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The term “macros”, which is short for macronutrients, is regularly thrown around in the sports and fitness world these days. But what are macronutrients exactly, and why does everyone in the fitness community seem to be obsessed with them?
What Are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients are substances that our bodies require in relatively large amounts in order to properly function. They come in three basic forms -- protein, carbohydrates, and fat -- and are obtained through the foods we eat in our diets.
All macronutrients contain calories, which are our body's’ primary energy source. Each macro, however, performs specific and unique functions within the body. Understanding how they fit into your diet is crucial for everything from improving your body composition to enhancing your athletic capabilities.
Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients
The foods you eat consist of two types of nutrients:
Nutrients you need in large quantities
Nutrients you need in small quantities
While the term macronutrients refers to the protein, carbs, and fat found in your diet, vitamins and minerals are known as micronutrients and they also come from the food you eat.
Although your body needs micronutrients in much smaller doses compared to macros, it still needs a regular supply of things like iron, magnesium, and b12 in order to function properly.
Neglecting your micronutrients can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which can seriously impinge on your ability to look and feel your best.
Macros & the digestive process
When you eat a meal, all three macronutrients eventually enter your stomach where chemical digestion occurs. This means enzymes and acids begin to break down the macros into smaller molecules that the rest of your digestive system can absorb.
When it comes to digesting macronutrients, your body has a pretty simple philosophy:
“use it or store it”
What this essentially means is that your body has a two-step process:
use everything you consume for the production of energy.
use what's not needed for energy in the production of molecules that your cells need.
If your body has used up all of the energy it needs to keep itself up and running and has met all of its cellular needs, it then converts everything that’s leftover into other types of molecules and stores them for later use -- often in the form of fat.
What do Macronutrients do?
Now that we've talked a little bit about macronutrients on a broad level, let’s dive into some more detail, focusing on what it is exactly that each type does and why your body needs them.
Protein serves a number of vital functions within the body including supporting cellular function and repairing tissue. However, protein is best known for its close association with the muscle-building process.
Our bodies break down protein from our diets into amino acids, which are circulated in the bloodstream and dispersed to all the cells in the body for absorption and use.
The body is a regenerative system; it's constantly shifting between building tissues, breaking them down, and then rebuilding them again.
Kind of like your skin and hair, which are constantly shedding and forming again, your muscles go through a similar process. They are constantly fluctuating between states of muscle protein breakdown (MPB) and muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
Physical activity -- especially intense exercise -- causes damage to your muscle tissue, which sets off a signaling event in your body to repair and rebuild damaged proteins.
This is where your diet comes into play. In order to supply your muscles with the nutrients they need to recover, you need to have a steady and ample supply of dietary protein. Without it, your body can't maintain all the vital mechanisms it needs to rebuild and repair.
If you have an inadequate protein intake, your body will turn on itself for the nutrients it needs. It will start to break down other existing proteins and redistribute the amino acids to tissues that are most in need.
On the flip side, your body cannot store excess amino acids. Instead, surplus AAs are converted into other molecules for storage. Some may be converted into glucose for energy, while others are ultimately converted into fat.
Best Sources of Healthy Protein
Carbohydrates are our body's primary fuel source. They provide us with energy in the form of glucose. Your cells need glucose to form energy molecules known as ATP, which are the actual fuel your cells burn.
The carbohydrates you consume in your diet come in a couple of different forms. Some are slow to break down (complex carbs), while others (simple carbs) are quickly absorbed, producing a rapid response. Regardless of how quickly or slowly they're broken down, all carbs are eventually converted into glucose.
It’s really easy for your body to break down carbohydrates into glucose. When there isn’t enough glucose in your diet, however, your body is also capable of converting amino acids and fats into glucose.
When your body has an excess amount of glucose, it will attempt to store it. It does so by forming glycogen, a complex molecule that basically consists of a bunch of glucose molecules all attached and folded together. Our bodies can rapidly reconvert glycogen back into glucose.
