If you’ve been around the Fitness world in any capacity for long enough, you’ve probably heard people talking about ‘macros’ and ‘micros’ in relation to nutrition – but what do they mean, and why is there such a focus on macros?
Put simply, macro- and micronutrients are the various nutrients that make up the food you consume to promote growth and to assist your bodily processes. Macronutrients (‘macros’) are needed in larger amounts, as they provide your body with energy in the form of calories. Micronutrients are needed in smaller amounts, and these take the form of vitamins and minerals.
While both macro and micronutrients are important for your health, we focus on the macros more because they’re the fundamental source of energy for your body, which comes in the form of calories. If your macros aren’t right, then the micros don’t matter – for example, if you don’t have enough energy to live, then it really doesn’t matter if you’re getting enough Vitamin C.
There are three primary macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Proteins and fats are considered ‘essential’; this means you need to acquire them from food because your body cannot make it from other sources. If you don’t acquire enough of these essential nutrients you will become sick and deficiencies can be fatal.
Protein is the macronutrient that makes up your skin, hair, nail, bones, most organ structures, and most notably – your muscular system.
One gram of protein will give you around four calories, and is found in its most absorbable form in animal products such as meat, dairy, and egg. You can also find a good amount of protein in beans and legumes, although it is not a ‘complete’ protein – but that’s a discussion for another day.
When planning your nutrition, prioritize protein consumption. Protein is thermogenic (it increases your metabolism) and highly satiating – meaning that it makes you feel full. Along with these aspects, protein is key to keeping all your tissues healthy and recovering each day!
Fun fact, did you know that if you removed your muscular system, you would only weigh about 10% of what you weigh now? The muscular system is the engine that lets you move and keeps you sitting upright while you read this. It’s important to nourish this system as it is key to being mobile into old age.
Fat gets a bad reputation, but your body needs it. Fats make up 60% of your brain matter, are used to create many hormones (including your sex hormones), and are needed for your immune system. Like proteins, fats are essential, meaning you must get them from your diet.
One gram of fat gives you about nine calories. This is much higher than proteins (and carbohydrates) which makes it easier to consume more calories than you may want. For example, a tablespoon of olive oil is around 180-calories, similar to the calories in a large banana. It’s very easy to sneak a tablespoon of oil into a meal but much harder to hide a large banana on your plate. If you’re trying to feel full, while limiting your calories, aim for foods that give you larger portions – which helps you feel full – and less calories per serve.
High fat foods include oils, nuts, seeds, fatty cuts of meat, and oily fish (like salmon and sardines).
Carbohydrates are a nonessential nutrient, which means you don’t need to eat them to survive. That said, carbohydrates are one of the most useful nutrients to fuel your high intensity workouts and activities.
Carbohydrates give you around four calories per gram, the same as proteins. Common sources of carbohydrates include most plant foods: grains, fruits, and vegetables. The combination of carbs and fats is what makes most comfort foods so delicious!
Working with Macros
Understanding macronutrients will give you a solid nutrition foundation. When you grasp this foundation you can make better decisions about what you eat and how those choices affect your goals .
Once you set your goals you should choose your macros like this:
Establish your calorie needs based on your goals.
You can do this with online tools like MyFitnessPal or speak to a professional – such as a personal trainer or nutritionist. An active 150lb person may need around 2000 calories each day.
Get enough protein to support recovery and keep you feeling full.
The more exercise you do, the more protein you should eat. For active people, aim for a minimum of 0.8g per pound of body weight. Sedentary people should aim for a minimum of 0.6g per pound of bodyweight. Subtract this number from your calorie total. The remaining calories will be made up of carbs and fats. For example, if you weigh 150lbs and exercise 3-5 times each week, you will want to get 0.8g of protein per pound of body weight – 120g of protein each day. In calories that is 480-calories; subtract this number from your total calories to know how many calories you have to make up with other macronutrients. For our 150lb person, they have 1,520 calories left for the day.
Choose the amount of fats and carbohydrates that match your calorie goals and food preferences. Neither nutrient is better or worse. So, you can eat more of the one you enjoy to make up the rest of your calories
If you do a lot of high-intensity exercise (such as circuit training or CrossFit) you will want to have more carbohydrates in your diet – for recovery. For the dedicated gym-goer a split of 30% protein, 30% fats, and 40% carbs is a good place to start for all-around performance. For our example, the 150lb person may have 76g of fat, 230g of carbs, and 120g of protein. They can then tinker with these numbers to help them perform better or feel fuller.
Getting your head around nutrition can be challenging. Feel free to get in contact with any questions, or leave them in the comments below.
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