

After determining your protein and fats, the rest of your calories are carbohydrates.

Example: Natasha Romanoff (total badass) wants to lose a little fat in preparation for her summer vacation. She’s 145lbs and doesn’t know her body fat.

  • 145 x 10 cals = 1450 calories
  • Protein = 145 grams (1 grams x BW)
  • Fat = 40 grams (25% of total calories)
  • Carbs= 127.5 grams (round up to 130 grams)

***Important — Smaller woman will have to do a little more work with calories because calories should never dip below 1200. If you’re already small, the last thing you should do is try to get even smaller. Instead, opt for a slight surplus of calories and work on body recomposition.

The percentage above breaks into 40% protein /35% carbs/25% fats.

Common questions about macros

1. What’s the minimum to maximum amount of protein, carbs, and fats I should eat?

Protein is .8 grams–1.5 grams (max) LBM or .8 grams–1.25 grams (max) BW. Fats are no lower than 20% and can often range as high as 40% (certain diets). Carbs vary. They make up the remainder of calories after fats and proteins. I tend to favor higher carb diets due to easier lifestyle integration and satisfaction.

2. What’s the ideal ratio to use for proteins, fats, & carbs?

The simplest way is to allocate calories toward each nutrient based on a particular percentage. Here’s a common split: the 40:40:20 split. 40 percent of calories allocated to protein, 40 percent allocated to carbohydrates, and 20 percent allocated to dietary fats.

An example of someone eating 2000 calories per day.

  • 40 percent for carbs
  • 4 x 2000 = 800 calories
  • 4 calories/gram of carbs, so the total amount is 200 grams of carbs (800 / 4 = 200)

A few other popular splits are the 40:30:30 split (40 percent protein, 30 percent carbs, & 30 percent fats). And the 33:33:33 where there’s an even amount of macronutrients spread across one.

3. What if weight isn’t coming off?

If the scale isn’t moving, make sure you’re tracking accurately and not overestimating your caloric requirements. Also look at your “refeed days” or cheat days as some call them and make sure you’re not being a little too liberal with your eating on this day.

If all this checks out okay, then decrease your macros by 5-10%. If you happen to be insulin resistant or any other type of issue with carbs, then lower your carbohydrate intake while increasing your dietary fat intake.

4. What are some good sources of protein?

Cheese, beans, and nuts are good sources of protein but won’t cut it at the end of the day (not enough per serving). ½ cup of beans will yield only 8 grams of protein. If you rely on beans to get protein, you’re going to be one gassy mofo that no one wants to be around. For protein, keep it simple and rely on an animal (beef, fish, chicken, pork, and eggs) with protein powder helping fill in the gaps.

5. For fattier cuts of meat, fish, and eggs, do I count the protein & fat?

Absolutely. You should count both. This is a great way to hit your macros if you struggle with fat.

6. Should I count the carbs from veggies and include those in my macros?

Nope. No need to because most of the carb content consists of fiber which helps keep you full. Veggies are full of micronutrients, which is why I call them free foods and encourage clients to eat unlimited amounts. I’ve never seen anyone blow up from eating copious amounts of broccoli, spinach, and kale chips.

7. Should I weigh my food?

Is it helpful? Yes

Is it necessary? No

While being a hassle and meticulous for most, weighing your food has benefits. Accuracy is the main benefit since it’s more reliable than measuring or eyeballing food. I don’t weight food and leave that decision up to each individual.

8. Should I measure my amounts of food?

Though not as accurate as weighing food, I am a huge fan of this method when it comes to determining portions for rice, oats, nuts, and oils. I recommend measuring foods out until eating becomes intuitive.

9. Should I weigh meats before or after they’re prepared?

Weigh your meats before cooking. Meats will shrink up and lose weight due to water.

10. What are some good apps to keep track of macros?

As with all apps, you’ll have to add in some custom recipes and foods, but once entered they’re there for eternity.
Two of my favorites are My Fitness Pal and Cronometer. Another device I like is Fitbit, which is an awesome tool that’s able to track food, activity, and measure sleep quality.