When the glycogen tank is full, your body converts any excess amounts into fat. There are only two places to store glycogen -- the muscles and the liver -- and both places can only hold a relatively small amount.
Best Sources of Healthy Carbs
|Fruits||Oats & Grains||Vegetables|
|Apple||Brown Rice||Sweet Potatoes|
While fat tends to get a bad rap, it actually plays a number of important roles within your body. In fact, your body wouldn’t be able to function at all without an adequate supply of dietary fat.
Certain fats are essential, meaning that your body can't make them on its own and instead must obtain them from food. Essential fats are critical for everything from supporting the brain and nervous system to promoting healthy hormone production. Fats also help your body to absorb vitamins and minerals.
Good Fats vs. Bad Fats
There are good dietary fats and there are bad dietary fats. The bad fats are trans-fats and saturated fats. Trans-fats are often found in processed foods, meaning foods that do not come in their natural form. In excess, trans-fat can be harmful to your health in a multitude of different ways.
Saturated fats are also considered bad for your health when consumed in excess. They're typically found in things like meats, cheeses, and egg yolks. Consuming too much of them can be detrimental to your cardiovascular health.
Unsaturated fats are generally considered the good ones. The term essential fats refers to Omega fatty acids, which are a type of polyunsaturated fat. There are several different types of Omega fatty acids including Omega-3, Omega-6, and Omega-9.
Best Sources of Healthy Fat
|Almonds||Avocado Oil||Chia Seeds|
Is One Macronutrient More Important Than the Others?
There is no one macronutrient that's most beneficial or most important. All three play an important role in the body and need to be balanced in your diet.
Balanced macronutrients look slightly different for everyone, but the main point is that you don’t want to drastically reduce or totally eliminate any macronutrient from your diet.
For instance, fat is by far to most feared macronutrient and many have experimented at one time another with extreme low-fat diets. But your body needs fat to support a number of internal processes. At least 20% percent of your daily calories should be coming from healthy fat sources.
What Are Macronutrient Supplements?
Sometimes getting in a balanced supply of macronutrients can be difficult, especially for those with hectic schedules. However, supplementation can be an effective means of providing your body with the nutrients it needs.
Supplements like mass gainers can be an easy way to up your daily carbohydrates for anyone who is having trouble eating extra calories/gaining weight.
Protein powders like whey protein can also be an effective way of meeting your daily protein requirements, especially for individuals with training goals that require high protein intakes.
Not all protein is created equal.
Grass-Fed Ultra Whey offers greater spikes of muscle protein synthesis, boosting muscle growth and recovery.Learn More
While not quite as effective as whey, alternative protein powders like pea and soy protein can still be beneficial for individuals on a plant-based diet. Vegans and others who can't or don't eat dairy may find supplementing with a plant-based protein to be an easy and effective mean of meeting their daily protein needs.
How to Track Your Macronutrients
When it comes to changing your body composition, it’s true that it all comes down to how many calories you're taking in versus how many you're burning off.
But no matter whether your goal is to gain, lose, or simply to maintain your current weight, achieving your goal depends on supplying your body with a sufficient amount of each macronutrient.
Too little protein and you might lose muscle, too few carbs and you might have no energy. Too much of either and you might gain body fat.
Keeping track of your macros is especially important if you are trying to achieve some type of body transformation. In order to see significant changes, you'll need to make sure that the amounts of protein, carbs, and fat in your daily diets reflect your goals.
⫸Use a Macro Split to meet your goals
The easiest way to meet your body's macronutrient needs is to apply a macro split to your diet, which means allotting a specific amount of calories per day to each macronutrient in your diet. It is generally expressed in percentages of your daily caloric intake.
A macro split of 30/20/50 means:
- 30% of your calories are coming from proteins
- 20% are coming from fats
- 50% are coming from carbohydrates
How does the math work?
