What are “Macros”?
Understanding nutrition is key to relearning how to approach food. We are eating to nourish and fuel our bodies, right? So, we’re going to start with a big picture view of macronutrients and micronutrients.
“Macronutrients” and “micronutrients.” What are they? All foods are made up of three macronutrients – carbs, proteins, and fats. They provide your body energy in the form of calories and it’s important to get a healthy balance of all three for our bodies to function properly. Micronutrients are different – they’re the vitamins and minerals we get from food. Eating nutrient dense foods like animal products, fruits, and veggies are the best way to get those micronutrients.
When you hear the phrase ‘tracking macros’, it is imputing the number of grams you’re eating of each of these per day.
As shown in the image above, some foods are made up of mostly one macronutrient, but many foods are a mix of several or all.
Each macronutrient provides a set number of calories per gram:
Protein: 4 calories per gram Carbohydrate: 4 calories per gram Fat: 9 calories per gram
We use this information to calculate the calories in food. For example, an average sized egg has 6 grams of protein, and 6 grams of fat. 1 gram of protein = 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat = 9 calories. So an average egg = 78 calories.
Some foods are primarily one macronutrient such as coconut oil which is made up of fat from coconuts. Beans, on the other hand, are made up of mostly carbohydrates and a small amount of protein. Let’s discuss these further and dive into why each of the three macronutrients plays an important role in our diet.
Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein, and your body needs them to break down food. Amino acids are broken down into two categories, “Essential Amino Acids” and “Non-essential Amino Acids.” Essential Amino acids must come from your diet. The title “Non-essential Amino Acids” sounds a little misleading. Your body definitely needs them. The difference is that your body can make Non-essential Amino Acids by modifying other excess amino acids but cannot make Essential Amino Acids. Look for variety when choosing protein sources to ensure you’re getting all of your essential amino acids. If a food source supplies all of the essential amino acids in appropriate ratios, it’s called a complete protein; alternatively, if a food source is low or lacking in one or more essential amino acids, it’s called an incomplete protein.
In addition to building and repairing muscles, protein has a significant effect on satiety (the feeling of fullness). Individuals seeking fat loss, will benefit from the satiating properties of protein; they will help you to feel full and energized throughout the day.
Eating a high protein diet as this is critical to maximize muscle retention during any calorie deficit phase. A high protein diet saves about 15% more lean mass compared to other popular dieting strategies (PMC6315740).
Carbs are necessary for optimal metabolic function. Carbohydrates, or “carbs” as they are commonly called, are the chief source of energy for all bodily functions and muscle exertion. Specific organs, like your brain, need glucose in order to function properly. Additionally, carbs help regulate hormones, digestion, and utilization of protein and fat.
Select mostly whole foods rich in carbohydrates. These include fruits, root vegetables, squashes, whole grains, and leafy greens. These foods will provide both complex and simple carbs.
Simple carbs break down quickly to provide your body with energy. They are found in foods like honey, table sugar, syrup, milk, and yogurt. These are a great energy booster before a workout or for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Simple carbs that are high in fiber will break down more slowly and are also a great source of energy.
Complex carbs break down slowly, providing energy throughout the day. They are found in foods like root vegetables, tubers and whole grains.
So why do carbs get a bad rap? There are a few reasons, but mostly because of the modern food industry. Don’t blame carbs for what the highly refined grains & flours, fortified iron & seed oils did. Many processed foods are high in refined carbs and are found in foods such as pizza, fast food, soda, packaged snacks, and desserts. These foods often contain added sugar, fat, and salt. These foods are high in caloric amount yet nutritionally bankrupt.
If you are someone who has eaten keto or low carb, here is a guide on how to slowly shift gears.
Dietary fats are the most concentrated source of calories in our diet. They are essential to support cell growth, hormonal function, and nutrient absorption. Fats, like protein, provide the feeling of satiety (fullness). Fats slow the digestion of food, which assists in blood sugar stabilization.
There are three types of fat – trans-fat, saturated fat, and unsaturated fat.
Trans Fat: Most trans-fat comes from hydrogenating unsaturated fats. You’ll find Trans Fats in baked goods, doughnuts, fried foods, shortening, etc. Your body does not process Trans Fat effectively, so it should be avoided whenever possible.
Saturated Fat: Saturated fat is a building block for hormones, which are necessary for optimal metabolic function. Saturated fat is found mostly in animal foods with high fat content such as beef, lamb, pork, poultry, cream, eggs, and butter.
The recommendation to limit dietary saturated fatty acid intake has persisted despite the mounting evidence to the contrary. Most recent meta-analysis of randomized trials and observation studies found no beneficial effects of reducing SFA intake on cardiovascular disease and total mortality, and instead found protective effects against stroke. Yes, protective effects. 🙌🏻
Unsaturated Fat: There are two types, Monounsaturated Fats and Polyunsaturated Fats. Many unsaturated fats originate from plant sources such as avocados, nuts, nut butters, seeds, olives, and olive oil. They can also be found in animal sources such as fatty fish including salmon, sardines, and tuna.
Avocado oil is relatively new in the scene & the FDA has not yet adopted “standards of identity” — food standards designed to protect consumers from being cheated by inferior products or confused by misleading labels. And as a result, the vast majority of avocado oil sold in the US is of poor quality, mislabeled, or adulterated with other oils ⚠️ Read more here→ The unfortunate truth about most avocado oils!
Ideally, we avoid/reduce the amount of industry (vegetables) oils: like canola, sunflower, rapeseed, etc. as much as possible. Be sure to read food labels carefully, these can be SNEAKY!
Why do eating fats get a bad rap? There was a trend for a while of “low fat” everything because fat molecules carry the most calories per gram, so an easy approach to reduce calories is to cut your fat intake. It is VERY easy to overdo it on fat grams. Ideally, staying within 25-35% of overall calorie intake. This is one of the MAIN benefits of tracking your nutritional intake to make necessary modifications and informed meal choices!
Now that we covered the BASICS of macros…
I’m wanting to put together a series that dives deeper into the concept of tracking your food intake, the pros/cons, and how this skill is a crucial element of nutrition periodization which I’ve been recently interviewed on several podcasts about! We are also MOVING in 2 weeks, so I’m a bit distracted to work on content, so here are some of the resources/references I’m looking at preparing!
- Monitoring eating and activity: Links with disordered eating, compulsive exercise, and general wellbeing among young adults
- A study that looked at those who tracked their exercise and calories for weight loss or to change their shape reported disordered eating and compulsive exercise… Those who tracked for fitness/performance or health/well-being reasons showed the same level of symptoms (none really) to non-trackers. Perhaps it is the motivation for calorie/exercise tracking that is the most important determinant for ED symptom onset in this context? PMID: 30508261
- PMID: 18313427 Using biomarker data to adjust estimates of the distribution of usual intakes for misreporting: application to energy intake in the US population
- PMID: 12396160
- Energy intake and energy expenditure: a controlled study comparing dietitians and non-dietitians
- PMID: 30816851
Comparing Self-Monitoring Strategies for Weight Loss in a Smartphone App: Randomized Controlled Trial
Effect of a mobile app intervention on vegetable consumption in overweight adults: a randomized controlled trial
Mummah, S., Robinson, T.N., Mathur, M. et al. Effect of a mobile app intervention on vegetable consumption in overweight adults: a randomized controlled trial. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 14, 125 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-017-0563-2
The Trouble with Tracking | Duke Center for Eating Disorders (dukehealth.org)
#macros #trackingyourfood #selfmonitor #goals #personaltraining #Nutrition, #fitness,