Macros, Macros, Macros!
That’s a word you might hear if you frequent a gym filled with serious goal-getters in the health and fitness industry.
But what the heck even ARE they?
How is one little word getting so much attention when it comes to getting fit, losing weight, or reaching your health goals?
Why are people raving about how macros help you lose weight while simultaneously shoving cookie dough-flavored Poptarts into their mouths?
I am going to tell you what I wish I’d known years ago.
1: What does “macros” even mean?
“Macros” stand for “macronutrients”, which are simply ‘substances required in large amounts by living organisms’.
So for humans, this means that macronutrients are the types of food required in large amounts in our diets that give us energy to perform our daily tasks. Without consuming macronutrients, we would not be able to survive.
Now you might be asking, “Don’t calories give you energy and that’s what you have to consume?”
Yep. You’re so right.
Here’s where some of you may not have made the connection yet. ALL calories you consume come from macronutrients.
So, each macronutrient we eat has a specific caloric value. Neat, right?
There are three (okay.. I will begrudgingly say there are four) macronutrients in the human diet:
- And the reluctant fourth is alcohol (*sigh*)
Alcohol is like that friend that shows up to all your parties uninvited, and no one really likes them but they’re still around shotgunning beers alone in the kitchen …
The reason I have to include alcohol in this discussion is because, although it’s an unofficial fourth macronutrient, it DOES supply us with energy in the form of calories. And no matter how much I don’t like it, I also cannot ignore it like the weird half-sibling in the attic.
Keeping track of your macronutrient intake is essentially like counting your calories, except you’re more focused on the ratios of fat, protein, and carbs going into your body than if all you did was track calories.
But, you may ask, why is this so important? Isn’t it easier to just track calories?
Good Question. While controlling your overall caloric intake is key to a healthy life, you want to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of the three main macronutrients in your diet, especially if you have any kind of weight-loss, performance, or physique goal.
Let’s discuss why they’re each individually important.
2: Let’s break down each macronutrient.
Protein helps you build and maintain muscle mass. It has been shown to preserve lean body mass when both obese people and athletes diet, as well as it has been shown to improve overall body composition and aid in satiety. It has also been shown to require more energy to digest than the other macronutrients.
Your protein requirements depend on your goals, age, gender, height, and current weight, but generally range between 0.8 to 2.5 grams per kg of bodyweight. If you are an athlete and/or or weightlifter, your protein needs will be higher.
Foods high in protein include (but not limited to) meats, eggs, lean dairy products (like greek yogurt and cottage cheese), some grains, and protein powders.
* Protein provides 4 calories of energy per gram. *
Fats are essential to proper health, but they’re snuck into a lot of “junk” or deep-fried foods. This tends to give fats a bad reputation among the public, but our bodies require them in moderate amounts. They aid in brain function, hormone regulation, some vitamin and mineral absorption, digestion of other foods, and help to insulate your organs.
Ideal amounts of fat in your diet will range between 15-25% of your total energy intake (pending you aren’t on a paleo or keto diet) based on your health goals.
Foods high in fats include (but aren’t limited to) oils, butters, nuts, fatty meats like salmon, some soy products, and avocado.
* Fat provides 9 calories of energy per gram. *
They are our bodies’ main source of energy and fuel as they are used most easily for energy. Carbohydrates are stored and used in almost every part of our bodies, including the brain, organs, muscles, blood, and even our nervous system. It is stored as its fundamental compound of glucose (a single molecule) or glycogen (a long chain of glucose stuck together).
SUGAR is a carbohydrate. So is FIBER.
Technically speaking, people can survive on very low levels of carbohydrates, but this is difficult to maintain long-term and can result in some nasty moods and possible nutrient deficiencies. Since adequate protein and fat is essential to the function of our bodies, it is usually advisable to calculate them first and leaving carbohydrates until last, so they can take up the remaining calories left over from the other two macronutrients.
Foods high in carbohydrates tend to be the ones you crave the most (especially for females) including (but not limited to) fruits, vegetables, breads and grain products, pasta, oats, cereals, candy, soft drinks, baked goods, and some condiments like BBQ sauce.
* MOST carbohydrates will provide us with 4 calories of energy per gram. Fiber will yield 0.5-2 calories per gram. *
While begrudgingly included as the fourth nutrient (since it does provide us with “energy” in the form of calories when consumed), it is technically not important and (very) not essential to the diet and overall health. Unless you’re trying to work up the courage to talk to an attractive stranger at a bar or stand up to your boss at work, it’s really not necessary to consume.