This concludes the guide to what are macros. I hope you now understand what are macros, why they’re important, how to count them, and why counting calories aren’t the most important tool. If you have any questions, leave them at the bottom in the comments section (I will answer each and every one) or you can email me at julian@theartoffitnessandlife.com

How to Handle The Psychology of Your Well-Being

How to Handle The Psychology of Your Well-Being

At times I felt helpless. Empty of any traces of hope. My thoughts flood with negativity, which spirals me into feeling less than. I start to wallow in self-pity and life finds itself stuck in neutral.

These psychological battles in the past led me to quit exercising for months, resulting in 15 pounds of weight gain which I hid. I’ve stayed in bed for consecutive days not wanting to face the day ahead, secretly wishing problems to vanish on their own.

Our minds are delicate entities. Creative goals, fitness goals, career aspirations, and relationships can all crumble in front of our eyes by the activity floating inside our brains.

It’s easier to search for a workout plan or debate over nutritional minutiae than to dissect ourselves and come to grips with what’s going on inside of us.

Without coming to grips with what’s going on inside, your goals and potential won’t come to fruition (no matter how many feel good articles and inspirational quotes you read).

Your thoughts, feelings, and actions become your greatest adversary.

You can’t stop binge eating. Can’t maintain an exercise habit. Can’t lose those last 10 pounds. Can’t gather the courage to quit your job. Can’t gather the courage to pursue your art. Can’t maintain healthy relationships.

Motivation is gone and you’re only left with your thoughts, which are currently betraying you.

Are you to sit there and accept it as is? Accept the powerlessness? Accept the despair? Accept that this goal or thing you want will never come to fruition?

Absolutely not. You have a choice to fight and decide. And it starts with how you handle the psychology of your well-being.

The good wolf and the bad wolf

“One evening, an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.”

“It is a terrible fight and it’s between two wolves. One is evil—he is angry, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued…However, “The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson paused and thought about this statement for a minute and then asked his grandfather “Which wolf wins?”

The old grandfather simply replied with, “The one you feed”

the psychology of your well-being wolf

The good wolf and the bad wolf of fitness

Self-sabotaging and psychological battles reign supreme in many people’s lives when it comes to attempts at healthier living.

You know you should exercise. You know you should say “no” to those office cookies and treats. You know you should sleep instead of surfing Facebook. You know you should pass on watching one more episode on Netflix.

Every corner you turn is another opportunity to feed your bad wolf and distance yourself further from your goals.

Information isn’t the issue. You’re full of knowledge and desires but empty of action.

How many times have we seen this scenario:

It’s a Saturday night and Skylar decides she wants to lose 15 pounds. She plans to strength train three days a week while participating in other forms of activity for 60 minutes on non-training days.

Sounds good so far.

Skylar knows that she needs to change her diet. She’s going to the grocery store on Sunday afternoon and throws away all her foods that don’t support her goal.

She’s invincible.

Monday morning, Skylar is off to a great start with her healthy and well-balanced breakfast of eggs, oatmeal, avocado, and a cup of blueberries. Skylar breezes through work and goes to the gym afterward.

Fast forward a week later and Skylar has an unexpected project land on her desk. Her family, peers, and job are worrying her and now she’s overwhelmed (and stressed).

Today is a workout day, but she’s tired and had a crappy day. She promises to go tomorrow (doesn’t happen).Over the week, Skylar faces various temptations and obstacles which alter her flow.

These moments, temptations, and curveballs are the ebbs and flows of everyday life. These ebbs and flows require us to make a decision each time when faced with one. Each moment allows her the opportunity to feed her good wolf or feed her bad wolf.

When it comes to you, will you…

Let stress at work become your excuse for not going to the gym and then binge eat? Only later to feel guilt and shame about your choices (this is feeding the bad wolf).

Let your emotions and desire for temporary pleasure cause you to grab a handful in the snack jar or grab a soda or two (bad wolf wins again)?

Let your peers guilt you into eating junk food at the restaurant and bar (bad wolf notches another win)?

Doubt yourself and your new strength training regimen because it’s uncomfortable and unfamiliar? Thus allowing yourself to quit and use the excuse “it wasn’t for me” (bad wolf secretly wins again)?

Or will you…

Acknowledge the stress at work and take preventative actions to not let this dictate your behaviors (victory for the good wolf)?

Recognize that it’s your environment and the nervous/anxious energy given off by your peers that are causing these feelings? Recognizing this prevents you from self-sabotaging your goals for temporary moments of relief (the good wolf wins again).

