You’ve probably heard the term “macros” or “tracking macros”, etc. It’s become quite popular as of late, in the diet and nutrition world. I’m not going to talk about tracking macros in this post…that’s a blog post for another time…but I want to talk about the basics of what macros are and more importantly, why each of them is important and how much you need of each.
Macro is short for macronutrient. There are three macronutrients: carbohydrate, fat and protein. They’re what make up our diet and fuel our bodies. All foods are made up one or more macronutrients and each macronutrient serves a different function. We need all three but in different amounts.
So let’s talk about what each macronutrient does, why it’s important and how much we need of them each day.
Carbs have kind of been getting a bad rap lately but they shouldn’t. They’re so important. Carbs are what provide our body with energy. When we eat carbs (found in foods like fruit, bread, rice, pasta, milk, yogurt and some veggies) they are turned into glucose in our body and the glucose fuels our activities throughout the day. Did you know you actually need at least 130 grams of carbs per day in order to fuel your brain properly? Yep! That’s why on “low carb” diets people often feel “foggy” or like they can’t think as clearly. Your brain needs those carbs to think and work like it’s supposed to! If you’re consuming too many carbs (and calories) they will be stored as fat, so of course you don’t want to over-do it and cutting back on carbs if you’re trying to lose weight can be effective but remember to get at least that 130 grams per day (which really isn’t that many). Now if you’ve heard of the “keto” diet you are probably thinking “what the heck?!” those people eat way less carbs than that…and you’d be right, they do. I won’t get into that right now…again, a post for another time. If you do have specific questions about it, shoot me a message over on my contact page. If you’re an active person and exercise or perform physical activity regularly you need extra carbs to fuel those activities. So don’t cut back too much on carbs, just choose the RIGHT ones. Focus on carbs that provide fiber and beneficial vitamins and minerals…foods like whole fruits, whole grain breads and pastas, milk and yogurt and limit the “simple carbohydrates” like cookies, chips, candy and other sweets. There is always room in your diet for those foods…but in moderation! It’s recommended that overall about 45-65% of your total calories come from carbohydrates (less than 10% of those from added sugars). On average I’d say shoot for ~50%, so about half of your calories would be coming from carbs each day. Again, focus on those complex carbs!
Fats used to be considered the “bad” food but thanks to recent research we’ve discovered fats are not the enemy! YAY! You just need to choose the right fats and again, in the right amount. Fats do a lot for us. Like carbs, they also provide energy but in a more concentrated form because they supply 9 calories per gram where carbs and protein provide only 4 calories per gram. They also help to form the structure of cells and tissues, surround and protect our vital organs and carry fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) in the body as well as help with absorbing these vitamins. We need fat but in a smaller amount. The recommendation is that about 20-35% of your calories each day come from fat (less than 10% from saturated fat). There are different kinds of fat (I could go into a lot of detail…we’ll do that sometime…but not today). The short version is that there are fats that are “healthy” fats and not-so-healthy fats. Mono- and Polyunsaturated fats are good for us. They’re found in foods like avocados, olive oil and nuts and they can help decrease your LDL (bad cholesterol) while increasing your HLD (good cholesterol) to protect against heart disease. Because of their structure, these unsaturated fats don’t “stack up” as well – so they aren’t clogging our arteries. However, saturated fats DO and if eaten in excess can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. So stick to the unsaturated fats for the most part (found in: olive oil, fish, avocados, nuts and nut butters, flax seeds) and limit saturated fats (found in: red meat, butter, coconut oil, many snack foods and desserts like pizza and ice cream).
We know protein is important in helping us build muscle. It also helps in creating hormones and enzymes that help with various functions in our bodies, transports and stores molecules, forms antibodies to help protect us against illness and helps with repairing and building body tissue. Recommendations for protein are that it make up about 10-35% of daily calorie intake. Most people won’t have a problem getting enough protein, it’s pretty prevalent in our diet but if you are working out and trying to build muscle this is a group you definitely do want to focus on. Most people need about 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight, if you’re trying to build muscle you may want to increase that to about 1 g per kg. There are 2.2 pounds per kg so for example – if you weigh 150 pounds, that means you weight about 68 kg (150 / 2.2 = 68.1) so you’d need about 55- 68 grams of protein per day, I’d aim for the higher end of this one. If you consume a lot more than this it likely won’t be harmful (in some extreme cases it can cause kidney damage, so be careful with overdoing it too much) but usually the excess protein that your body doesn’t use will be excreted in your urine. Focus on getting protein from lean meats like chicken and fish, nuts, eggs, legumes, milk, yogurt (especially high protein greek yogurt). Although I promote getting most of your nutrients from “real foods”, if you are struggling to get enough protein, protein powders and protein bars can be a big help here.
So there you have it. That’s your breakdown of macronutrients. Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet and getting enough of each macronutrient so that your body can function properly and so that you can provide it with adequate fuel so you can get out there and be active!