If you’re about to venture onto a new diet, one of the first things you should come to understand is all about macros.

What are they and how will they help you reach your goals?

How do macros differ from calories? And are they really that important?

Let’s go over all these details and more so that you are in-the-know when it comes to this buzzword you hear all the time.

What Are Macros?

When it comes to your diet plan, all the foods you eat will provide calories. Calories are a unit of energy that helps fuel every single reaction taking place in your body each day. We all need calories to survive.

There is nothing wrong with calories per day, it’s when we consume too many calories that we start to gain body fat.

Now, each food that contains calories also contains macronutrients and micronutrients.

Macronutrients are the energy providing nutrients and can be broken down into carbohydrates, proteins and fats. You’ve probably heard these words being tossed around from time to time.

Micronutrients on the other hand don’t provide calories and are all the vitamins and minerals that you consume on a day to day basis.

They call them micronutrients because you only take in small amounts of them (often times, less than one gram per day), while macronutrients are called as such because you take in much larger quantities.

In order for you to stay well and healthy, you should be consuming all the macronutrients to some degree, although they have their varying requirements.

Let’s look further at the macronutrients now so you can put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Protein

Protein is the only one of the macronutrients to have firm recommended intake guidelines. Protein is the macronutrient that provides the structural building blocks that help your body repair and rebuild tissue cells, so as you can imagine, is pretty important to your overall success.

Those who aren’t getting enough protein in their daily diet often find they fail to recover between workout sessions, may suffer from lean muscle mass loss, and may also notice their immune system is getting weaker and weaker as well.

Whenever you eat protein rich food, it will break down into what’s called amino acids, some of which can be created within the body from other foods that you are eating.

Nine of these amino acids however are essential, meaning you must consume them in specific food sources in order to not fall deficient.

These amino acids include:

  • histiidine
  • isoleucine
  • leucine
  • lysine
  • methionine
  • phenylalanine
  • threonine
  • tryptophan
  • valine

You can find protein in foods such as chicken, turkey, lean beef, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy products, whey protein powder, as well as in vegetarian based sources such as beans and lentils and soy based foods.

Keep in mind that vegetarian protein sources typically also contain relatively high amounts of carbohydrates and/or dietary fats as well. So you have to factor those into your diet plan also.

When you are eating a food, you are rarely ever getting 100% of one single macronutrient but typically get the macronutrients in combination with each other.

How much protein do you need?

Generally speaking it’s a good idea to get in at least 0.7-0.8 grams per pound of body weight if you are trying to maintain your body weight.

If you are on a reduced calorie diet, you’ll want to take in a bit more to preserve lean muscle mass, so you should bump this up to 0.8-1.2 grams instead.

Keep in mind that every gram of protein you eat contains four calories.

Carbohydrates

Next you have carbohydrates.

This is the energy providing nutrient in your body and is what will help you carry out all your day to day tasks. It also supplies dietary fiber, which is a nutrient that helps add bulk to your diet and moves food and waste through your system properly.

Dietary fiber also helps to reduce cholesterol levels and slows down the release of carbohydrates into the blood stream, so can help you control blood glucose levels better.

Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrates, however unlike regular carbohydrates that contain four calories per gram, dietary fiber contains just two.

There are different types of carbohydrates:

  • simple carbohydrates
  • complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and break down and have a higher overall dietary fiber content, therefore they are going to be ideal for watching your body weight.

Simple carbohydrates on the other hand break down rapidly and are going to be far more connected to weight gain. They also don’t provide as much satiety, so it’s easy for people to overeat on them.

Examples of complex carbohydrates include:

Examples of simple carbohydrates include:

Many people in their diet will count net carbs, which is essentially only those carbs that impact blood glucose levels [1]. To get this, you subject the total fiber content from the total carb content and now you have your net carb balance.

Carbohydrates are the only nutrient that doesn’t have firm recommendations on how many you need. This is why we can see diets like the keto diet taking your intake down very low to the 5% of total calories range, which for most people is just 15-20 net grams per day.

How many you eat is up to you but you must note that it must balance out with your fat intake, which we’ll discuss next.

Related: Carbs On The Ketogenic Diet: How Much Is Too Much?

Dietary Fats

Finally, dietary fat is another energy providing nutrient for the body.

While carbs are generally the type of fuel your body runs most naturally on, you can train your body to run off fats, as you do in the ketogenic diet.

When you do, you’ll often come to find that it runs better than ever and you feel great using fat as fuel.

Fats are also important for regulating your hormones as well, so that’s another important role they provide in the body [2].

They also help with the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins – vitamin A, D, E and K, so it’s important that you are taking in enough so you don’t fall deficient.

One key difference between fats and carbohydrates you should note however is that fats contain 9 calories per gram compared to just the 4 that carbohydrates provide.

This said, fats are excellent for controlling hunger levels and keeping your blood glucose levels stable, so you’ll likely find that after eating them, you maintain excellent control over your food intake for hours ahead.

How many fats you consume depends on your carbohydrate intake. Since protein is a set requirement, the remainder of your calories will go towards carbs and fats, so the more carbs you eat, the fewer fats you consume and vice versa.

So there you have the main points to know and remember about macros. If you can master macros, you are well on your way to mastering your diet plan.

If you’re curious of how to calculate your macros, check out our easy-to-use keto macro calculator!

References:

  1. Rothman, Russell L., et al. “Patient understanding of food labels: the role of literacy and numeracy.” American journal of preventive medicine 31.5 (2006): 391-398
  2. Nagata, Chisato, et al. “Fat intake is associated with serum estrogen and androgen concentrations in postmenopausal Japanese women.” The Journal of nutrition 135.12 (2005): 2862-2865
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Shannon Clark holds a degree in Exercise Science from the University of Alberta, where she specialized in Sports Performance and Psychology. In addition to her degree, she is an AFLCA certified personal trainer and has been working in the field for over 12 years now, helping others lose weight, build muscle, and improve their athletic performance. She’s worked with people of all ages and helped them find the right fitness path for themselves. She is a regular contributor to Bodybuilding.com and has also contributed well over 400 articles to a variety of different websites dedicated towards muscle building and athletic performance. For more about her, find her at ShannonClarkFitness.com.

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