Recognize that your choices are ultimately yours? If they’re good friends, they will respect your new lifestyle and even support you (the good wolf strikes again).

Re-frame your thoughts and recognize that fitness is a skill acquired through repetitive practice (no one is excluded in fitness)? As with any other craft, the beginning is murky as a swampland, but on the other side is bright skies along with a new and improved body (the good wolf prevails).

The best defense against an illness is prevention through healthy behaviors. The best defense against negative thoughts isn’t to completely avoid negative thoughts (that’s impossible). Instead, the best defense is to train yourself not to follow these negative thoughts when they arise (be a watcher of thoughts instead).

Identify your self-defeating thoughts

Here’s an example: You feel bad about your weight and want to make a change. But, you tried many diets before and claim to have tried “everything”, but yet nothing works. You sometimes stress and binge-eat. Hours later, you feel guilt and shame that you weren’t strong enough to resist.

Besides the fatal error of relying on willpower (which is a whole subject on its own), your thoughts are full of negative narratives such as “I’m weak”, “I’m not strong enough”, “I’ve failed before, why will this time be different”?

These negative narratives lead to feeling down about yourself, which leads to lack of action.

This type of person still won’t take consistent action despite the consumption of inspirational quotes and motivational videos because they’re fighting against their subconscious and it’s going to win each time unless you start to rewrite these narratives.

This constant internal battle is what we call a negative feedback loop.

good wolf

Thoughts such as: “I suck at fitness.” “I suck at relationships.” “I suck at writing.” “I suck at business.” “I suck at healthy eating.” “I suck at getting quality sleep.” “I suck at {whatever else you feel like inserting here}.” “I don’t belong here.” “She’s out of my league.” “I’m not good enough to wear this dress” “My arms aren’t big enough to wear these type of shirts.” and “Once I get to this ‘weight’—I’ll feel better about myself and life will be better” are all destructive thoughts.

These type of thoughts don’t completely go away, but you must catch these thoughts when they arrive.

Most people go about their day without ever addressing these thoughts. Over time, these thoughts cement themselves inside your sub-conscious and expand over time. While you may not feel them 24/7, these sub-conscious thoughts of feeling less than quietly leads to feelings and behaviors on a daily basis that match up externally with how you think of yourself internally.

Ever notice how on some things, you tend to shy away from because “you claim to be bad at it”? That’s because your subconscious is secretly working in the background. It’s operating from past experiences and negative thoughts that had free reign.

And the first step to re-framing your mindset is to develop more self-awareness. Anytime negative thoughts appear, realize that they are thoughts and only thoughts—not a prophecy or a reality that is set in stone.

Challenge your self-defeating thoughts with encouragement and logic while attempting to replace those destructive thoughts with more positive narratives.

Solutions and questions to ponder to help feed your good wolf

Below are a serious of exercises you can try to help re-frame your mindset and turn those negative thoughts into neutral-to-positive thoughts. These exercises will prevent you from becoming paralyzed by the potential negative manifestations created inside your head.

Here are the exercises to follow in a logical order. Think about these questions and journal a couple out and see if you can get to the core root of what stopped you in that moment.

  1. Are you aware of the internal struggle of the opposing wolves? This is a good starting point if you don’t recognize the divide and internal battle going on inside you each day. Take a day to notice your thoughts as you’re going about your normal routine day. Notice your mind when it comes to tempting food choices. Notice when it comes time to exercise (you suddenly don’t feel like working out). Notice when it’s time to sleep and Facebook seems like a good idea or you need to watch one more episode on Netflix.
  2. Recognize that deep within you is the separate entity that is removed from labels, titles, and traits: This is your true identity. After stripping away titles given to you by work, career, friends, and various other sources lies the true you. When you say “I have no willpower” or “I’m this or that”, this is you placing yourself inside a box. You can be whatever you want to be, as long as you think and act this way inside your mind.
  3. Have you ran into situations or internal fights and struggles or faced with decisions and you didn’t know which way to turn?
  4. When you made decisions in the past, have you realized that there was a better option available that was more positive and beneficial, but yet you didn’t take it?
  5. How effective are you when it comes to choosing the rights actions and thinking the right thoughts?
  6. What are some ways you can increase the chances of making a better decision the next time faced with temptation?
  7. How do you feed your bad wolf on a daily basis? What actions, thoughts, and feelings do you do?
  8. How do you feed your good wolf on a daily basis? What actions, thoughts, and feelings do you do?
  9. Having become aware of how to feed the wolves that reside within you, what are some better ways that you can nurture your specific wolves?

