Understanding macros can certainly help along your journey to improved health and fitness. To understand them well, we first need to know what a “macro” is.
“Macro” is short for macronutrient. Macronutrients are nutrients that our body utilizes in large quantities. These differ from micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that our body doesn’t need
as much of. Macronutrients also differ from micronutrients in that they contain calories. The big three macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Proteins and carbohydrates contain roughly four calories per gram, and fats contain roughly nine calories per gram. Proteins and fats are called essential macronutrients, meaning our bodies need them in order to survive. Carbohydrates is not an essential macronutrient, though they do have value that most humans deem useful.
Each macronutrient plays a different role in the body. They each have their own benefits that allow us to not only survive, but thrive.
Protein is a very important nutrient that is found in many different animal and plant based foods. Though it has many different benefits and functions, protein is most well-known for the maintenance, building, and repair of tissues, specifically, muscle tissue. Protein is an extremely important nutrient if you exercise regularly. It will help you recover from workouts, maintain tissues in your body, and help you build new tissue. It has shown to be very beneficial for elderly individuals, athletes (which is you if you’re working out regularly), and for those recovering from injuries or illnesses.
Carbohydrates, though not an essential nutrient for survival, are very helpful, especially when it comes to energy. Carbohydrates are found in many different foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, rice, pasta, beans, oats, and the list goes on. Carbohydrates are most well-known for the ability to help the body produce glucose, which goes into your blood and then out to your cells in order to help them produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is a source of fuel for your body. Carbohydrates can also provide stored energy, and even can help your body preserve muscle. When you consume carbohydrates, your body is less likely to break down muscle in an effort to convert it to glucose. Oh, though many may think this is true, a function of carbohydrates is not to make you fat. Carbohydrates found in whole natural foods are good and can provide your body with the energy you may need to crush your day.
Fats, my favorite nutrient (yeah, I eat a lot of fat) is an essential nutrient that your body needs to survive. Fats are found in foods like nuts, seeds, dairy, meat, oil, avocados, eggs, and more. Fat is actually a really cool nutrient. It helps your body properly absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, as they are what’s called fat-soluble vitamins. Fat also plays a very important role in brain health, and also help regulate hormone function.
The question of “what should my macros be?” or “how many macronutrients should I be eating?” is a difficult question to answer because we are all so very different. Some individuals thrive on a high-carb diet. Others thrive on a high-fat diet. Some do well in the middle. It all comes down to what is best for you and what allows your health to thrive.
However, there is a general recommendation that I like to give people. If you are someone that exercises on a regular basis, eating around 1-1.4 grams of protein per pound of fat free mass is beneficial. You may also use the general recommendation of .6-1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. However, I don’t typically like recommending this, as that range will vary depending on how much body fat you carry. For example, someone who is 350 pounds at 40% body fat certainly does not need 350 grams of protein. Typically, the leaner you are, the more you may benefit from being on the higher end of that range, and the more body fat you carry, the more you may benefit from being at the low end of that range. This can get challenging to navigate, which is why I recommend sticking to the range that is based on your fat free mass.
Carbohydrates and fats are what I like to call “fillers” meaning you can fill them in with your remaining calories however you’d like. For example, let’s say you plan to eat 2,000 calories per day. Since protein contains roughly four calories per gram, protein will take up 480 calories if you plan on eating 120 grams of protein per day. This means that with the remaining 1,520 calories, you can fill in with carbohydrates and fat.
This is where a lot of trial and error comes in when understanding macros. Sure, it may be a pain to not get a direct answer on exactly how many macronutrients you should be eating, but that’s not the answer you want anyway. Taking time experimenting with different things to learn the most about your body is going to be the best guide you could ever have. So, play around with things. Take notes. See how eating certain ways affect your sleep, your workouts, and your energy levels throughout the day. Be observant and mindful. Over time, you will be able to figure out what allows you to thrive and reach your goals. I will say this, though. This is solely based on my experience as a trainer and nutrition coach, but typically I do not recommend going any lower than 50 grams of fat per day. In my opinion, 60 grams of fat and higher is a great place to be. I haven’t seen many people do well with anything lower than 50. Again, this is based on my experience with those I have coached over the years. So understand that you are unique and you will need to take the time to figure out what works best for you, your health, and your goals.
One last note. In the fitness industry especially, it is said that it doesn’t matter what you eat, as long as your reach your macronutrient goals because “macros are macros” and “calories are calories” (implying there is not difference between 10g of carbs from a twinkie or quinoa). Do not be mistaken, there is a massive difference between whole natural foods and highly processed foods. Getting a majority of your calories and nutrients from whole, natural foods is optimal for your overall health.
Does that mean you need to completely cut out junk? No, that sounds miserable. However, it does mean that getting a majority of your calories and nutrients from highly processed foods will be a detriment to your health and fitness.
So there you go. I hope this has served you in your path to better understanding macros. Thanks for reading!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam is a fitness professional, baseball fan, and cookie fanatic based in Fort Worth, Texas. After hanging up the cleats, he found a strong interest in the human body and how it performs. Since then, Adam has been transforming lives through fitness in a fun and encouraging atmosphere. As an ACE CPT and Fitness Nutrition Specialist, he is constantly moved to help people improve in all walks of life.