So you’ve heard about these things called macros? People say they’re going to go on the “macros” diet even, but what in the actual hell are macros and how can they help me achieve my health and fitness goals?
When it comes to macros, or macronutrients as they are actually called, there are three that make up most of our food. Each macro has unique functions and should comprise a different percentage of the total caloric intake depending on an individuals goals.
These three macros are protein, fats and carbohydrates and I will break them down for you here.
Protein is an essential macronutrient that is used by the body primarily to create muscle growth and muscle retention but can also be used as energy through gluconeogenesis. At the smallest level, they are called amino acids that when joined together form peptides that will make up the primary structure of the protein we ingest on a daily basis.
Without going too in depth into the structure of each protein molecule, it’s important to know that we use each of these amino acids to build new things within the body, therefore we judge a protein source based on its amino acid composition, which is why it's important to eat things like steak and other red meat in order to get the best bang for your buck (sorry vegans).
Due to the diversity of amino acids within each protein source, it’s important that we consume an array of protein sources in the diet to maximize our individual amino acid profile. This is why, although protein supplements such as whey protein powder will help, it’s always recommended to get your protein through whole food sources such as meats, poultry, seafood and dairy before relying on your daily Cliff Builder Bar to get you through the day.
When it comes to intake for individuals, it can vary depending on several factors such as overall caloric intake, body weight and composition, age and someone’s training modality. For example, the needs of an elite level bodybuilder or CrossFitter would be far different than a 300 pound overweight middle-aged male looking to lose body fat.
Most studies indicate that 0.7-1.2g/lb of body weight is preferential, however using the lean body mass of an individual for someone who is overweight can often be the more accurate measure.
For those of you looking to build muscle, know that more is not always better with protein. Through this thing called gluconeogenesis, if you go overboard on your protein, your body will actually be able to transfer this excess protein into glycogen to be used as energy. This essentially means that you will be paying far more for an energy source like chicken compared to say oatmeal when your body treats it the same way as energy. Not only that, excess amounts of protein can be hard on the gut for digestion so when you’re going over-and-above there just for THE GAINS, it does come at a cost.
Also known as tryglicerides, fats are the essential macronutrient that has several functions in the diet including a long-term energy source, hormonal production, formation of cell membranes along with nervous system support and essential fatty acids.
When it comes to the different types, it’s important to get a balance of saturated fats (beef, lamb, pork, full fat dairy etc) along with monounsaturated (nuts, avocado, egg yolks) and polyunsaturated (walnuts, mayonnaise, chia seeds) within your daily diet.
When it comes to fatty acids, this is where there is a larger emphasis on what you should be eating. Omega 3 fatty acids seem to be getting the brunt of attention these days for the sole purpose that these fatty acids are important for normal human metabolism and have anti-inflammatory effects. They help dilate blood vessels, decrease pain and reduce inflammation throughout the body. This is one of the areas where people with achy joints can definitely go to work.
When it comes to Omega-3-fatty-acids though, it’s important that you spent the time balancing them with your Omega-6-fatty-acids. Within our bodies, we lack the ability to break down Omega 6 (inflammatory fatty acids) into Omega 3’s and for this reason it is recommended we consume a diet that is balanced or closer to 1:1. Now, the way we currently eat with the way food has been produced creates us closer to a ratio of 20:1. The only way to move closer towards the 1:1 ratio is through strong food quality choices with supplementation that can help.
When it comes to intake, it’s important to know that fat carries with it more calories per gram than any other macronutrient. While carbohydrates and protein each carry 4 calories per gram, fats pack more than twice the punch at 9 calories per gram. This means that although it’s harder to overeat fat, people say, it is much more calorically dense.
Typically it’s recommended to keep fat intake between 20 and 50% to maintain your hormone profile and also energize your body. As a rule of thumb, the more you have to rely on high intensity work in your workouts, the likelihood of you needing more carbs and less fats there is in your diet. That being said, it’s entirely up to you where you want to put that in your diet.
Ahh, the fun part, carbohydrates. We all love ‘em but claim we don’t.
Without going too in depth on the different types of carbs (monosaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides) and giving you a science lesson, carbs are typically the source of energy for most diets in North America and arguably the world at large.
Imagine basically any tasty food you’ve had that isn’t meat and there’s a good chance that it had a good deal of carbs in it. Throughout the years carbs have vilified as either good one day and bad the next while our entire society has been told to eat more complex carbs and less simple ones to avoid, “getting fat.”
While I could go down the rabbit hole on that for thousands of words on end, I’ll save you the time by simply saying that neither of those terms helps quantify the micronutrient content of these carbs nor the blood sugar response from ingesting them. Like the glycemic index, it matters far more what you’re eating these carbs with than the actual carbs themselves.
This is when it comes to things like fibre which we have been told for years to consume. Have a hard time going to the washroom? Good chance you’re cutting it too low on fiber. Fiber, unlike most carbs, is indigestible meaning that it cannot be digested by the body. It comes in two forms being solvable (attracts water and dissolves in water) and insolvable (doesn’t dissolve). Soluable fiber is found in foods like oats, nuts, seeds and some fruits and vegetables while insoluable fiber is found in things like wheat bran, root vegetables and vegetable skins and help us feel more full and boost our overall gut health.
When it comes to carbohydrate intake prescription, this is where things can get kind of foggy because . . . . it depends. For an elite level athlete like Michael Phelps, he needs carbohydrates and lots of them--probably in excess of 500g per day when he’s getting ready to break world records at the Olympic Games. When designing your own prescription however, it should be noted that once you fill your intake for your two primary macronutrients, carbohydrate intake will take care of itself. Carbs are NOT an essential macronutrient and while I do think you should enjoy them in your diet, they do have to be earned and consumed in moderation as well.
Basically fill the rest of your macronutrients with your carbohydrates and don’t get lost in the minutia.
A former journalist and sports blogger, I've turned my writing prowess and love of fitness and nutrition into a personal blog where you can find anything you are looking for on the world of health, nutrition and fitness.