Mental Fitness 101: 10 Powerful Lessons to Overcome Adversity & Improve Your Well-Being

Mental fitness

My physical fitness was a strength of mine throughout my life, but my mental fitness was a glaring weakness.

I would appear strong on the outside, but inside I would crumble at the slightest sight of adversity. I had a million dollar body but a $2 dollar mindset.

When it comes to achieving our fitness goals, it’s never really just the training and nutritional program that’s holding us back.

It’s oftentimes the other intangibles of life that are holding us back from our desired fitness goals. One of those big ones is our mental fitness. The sets of squats and deadlifts aren’t the toughest challenges to staying healthy, it’s the random (and sometimes cruel) things of life that can cripple us.

One of my favorite books over the last year was ’13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success’ by psychotherapist Amy Morin.

As someone who’s not ashamed to admit to being in therapy for six months, our mental strength is pivotal to our overall well-being. We don’t blink an eye to hiring a coach when it comes to improving our physical fitness and appearance (go here if interested in that). We should treat our mental fitness the same.

mental fitness
Exercising your brain is just as important as exercising for toned legs.

If you aren’t mindful of your thoughts, then irrational thoughts and beliefs can run rampant. If behaviors aren’t in check, you run the risk of causing damage and making bad decisions with your health and well-being. And with our emotions, if we don’t reel them in, then the inverse will happen and they’ll reel us in.

With that said, our mental fitness starts with us replacing and challenging our irrational thoughts with more realistic thoughts. Behaving and acting out of logic despite how dire or tough the situations may be. And finally, being in charge of our emotions so they don’t control us.

As Dr. Morin states in the book, “we make our best decisions in life when we balance our emotions with rational thinking.”

Here are some of the bigger points I got from the book that you can apply to become mentally tougher in fitness and life.

1. Don’t waste time with self-pity parties

If there was going to be a picture of self-pity in the dictionary, it would have my headshot there with a crown. No matter the situation in life, I had a Captain America shield that deflected blame to everyone but me.

Ran out of money, not my fault, it’s the bank’s fault. My girlfriend breaks up with me, not my fault for ignoring her and not treating her as she should—it’s still her fault.

Tore my pec minor in college trying to show off, not my fault—it’s the gym and benches fault for throwing me off angle. Writing gets rejected, not my fault—it’s the website and editors fault.

Unfortunately, this pops up in fitness a lot of times, it’s easier to find some external excuse in the world to blame for our shortfalls with fitness than to acknowledge and admit to ourselves that we’re the problem.

Here’s the big problem with feeling sorry for yourself?

Feeling sorry for yourself leads you to procrastinate with taking responsibility for the situation. Most importantly, this is stopping you from growing as an individual and learning from your mistakes.

Feeling sorry for yourself and having a self-pity party is self-destructive. This only leads to more problems down the road and more consequences. When you don’t take responsibility for your weight loss shortcomings, you’re neglecting the core reasons that stopped you the last time while you’re health is still getting worse since you didn’t succeed.

Next time you catch yourself falling into a self-pity party, try these things:

  • Switch out your self-pity for gratitude —I failed on my last diet. Instead, I’m grateful for attempting to improve my health and though I didn’t reach my desired goal, I’m grateful for the lesson I learned and now I can apply it to my next attempt at improving my health.
  • Choose to actively problem solve your situation — You’re not losing weight. What are you going to do about it? One small action is all that’s needed to get started again. Don’t just remain passive about the situation, fortune favors those who take action.
  • Replace your negative thought with a shot of reality—Is your situation really this bad? Probably not. Many others have been in our situations—we’re not special snowflakes with unique problems. Don’t allow yourself to believe that your life and situation is worse than most peoples.
  • Try the 5-second rule by Mel Robbins—Bad thoughts keep coming. Stop and count, 5…4…3…2…1 and then do something or act differently to change your current state.
  • Don’t forget the good— Think of all the good things you have and have done compared to the one thing that you’re struggling with.

