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The term “macros” or “macronutrients” is easily thrown around in the sports and fitness world. But what exactly are macros, 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 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, from improving your body composition to upping your athletic capabilities.
Macronutrients vs. micronutrients: what is the difference?
The food you eat basically consists of two types of nutrients:
Nutrients you need in large quantities
Nutrients you need in small quantities
While macronutrients are the proteins, carbs, and fats consumed through your diet, micronutrients are things like vitamins and minerals, which can also be found in food.
Although your body needs micros in much smaller doses compared to macros, it still needs a regular supply of things like iron, magnesium, and b12 in order to properly function.
Neglecting your micros can seriously impinge on your ability to look and feel your best.
Macros & the digestive process
Before we dive into the specifics on macronutrients, let’s first explain what happens when they enter your body.
When you eat a meal, the three macronutrients 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 it doesn’t need for energy for the production of molecules that the 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.
Why Do We Need Macronutrients?
Now that we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, let’s break down each of the three macronutrients. We’ll address what they are 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 (AAs). AAs 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 is in a constant state of 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 are no different. 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 and 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 repair and rebuild, your body needs to have a steady and ample supply of dietary protein. Without it, your body cannot maintain all the vital building and repair mechanisms that it needs.
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 protein to redistribute the amino acids to tissue that is 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 sugars for energy, and others are 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 for forming cellular energy molecules called ATP, which is the actual fuel that the cell burns in its molecular furnace.
The carbohydrates that you consume in your diet come in a variety of different types. Some are complex, meaning they are slow to break down, while others are simple and are quickly absorbed, producing a rapid response. Regardless, they are all eventually converted into glucose.
It’s really easy for the body to break down carbohydrates into glucose. When there isn’t enough glucose provided for by the diet, the system will switch to converting amino acids and fats to glucose.
When there is excess glucose, the body will attempt to store it. It stores it 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, the body converts any excess into fat. There are only 2 places to store glycogen: the muscles and the liver, and both places can only store 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 cannot make them and must instead 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-fat 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 very harmful to your health.
Saturated fats in excess are also considered bad for your health. They are typically found in meats, cheeses, and egg yolks. When eaten in excess, they 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 the Most Beneficial?
There is no one macronutrient that is the most beneficial or the most important to your diet. All 3 play an important role in the body and need to be balanced in your diet.
Macronutrients contain varying levels of calories:
- Protein contains 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram
- Fat contains 9 calories per gram
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 15% percent of your daily calories should be coming from healthy fat sources.
When it comes to weight loss, most people think of a low-carb diet, which can certainly be effective. But, you don’t want to totally eliminate carbs from your diet. You need to be taking in some carbs to keep your energy levels up and your hormones balanced.
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.
Alternative protein powders like pea and soy protein can also be effective for individuals on a plant-based diet. Vegans and vegetarians may find supplementing their diet with a plant-based protein to be an easy and effective mean of meeting their daily protein needs.
Not all protein is created equal.
New Zealand Whey Protein offers greater spikes of muscle protein synthesis, boosting muscle growth and recovery.Learn More
How to Track Your Macronutrients
By now you might be thinking “Why not just count calories?”
When it comes to changing your body composition, it’s true that it all comes down to how many calories you are taking in versus how many you are burning off.
Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain 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 fat weight.
Keeping track of your macros is so important if you are trying to achieve some type of body transformation. In order to see significant changes, we need to make sure that the amounts of protein, carbs, and fat in our daily diets reflect our 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.
A macro split 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 this 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
So 2,000 calories with a 30/20/50 macro split translates into a daily split of:
- 150 grams of protein
- 44 grams of fat
- 250 grams of carbohydrates
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): 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 if 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 carbs to fuel your performance in the gym.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you may need to reduce your carb intake to make sure that you are getting in enough protein to mitigate muscle loss.
In either case… there is not simply one macro split that works for everyone. People have 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 chart below illustrates 3 different macro splits for weight loss based on the same daily calorie goal.
The macronutrient we are focusing on adjusting is carbohydrates.
While 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 a number of studies, 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.
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.
If you are trying to lose weight, our calculator applies a 25% restriction to your TDEE score to give you a calorie recommendation for weight loss. If you are trying to gain weight, our calculator adds an additional 500 calories to your TDEE to give you an idea of how much you need to eat to bulk up.
Whether you are trying to gain, maintain or lose weight, or calculator also provides a number of different macro split recommendation (low, moderate and high carb) so that you can find the split that works best for you.
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 an important part of making sure that your goals align with what you are eating.
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.