The Important Role that Macros Play in Controlling Hunger

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We all know that to make body composition changes, we need to be in a calorie deficit. And if we can consistently manage our hunger and stay within our macro budget, we can see results.  But how do we do that when we’re supposedly in a deficit and “dieting”?

Skipping meals and not thinking about your macronutrient balance at every meal can lead you down a road of constant hunger and cravings. If you start your day with a latte, muffin & zero protein, there’s a high chance of cravings later in the day.

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Hunger vs. Appetite

Did you know that these two are not the same? Hunger is our physiological response to a need for food; it causes our stomach to growl and rumble when our body is biologically running low on energy. Appetite, on the other hand, is not a physiological response, but a desire – a feeling. My three kids always have a strong appetite for snacks but are not always physiologically hungry. It’s a good practice to be aware and mindful of hunger versus appetite, especially if you are a SFM client and provide weekly biofeedback to your macro coach. 

Have you ever noticed how certain meals keep you full and satiated for 3+ hours, where other days you are hungry every 30 minutes? How you build your meals and how much of each macronutrient you include can have a huge impact on your hunger, appetite, satiety and cravings long after your meal has been consumed.   

If you are new to macro counting, please check out Macro Counting 101 and If Calories are King, Why Count Macros to read the ins and outs of macro counting. Below I will give more information on each macronutrient and how it plays a role in helping to balance hunger. 


Out of the three macronutrients, protein is the GOAT for controlling hunger; when our body consumes protein, the level of the hunger hormone ghrelin decreases. Do you often find yourself hungry after a particular meal, or can’t get rid of that “snacky” feeling? It may be time to check how much protein you’ve eaten – not just at your last meal, but over the entirety of the day. And in regards to body composition changes, protein intake needs to be adequate in order to preserve muscle mass – as in you lose body fat and not muscle! 


Overall, carbohydrates are less satiating than equivalent amounts of protein. Coach Lee Ann went over carbohydrates in depth in this blog, but for this topic, what would you pick to manage hunger? 4 oz of chicken or 4 oz of cooked rice? When we eat simple carbs alone, we get a pronounced blood sugar and insulin response, resulting in a blood sugar crash. And when our blood sugar drops, we feel the sudden hanger for more carbs. Have you ever had those days where you snack or graze all day long, not able to put an end to your hunger?

Complex carbs, on the other hand – which include fiber – reduce the blood sugar and insulin response to a meal. The result of eating complex carbs (sweet potatoes, apples, berries, whole grains) is a more stable blood sugar level without the spikes and dips. The cool thing about fiber is that it draws water into our digestive tract, which in turn stretches our stomach. And the stretch signals the brain to slow down emptying of the stomach, resulting in the feeling of fullness. Consuming fiber also stimulates the release of gut hormones that reduce hunger.


Fat is another macronutrient that slows down the rate of stomach emptying, which is why it’s recommended to eat a low-fat meal prior to your workout (read all about nutritional timing here). It also plays a key role in metabolizing protein. AND it’s what makes food delicious (yeah I’m talking about you, butter!) Regardless of what is happening on the physiological level, when you feel satisfied after a meal, you are less tempted to overeat! 

Combining Macronutrients to Balance Hunger:

By learning about how each macronutrient reacts with the body on a cellular level,  you can start to piece together how the composition of a meal can really influence hunger or satiety. For myself,  one of the “ah ha” moments came from reading this quote from Dr. Jade Teta

“It’s not just what you eat in the moment, but what you set yourself up to eat later. It’s wrong to think of your meals as stand alone events. What you eat at one meal influences how much you eat and what you crave to eat at the next meal.”

I remember when I was growing up, every Sunday after church we’d go out to breakfast as a family. Even at a young age, I KNEW I didn’t feel good after eating a big stack of pancakes, so I’d always pick an entree that had eggs or some sort of breakfast protein. I now realize that intuitively I could feel that having a carb-rich breakfast with minimal protein was not setting my body up to be in a state of balanced hunger and blood sugar. 

By building meals that have adequate amounts of protein (and “adequate” will be different for everyone – it will be dependent on your own macro budget), fiber-rich carbohydrates and healthy sources of fats, hunger and satiety can be controlled. And when hunger is controlled, cravings reduce. When cravings reduce, it’s easier to consistently hit our macro budget day in and day out. 

Tips for managing hunger with macro counting

Common phrases that signal “red flags” to the SFM coaches: 

 “I felt real snacky all day”

  • What do your past meals look like? Did you skip breakfast? Did each meal have at least 25-30 grams of protein? Complex carbs w/fiber? How much fiber did you eat that day? 

 “The afternoons are HARD! I can’t make it to dinner without eating WHATEVER”

  • Time interval between lunch/afternoon snack to dinner may be too long. EAT MORE FOOD. Don’t be scared of a 300-400 cal snack/meal if you KNOW you can’t make it until dinner time. 

 “It’s 9 PM and I still have 40 grams of protein to eat”

  • Every meal of the day needs more protein. 30 grams minimum is a great place to start 
  • How much protein did you have at breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks? 

“I’m scared to eat too many macros and be hungry and might and have none left so I don’t eat much during the day”

  • Do you eat breakfast? Do you skip any other meals earlier in the day? If you are going until lunch without eating, it’s cause and effect – saving macros and then insanely hungry later. Skipped meals mess with our hunger & appetite hormones and may not even be that you NEED more calories in your macro budget, but to spread your macros out more during the time you are awake. 
  • There is NOTHING wrong with having a meal schedule with more calories in the second half of the day – but if you find there’s periods where you are HANGRY, super hungry, feel low energy, then this is the perfect situation for you to reevaluate your meal timing and spacing and spreading out of macros. 

And it all comes back to Dr. Jade Teta’s quote:

“It’s not just what you eat in the moment, but what you set yourself up to eat later. It’s wrong to think of your meals as stand alone events. What you eat at one meal influences how much you eat and what you crave to eat at the next meal.”

Tips for managing hunger with macro counting

Coach Lindsay’s go-to tips

  • First, you need to think about your macro budget & your entire day together
    • Spending too much of one macro at one meal is going to make it difficult on many levels to hit the rest of your numbers the rest of the day without bouts of extreme hunger or cravings (think: a high carbohydrate breakfast with minimal protein….a latte & a croissant)
    • Saving too many macros out of fear for late night hunger can also cause issues
  • Upgrading to MFP Premium lets you view the macronutrient breakdown for each meal you log in GRAMS.  Watch HERE for a short video to learn how. I use this tool to build each of my meals
    • The more you pay attention to your meal breakdowns, you can see trends that work for you. For myself, if I eat under 30 grams of protein, I will be hungry in less than 3 hours (AND be left with excess protein at the end of the night, no fun). 
    • It can point out macro deficiencies in meals 
  • Do you find yourself insanely hungry late in the afternoon and struggling to make it to dinnertime? If so, what time was your last meal/snack? If your last meal was lunch, can you build an afternoon meal that will keep you satiated until dinnertime? Use this tip for any part of the day that seems tricky for you! I just know late afternoon is a tricky point for most of us!
  • What works for one person may not work for another! 
    • The best part is that this will be person to person specific! For myself (stay at home mom with little kids), eating 4 large meals works best for me than the typical 3 meals + two snacks. 

The beauty of macros is we can eat whatever we want. We are in charge of our macro budget. But when cravings are reduced, it’s easier to consistently hit our macro budget day in and day out. Hormones will be balanced, as well as energy, and overall I promise you’ll feel better!

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