Let’s say you are consuming a diet of 2,000 calories per day and applying a 30/20/50 macro split.
Protein: 2,000 x .30 = 600 cal.
Fat: 2,000 x .20 = 400 cal.
Carbs: 2,000 x .50 = 1,000 cal.
Protein: 600 ÷ 4 = 150g
Fat: 400 ÷ 9 = 44g
Carbs: 1,000 ÷ 4 = 250g
⫸Figuring out Your Macro Requirements
In order to figure out how many of each macronutrient you should be consuming, you need to know what your daily caloric needs are.
The easiest way to find your daily caloric need is to calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), which is an estimate of how many calories your body burns off in a day. If you are not interested in doing the math by hand, you can easily use an online TDEE calculator.
Using TDEE to cut fat
Once you know your TDEE, you can adjust your calories based on whether you want to lose or gain weight. A 10-35% calorie reduction is the ideal range for cutting fat.
For example, let’s say your body burns 2,000 calories per day. A 25% reduction looks like this:
2,000 x .25 = 500 cal.
2,000 – 500 = 1,500 cal.
Using TDEE to gain weight
In order to gain weight, a common recommendation is to add 500 calories on top of what your body burns off in a day. So, if you need 2,000 calories per day to maintain your weight, you add 500 to get a total of 2,500 calories per day.
⫸Adjusting Your Macros To Reflect Your Goals
The way in which you chose to divvy up your macros should reflect your training goals. Different goals may require different macronutrient splits in order to produce the results you’re after.
If you are trying to build size and strength, you need to make sure that you are taking in plenty of protein to support the muscle-building process.
If you’re trying to lose weight, on the other hand, you may need to reduce your carb intake to maximize your fat-burning potential.
In either case, there is no one macro split that's going to work best for everyone. People have ultimately found success using a wide variety of different macro splits.
The key lies in understanding the fundamentals and then tweaking the small things until you find what works best for you.
Macro splits based on daily calorie goals
The following chart illustrates 3 different macro splits for weight loss based on the same daily calorie goal. The macronutrient we're focusing on adjusting is carbohydrates.
Although some people may find a high-carb diet to be effective for weight loss, others might have trouble losing weight in a moderately restricted diet where 50% or more of their calories are coming from carbs.
While dialing in your daily carb and fat requirements may take some experimentation, figuring out your daily protein intake is relatively simple.
According to the National Institute of Health, somewhere between 10% to 35% percent of your daily calories should come from protein.
If your goal is to build muscle, it is a good idea to go with the higher end of this recommendation. Research shows that somewhere between 1.0 and 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight is the ideal range for building muscle.
What does the math look like for this?
Let’s say you weight 180 pounds and are shooting for 2,000 calories a day. If you go with 1.0 g of protein per pound of body weight, that’s 180 grams of protein per day.
180 x 4 = 720 cal.
2000 - 720 = 1,280 cal.
That means 720 of your calories are coming from protein, leaving you with 1,280 calories to divide amongst carbs and fat.
⫸Use a Macro Calculator
If all of the math involved in calculating your macros doesn’t exactly have you jumping for joy, no need to worry. Using our TDEE and Macro Calculator is an easy way to estimate your nutritional needs.
Simply input a few variables like your age, gender, height, weight and, activity level, and the calculator gives you an estimate of how many calories you burn off in a day at your current weight.
From there you can get calorie and macro split recommendations based on whether you are trying to lose, gain or maintain weight.
Macronutrients are the calorie providing substances that we consume in relatively large quantities in our daily diets. In order to look and feel our best, we need to be consuming a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat in our diets.
Each macronutrient plays a unique and vital role in the body. Understanding how each fits into your diet is central to aligning what you're eating with your goals, whatever they may be.
In order to figure out the macro split that works best for you, you need to first figure out your TDEE. Once you know that, you can manipulate your calories and macros to reflect your goals.