2. Don’t freely give away your power like it’s a Netflix rental

Far too often, we let other people steal our joy and zap our self-worth away. Maybe it’s a bad relationship or a manipulative figure in your life who knows just the right thing to create a mind-fuck within you.

Maybe it’s your immediate circle of people who aren’t supporting you with your fitness goals. Instead, they tell you a million reasons as to why you can’t do something instead of the very reason why you can do something.

At times, my family and even some of my friends unintentionally zapped my self-worth away. But in actuality, the only time we can give our worth away is when we allow it to happen. Our self-worth card isn’t a Netflix rental that needs to be freely available to everyone in the world.

Netflix-DVD- mental fitness

3. Don’t be afraid to change and reinvent yourself

Change is uncomfortable and scary—no other way around this. Putting myself out there with writing and now speaking creates massive butterflies of nerves in my stomach.

But without changing, we can’t arrive at the future that we desire for. It may be hard giving up some of those comfort foods, tv binges, familiar social circles who aren’t good for you, or social events, but think about your outcome.

Is the perceived goal really important to you or are those events of short-lived fun more important to you?

Your resolutions don’t break because you’re not capable enough, smart enough, good enough, or any other type of enough—they break because you weren’t mentally ready to change yet.

Grab a sheet of paper and write down the pros and cons each on a sheet of paper. If the pros mean more to you, then that’s part of your motivation and reminders as to why you want to change.

4. Focus only on the controllables

This type of mindset is detrimental to your success in fitness because you can’t control most of the events that pan out. If you want to lose 20lbs, that’s great, but you have no control over when those 20lbs will be gone.

All you can control is the process and the present moment which encompasses doing the daily actions that will give you the chance to lose those 20lbs.

When you waste energy on things you can’t control, your happiness decreases, stress levels go up, and there is a higher likelihood that you’ll give up on your fitness goals because of the unreasonable expectations you placed on yourself.

Often times, this obsessive control problem is mainly operating out of fear that we’re trying to mask.

Ask yourself, “what am I so afraid of?”. For many of us and myself included, it was fear of failure and the fear of putting in the effort and not getting the desired results.

The first step to gaining control of this issue is to start examining your beliefs about what you can truly control and what you can’t.

When those 20lbs come off—out of your control.

Eating healthy and exercising consistently each day—fully in your control.

Practice accepting things as they are. By surrendering to not trying to control everything, you:

  • Become stronger
  • Become happier
  • Become better at your relationships
  • Become less stressed out
  • Become better in your professional life

5. Don’t fear taking intelligent risks

Taking risks is something that’s unavoidable in life, especially when attempting to attain a new goal or changing the narrative to your life. Whether it’s the pursuit of a new relationship, new business, travel the world, or a fitness goal—all of these come with a degree of uncertainty which in turn means there is some risk involved.

And that’s ok. Taking risks is necessary.

step up & play the game —mental fitness
Step up & play the game.

The biggest reason that we avoid taking risks and going outside our comfort zone is our emotions and inner critic drowns our belief in the situation.

6. Keep the past in the past

The present moment can’t be executed to it’s best capabilities when you’re stuck in the past. The future can’t be molded to your liking when you’re too busy regretting and obsessing over the past.

Constantly replaying a bad breakup, a past shortcoming with weight loss, a loss of confidence with women, and a past business failure all present the same problem of keeping you stuck in the past. This happens because the fear of moving forward seems too painful and it seems easier and more comfortable to stay stuck in the past.

It’s tempting to romanticize the past as a method to escape the present and your responsibility. It’s easier to imagine that life would’ve been much better had we changed “such & such” event in the past.

Don’t let the past hold you back from what you can become. Getting out of this rut starts with shifting your thinking. Our memories aren’t as accurate as we think they are when it comes to recalling these past events—there tends to be a lot of exaggeration.

Accept your past choices, actions, and decisions for what they are and move on. There’s a lesson in the past that you can use for your future endeavors.

Maybe you lost weight and then gained it all back. Accept that and then look for the lesson that you can take with you this time around so it doesn’t happen again. The business failed, accept it and think about what you can do differently this time around.

7. Don’t give up after a setback

It’s tempting to give up after a setback or two.

“It’s just not for you.” I hear this many times when it comes to people’s health and fitness. It’s genetics, their body type, their job, and another laundry list of excuses that I didn’t feel like writing out.

