If you’ve ever thought seriously about changing your eating habits, you’ve probably been introduced to macros before. These are the major building blocks that make up the bulk of the nutrients our bodies need to function effectively.
Macros stands for macronutrients, and along with micronutrients, these make up the bulk of what provides us with the necessary energy to thrive. Today, we’ll talk about macros, how to identify different macros, and why understanding them is so important to our long-term health.
What are Macronutrients?
All of us require nutrients to survive. To help make it easier to talk about nutrients, scientists and nutritionists divided this complex concept into two different categories. Macronutrients are nutrients that we need in large quantities. They are broken down into three categories – protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
In contrast, we need much smaller quantities of micronutrients, but this doesn’t make them any less important. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that we need in smaller quantities in order to function well. Some important micronutrients include zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, and magnesium. Macronutrients are typically measured by the gram, while micronutrients are measured by the microgram or milligram.
Both macronutrients and micronutrients cannot be created within our bodies. If we don’t get enough macronutrients, our body will start to slow down as it struggles to get the energy it needs. To help us understand macronutrients in more detail, let’s talk about each type in depth.
Protein provides the amino acids that are a central building block of all tissue in our body. This includes muscles, but also hair, nails, bones, cartilage, and more. Our body does not store protein, which means that if we want to stay healthy, we need to consume it every day.
Protein is central to many different functions, including tissue building and repair, blood oxygenation, hormone regulation, and digestion. It also helps keep us satisfied, since it takes longer to digest, giving our body a slow and steady stream of energy throughout the day.
Carbohydrates are the main fuel source that our body uses for energy. There are three different types of carbohydrates – sugar, starches, and fiber. Starches and fiber (also called complex carbs) are digested more slowly, giving our body a steady level of energy. Sugars, or simple carbs, are processed faster.
Generally, it’s a good idea to consume more complex carbs than simple carbs, since they tend to have more nutrients and help keep both digestion and cholesterol levels steady.
Fat, which is found in both animal and plant-based products, is an important macro that has gotten a bit of a bad reputation in the last decades. Many people have blamed fat for weight gain, which has led to the adoption of restrictive diets that limit fat.
However, fat contains many necessary nutrients, and should never be avoided entirely. Fat helps us maintain our energy levels, insulates our organs, and is also a critical component of nutrient absorption, and brain and nerve function.
Calculating Your Macros
When someone talks about counting or calculating macros, they’re talking about adjusting the percentage of your daily caloric intake that comes from fat, carbohydrates, and protein. For example, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends the following ratios:
45-65% of calories from carbs
20-35% of calories from fats
10-35% of calories from protein
If a person is following a low-carb or ketogenic diet, they may have macros that look more like:
5% of calories from carbs
70% of calories from fat
25% of calories from protein
That’s because of a unique process in the ketogenic diet where your body starts to derive its energy primarily from fat, rather than carbohydrates. This process is called ketosis.
Using Macros to Stay Healthy
If you’re just trying to maintain a healthy diet, it’s best to track your food intake for a few days and see what macro ratio works for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. However, if you realize that the vast majority of your caloric intake comes from one source over another, it may be time to adjust to make sure you’re getting a healthy variety of nutrients from fats, carbohydrates, and protein.