You’ve heard about them. You may have friends that say, “That doesn’t fit my macros”. You probably have someone in your circle that weighs their food at the restaurant lunch table to “fit it in” their macros. But the real question is, what are macros, and why are people counting them? In this first installment of a three part series, we are going to learn what a macronutrient is and what it does. In parts two and three we will discuss counting macros, best practices, and how to find freedom with food for long-lasting sustainable change.
What is a macro?
If you’re looking for true sustainable change that will leave you feeling and looking your best while achieving a healthy relationship with food and the ability to eat what you want(within moderation of course) then you for sure want to understand what a macro is, how many there are, and with their powers combined how they can make or break your efforts in body composition change and overall health and wellness.
To be short, “macros”, short for macronutrients, are the food types needed in large amounts to fuel and charge up the body. The trinity combined is protein, carbohydrates, and fats. On the opposite side of macronutrients are micronutrients. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that are needed, but not in large quantities at a time. Macros are essential nutrients as your body cannot produce them or cannot produce enough of them.
Macronutrients are the body’s source of energy for optimal form, function, and structure. The main source of energy comes from carbohydrates, but fat and protein too are sources of energy that can and may be used by the body to function. Each macronutrient also has a calorie amount attached to it as well.
- Carbs: 4 calories per gram
- Protein: 4 calories per gram
- Fat: 9 calories per gram
What is a carb, protein, and fat?
Here are some examples of different foods within each macro:
- Whole grains, oats, breads, pasta, rice
- Fruits/Veggies (apples, bananas, potatoes, peas)
- Dairy products
- Red meat, poultry, fish,
- Dairy products
- Soy products
- Nut butters
- Dairy products(whole milk, cheese, butter)
- Fatty Fish
It is important to eat a variety of foods in order to eat an optimal amount of each macronutrient each day. Looking at the list, there is quite a bit of crossover of some products more than others. You will see that some products are specifically higher in one macronutrient, while others may have a split difference and can be categorized under two macronutrients.
What do these macros do?
When the macros are marco-ing they perform the following functions.
Carbs are usually broken down into a sugar molecule known as glucose. Glucose is the preferred source of energy for immediate use by the brain, central nervous system, and red blood cells. Glucose can also be stored in both the muscles and liver as glycogen, ready for use at a later time. Carbohydrates also help the feeling of fullness with fiber. There are two types. Soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is broken down during digestion, while insoluble fiber does not. Both aid in the process of digestion and keep things “regular”.
Proteins are broken down into amino acids. There are twenty specific amino acids and nine of them are essential amino acids that must be obtained through diet. Each amino acid has a job but the overall functions of amino acids are building and repairing muscle tissue, provides structure for the body(hair, nails, skin), they help maintain the pH balance/acidity level within the body, and they help create hormones and enzymes.
Fats are converted into fatty acids and glycerol through digestion. Their overall function is transportation and absorption throughout the body, store energy, cell membrane health, and insulation(keep ya warm!).
How do I use macros?
Most people obsess over two things with their diet/intake. The weight on the scale and the calories consumed. The scale weight is another topic for another day. We are going to focus on calories. If you recall from the top of this post, each macro has a caloric amount attached to it. So it stands to reason, you may be getting enough or too little calories but where are those calories coming from?
I have two clients, both are 5’1″ and roughly the same size in weight as well. Each are eating similar total calories but their macronutrient requirements are different because of their individual needs. So the total calories, while important, are not the essential part of the equation. What truly matters is eating a balanced diet of each.
Everybody needs all three macronutrients in their diet, but every BODY requires a different amount give their lifestyle, goals, and needs. Currently the USDA recommends a macro profile for adults with the following acceptable ranges.
- Carbs: 45–65% of total calories
- Protein: 10–35% of total calories
- Fat: 20–35% of total calories
I use this ratio with most of my clients(general population): 40/30/30. 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat. Most of the general population(special populations excluded) run best off of a moderate carb, high protein, low-fat diet. Individual macro requirements will adjust up and/or down depending upon daily needs and lifestyle habits. But focusing on achieving the daily requirements of each macronutrient as opposed to calories will have far more benefits. Especially when it comes to sustainable and body composition changes.
Now that you know what a macronutrient is, let’s talk about counting them. Stay tuned for Part 2, “So you wanna count macros.”