Unraveling those excuses, it’s just their mentality—the setbacks and struggles have gotten to them psychologically.

Setbacks and failures are a natural part of life. If you aren’t experiencing setbacks and failures on a recurring basis, you aren’t pushing yourself enough outside of your comfort zone.

I’ve been rejected by many publications. I’ve been denied by companies I reached out to for speaking. I’ve been rejected by women—this one kinda stings a little:)

In all instances, those situations only made me a better person. More importantly, pursuing those things I wanted, prevented me from having the regret of not doing anything about my desire.

Dr. Seuss was rejected by 20 publishers and he ultimately ended up with 46 books. When you give up too easily, it becomes a recurring self-fulfilling prophecy.

Each time you quit on something, you’re reinforcing the idea that failure and setbacks are bad and you’re not good nor worthy enough to keep pursuing your dreams.

Think about some beliefs you have around failure that stop you from trying again. Is it the perception of what you see and think of yourself when you fail that hurts? Is it peers, family, significant others, or social media?

Find the root of why the failures and setbacks hurt so much and potentially stop you from trying again.

Reframe the way you see failure and setbacks. Instead of thinking of failure as meaning you’re less than or not capable enough, see it as an experimentation where you’re continually gathering data and ideas to implement into a better version the next time around.

The biggest way to get over this is focusing all your efforts on the process instead of your outcomes.

8. Don’t fear being alone

Being alone isn’t the same as being lonely.

Loneliness (one of the biggest health crisis) is a perception and feeling that no one is there for you. While being alone and in occasional solitude is about making a choice to be alone with your thoughts.

Many (myself included) at one point was afraid to be alone due to the potential discomforting thoughts that could arise.

Alone time is good because you get to connect with your thoughts and feelings while removing the excess chatter in the world. Having alone time allows you to reflect upon your goals, set goals for the future, and decide what it is you truly want.

staring out at windows is underrated—mental fitness
Staring out at windows is underrated.

Alone time allows you to build up your mindfulness more. One way to do this is through meditation. This helps you accept your thoughts as just thoughts, not necessary serve as your truth and let them determine who you are as a person.

9. Let go of feeling entitled and like the world owes you something

No matter how crappy life has been, how smart you are, how pretty you are, or anything else—you don’t deserve good fortune more than the next person beside you.

Sounds harsh, but this humility and self-awareness that none of us are special snowflakes make us realize that our issues aren’t unique and therefore are solvable.

If many others have had our problems and perservered, then why can’t we? I see this as the ultimate motivation as to why it’s never good to give up.

Life isn’t meant to be fair. Our problems aren’t unique. Many people have fallen short with their fitness. Many have lost weight only to see it come back in full force (often with extra weight). Many have been rejected by publishers and event planners (talking to myself here).

Many have been rejected by our crushes (talking to myself again). Many have had bad relationships (unfortunately). Many have had low funds in the bank and felt the darkest night of the soul night wondering how to get out of this (talking to myself for the third time).

These situations are tough, there’s no denying that, but they aren’t unique.

What’s unique and left open to the possibilities is how you respond to those disappointments and setbacks. That’s where the mental fitness comes into play. None of us are more deserving than the next person.

10. Let go of needing immediate results

Living in today’s microwave generation is dangerous to our egos and psyche. Patience is a past time. We overestimate our abilities. We underestimate how long transformations and change takes. This combination leads to prematurely quitting and giving up because we can’t wait—not that we’re not capable.

When you have expectations for immediate results and want everything yesterday, when you don’t get those results, you’re tempted to take shortcuts and cheat your future (hello fad diets and other short-term fitness tactics).

Skewed and unrealistic expectations potentially lead you to deduce the wrong conclusions, negative emotions, low self-worth, and behaviors that set you back even further.

Let go of the need for immediacy.

Commit to the long haul. If it’s worthwhile, then isn’t it going to be worth it down the line (I tell myself this every day)?

Don’t underestimate just how damn difficult it is to change. Be mindful that progress isn’t always easily apparent and linear. Often times, progress shows up in small ways and through the intangibles.

Keep your eye on the prize. Celebrate milestones along your journey (no matter how small they seem—momentum is your best friend).

Here’s a free gift with the 10 mental fitness lessons from this article. Hang it somewhere visible & use it to remind yourself not to go back into your old habits.

mental fitness chart