What are Macros?
Have you heard of “macro” tracking? You may be tracking your macros without even realizing it. Are you using a fitness/calorie tracker? They likely track macros! With that said, tracking calories and tracking macros are very different. Tracking only calories without paying attention to the break down of nutrients will result in weight loss if you’re in a calorie deficit. However, the weight loss could potentially be in the form of muscle and fat. Resulting in less fat loss and more muscle loss if you aren’t balancing macros appropriately. Ensuring you have the right ratio of macros can help maintain muscle while losing fat.
“Macros” is short for macronutrients. Essentially, they are the nutrients in our food that provide calories. There are three categories: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Each macronutrient serves a different purpose for the body’s health and provide fuel. Foods in their least processed form contain a combination of two or three of the macronutrients while containing a higher amount of just one. During processing, foods often lose nutrients, including macronutrients, making them less calories per gram but also less nutrient-dense (i.e., less vitamins and minerals).
Amino acids are the building blocks that make up proteins. Proteins make up our muscles; therefore, it is essential to consume enough protein in your diet for muscle growth & maintenance. Proteins have additional functions as well, providing the makeup for enzymes, hormones, immunoproteins, cell transporters, cell membranes, and metalloproteins (storage for minerals like copper, iron, and zinc).
Enzymes help us perform biochemical reactions (absorb nutrients & create energy from food); they are necessary for sustaining life. Hormones are messengers that help to regulate metabolic processes, often by promoting enzyme activity. Proteins also make up our immune system. Immunoproteins (immunoglobulins or antibodies) help fight off disease-causing pathogens.
I hope you now see why health-conscious individuals often feel like protein-pushers!
Here are some protein-rich foods:
- Meat (beef, pork, lamb)
- Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck)
- Eggs (the whites contain most of the protein)
- Fish (salmon, herring, cod)
- Seafood (shrimp, scallops, oysters)
- Dairy (milk, Greek yogurt, cheese)
- Beans (lentil, pinto, garbanzo, soy-tempeh & tofu)
- Seeds (sunflower, chia, hemp, pumpkin)
- Nuts (almond, pistachio, cashew)-contain more fat than protein
Fats in the science world are called lipids; they are made up of fatty acids. Fat has gotten a bad rap, especially a few decades ago. Previously, it was demonized due to it being calorie dense, meaning fats have a higher calorie content per gram than protein and carbohydrates. The higher calorie content is due to their chemical structure.
- Protein = 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram
- Fat = 9 calories per gram
If fats are completely avoided in the diet, a person is susceptible to essential fatty acid deficiency. Essential fatty acid deficiency is characterized by stunted growth, dermatitis, kidney lesions, and early death. Pretty serious. The two essential fatty acids (not essential oils) are linoleic (omega-6 fatty acids) and alpha-linolenic (omega-3 fatty acids). Most Americans consume enough omega-6 fatty acids but not enough omega-3 fatty acids. Having a higher amount of omega-6’s than omega-3’s in the diet can be pro-inflammatory. What does this mean? It can cause inflammation in the body.
Therefore, you want to balance omega-3 rich foods and omega-6 rich foods.
Today carbohydrates seem to be public enemy number one, despite being our primary source of fuel. Ever gone on a low/no carb diet and wondered why you had no energy? You had no glycogen stores to provide that energy! Having glycogen stores from consuming carbohydrates is extremely important for those who are physically active.
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple (refined) and complex. Our bodies digest these carbohydrates very differently. Complex carbohydrates are found in their most whole form in nature and contain fiber. A simple carbohydrate is the product of processing foods. The processing of foods makes them quicker to digest, resulting in increased blood sugar levels and insulin response. An example of processing is stripping down the outer layer of brown rice to produce white rice. In the process you lose fiber, protein, fat, and micronutrients in the food.
- Whole grain = bran, germ, & endosperm
- Examples: whole wheat, brown rice, barley, oats, whole wheat pasta, farro, buckwheat, corn
- Refined grain = endosperm
- Examples: white rice, white bread, couscous, white pasta, all purpose flour, cream of wheat
What is the right Macro balance for you?
Nutrient needs differ from person to person. Factors like height, weight, muscle mass, age, physical activity level, and nutrition goals will change nutrient needs. Therefore, there’s no one perfect balance for all. There are general recommendations provided for an average adult by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) in the portions of a plate rather than specific macronutrient ratios:
Stay tuned to learn more about macros!
Next up: All things tracking macros!