What are macronutrients? When you are new to the journey and are trying to immerse yourself it can be pretty intimidating as it is.
Macros are macronutrients. Macronutrients are nutrients that provide calories and energy. Macro means large, so macronutrients are nutrients that are needed in large amounts. The three macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Each macronutrient provides calories but they provide different amounts. Carbs provide 4 calories per gram, protein provides 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram. If you look at a nutrition label and a product has 10 grams of carbs you know that about 40 of those calories are from carbs because 10 x 4 = 40.
It doesn’t always work out exactly but it should be close. So you’ll find quickly that channelling your middle school math teacher will be useful in the nutrition world.
Let’s tackle the biggest category first:
So carbs are used as fuel and energy. They’re mainly found in fruits, vegetables, starchy foods like greens and potatoes, beans, and those are healthy examples of carbs.
So why do carbs get a bad reputation?
Not all carbs are created equal. Without getting too detailed it is important to understand that there are simple and complex carbs and even within those categories they aren’t all the same. Simple carbs are made up of just one or two sugar molecules.
Carbs are the quickest source of energy and they are easy to digest. So table sugar, honey, syrup, candy, and fruit. That’s where it gets confusing. Most simple carbs aren’t things we want to make a bulk part of our diet but the fruit is and we shouldn’t be afraid of the sugar in fruit.
Complex carbs are made of a string of sugar molecules and those take more time to digest because of the fiber and they also offer vitamins and minerals. So what to take from this macro wise is that there are different kinds of carbs and we need both.
We want to make sure we’re getting the most food for fuel types of cards and within carbs, there are sugar and fiber which is why you see them indented beneath the cards on a nutrition label. A lot of people don’t realize that sugar and fiber are carbohydrates. Now also you do need large amounts of fiber to function properly and remember macro means large.
So a lot of times people think fiber was a macronutrient but fiber is something that your body actually can’t break down and used for energy so it doesn’t technically qualify as a macronutrient.
Protein is a part of a balanced diet. It helps with growth, immune functions, preserving lean muscle mass. It is found in meats, poultry, fish, cheese, milk. Fewer amounts in fruits and vegetables. When we eat these foods our body breaks down the protein that they contain amino acids which are essentially the building blocks of proteins.
Some of these amino acids are essential which means we need them from our diet and some are nonessential meaning our body can make them on its own. Protein from animal sources has all essential amino acids and most plant-based sources of protein do not. Most, not all.
That doesn’t mean that you need animal products to get all of the essential amino acids but it is an easier way to do it.
Fat also gets a bad rap but we do need it. After all, it is a macronutrient for a reason. We need fat for growth, development, energy. It’s actually the most concentrated source of energy, vitamins, and minerals. So this is where we get many of our micronutrients as well. Fat is found in meat, poultry, nuts, milk, oils, fish, grains.
There are 3 types of fats:
- Saturated fat
- Unsaturated fat
- Trans fat
Trans fats are the ones we want to pretty much avoid completely. Some animal products contain naturally occurring trans fat but most trans fat is formed from hydrogenated oils so baked goods, snacks, fried foods, doughs,
margarine these all often include trans fats and if it says trans fat on the label then you really want to have it not be a part of your regular diet.
Saturated fats are also found in animal products and we want to limit our intake but they are not nearly as bad as trans fats. Both trans and saturated are the fats were always hearing about that can lead to heart disease and raise cholesterol if we consume too much.
Unsaturated fats are what we always hear as healthy fats. They’re found in olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and these are shown to decrease the risk of heart disease but we still need to be aware of our overall consumption.
How much of each macro do we need?
I cannot tell you that. I can share the recommended amount which is very debatable but sharing anything else would just be my opinion which is not what this is about and different lifestyles and different diets promote different ratios.
You really have to find the one that works for you. A basic guideline and starting point would be those recommended levels. What I want you to keep in mind are those numbers that we talked about at the beginning.
So 4 calories per gram of carbs and protein 9 calories per gram of fat. So this means fat is almost double the calories per gram which is why we have consumed less of it especially if we’re consuming larger amounts of other macronutrients because at the end of the day our calorie intake does matter.
As a human, you only need a certain amount of energy in calories and that number can vary greatly by a person based on your history, fitness level, lifestyle, metabolism, genetic predisposition, but it still does matter.
All these different lifestyles can work for different people but everyone who has found success on them has some sort of balance with their macronutrients that allows them to eat that certain amount of calories.