Ideally, you shouldn’t have to drink ANY alcohol in your diet if you have the balls to do your courageous acts sober, but moderation here is key if it must be done. Be aware that heavy consumption of acohol takes a toll on the liver, kidneys, pancreas, brain, heart, blood pressure, and even your immune system.
Food products high in alcohol include (but are not limited to) beer, wine, tequila, and mouthwash (my personal favourite).
* Alcohol provides 7 calories of energy per gram. *
3: Now let’s put that knowledge into dietary terms.
I’ve given you all this information and you’re probably wondering what the heck you do with it now…
Here’s the relationship between macronutrients and calories (In case you haven’t already figured it out, you smart cookie [pun very intended]).
Let’s do what almost all of you dreaded doing in school: Math!
Don’t worry, if you’ve read this far you’re more than capable of adding together a few numbers.
So I’ve already stated above that:
- One gram of protein yields 4 calories
- One gram of fat yields 9 calories
- One gram of carbohydrates yields 4 calories (pending fiber)
(We are going to currently ignore alcohol because it’s not something I think anyone should include in their daily intake… if you MUST, though, I urge you to contact AA. )
Let’s look at a nutrition label:
So 63 [from fat] + 128 [from carbs] + 28 [from protein] = 219 total calories. That’s pretty close to the 210 calories listed on the label!
If you do the math on more nutrition labels, you’ll notice that your calculated calories probably don’t match up to what the label indicates. Food companies are allowed to round to the nearest multiple of 10, which is why solely tracking calories may not be accurate as calculating what macronutrients are actually in the foods.
Read my article on interpretting nutrition labels for more help with them.
So now that I’ve given you all the basic knowledge of macronutrients and their relationship to the foods you eat, how do you put it all together?
So, now you know that macronutrients have energy (calories per gram), and the specific amounts of each that you need to eat in a day is determined by your individual goals, activities, and metabolic rate.
Since proteins, fats, and carbohydrates (ugh.. and yes, alcohol too) are the only sources of “calories” in our diet, we then must consume a specific number of each macronutrient (in grams) to reach our caloric goals.
Everyone will have a different caloric outline, but there are a few reliable equations out there that allow us to find out what our general caloric intake is based on our height, age, weight, gender, and activity levels.
Now, what are your goals?
Think about it. If you already have your answer keep on reading.
To put it simply:
- If you want to lose weight, you need to consume less energy than you burn off
- If you want to gain weight, you need to consume more energy than you burn off
- And if you want to maintain your weight and keep on truckin’, you need to consume the same amount of energy you burn off.
Does this mean I can eat pop tarts and pizza all day and still hit my macros?
Well, yes and no. I always preach moderation and balance, meaning if you want a treat, then fit it into your macros! But you CANNOT IGNORE micronutrients or fiber intake, or your health is going to suffer. Macronutrients should be thought of as a form of flexible dieting instead of a free pass to eat donuts for every meal.
It’s no secret that eating whole foods (aka “healthy” foods) will provide you with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants you need to:
1.) increase your energy throughout the day
2.) help prevent aging and skin problems
3.) potentially help prevent diseases and some cancers
Whole foods tend to have higher volume and higher levels of satiety as well, so that bowl of oatmeal will keep you satisfied longer than a solitary poptart will. With a proper macronutrient plan, you will also be given a fiber goal to hit every day. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to survive solely on “junk” foods AND hit your fiber goals for the day, as it needs to come mainly from whole foods like grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Now that you know what macronutrients are, and how each one (besides alcohol) is important to your physique, fitness, and overall health goals (and now you know how to give them a caloric value!), you can make an informed decision for yourself if tracking your macronutrient intake is a good idea for you or not.
Just remember, it may take a few weeks to learn the ins-and-outs of counting your macros. You will make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. You may get frustrates, but the key is patience, practice, and not being too hard on yourself. The more you do it, the easier it will get!
Being able to track your macronutrient intake doesn’t give you a free pass to eat junk 24/7- but it will allow you to indulge occasionally when you want to- pending it fits into your daily macronutrient allowance!
Check out TMR’s Other Posts!
Here’s my Top NUTRITION TRACKING APPS of 2017
FIBER facts (it’s really THAT important)
The skinny on SUGAR (NEW)
The research is out on FAD DIETS (coming soon)
Here’s My Story
©2017 The Macro Revolution
The Macro Revolution is not a physician or registered dietician. This website, the information disclosed on it and all of its contents are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any medical health problems. It should not be used in replace of advise from a medical physician. Always consult your doctor, physician, or qualified medical health professional for health matters.