What are Macros and Why Should I Care?

Jamie Staley, NASM-CPT, Pn1

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch

What do you think of when you hear the term “macronutrients?” I think of human-sized vegetables. Just kidding. For some people, it can be a confusing term and one that is sometimes used in the wrong context. So let’s break it down and then I will help you decide how much attention you need to give your own macronutrient breakdown.

What are Macronutrients?

Simply put, macronutrients are nutrients your body requires in large amounts. We call them protein, fat, and carbohydrates. As opposed to micronutrients, which are bodies need in smaller amounts (vitamins and minerals).

Most people eat a varied diet of all three macronutrients without giving it much attention, due to the fact that most meals have a combination of all three macronutrients.

Without tracking macros, most people eat far and above their needed limits of carbs and fat, especially on a standard American diet (bagels, cereals, muffins, pancakes, granola, oils, pasta, crackers, rice, fruits, vegetables, nuts, nut butter, cheese, butter, etc.). Meanwhile, protein takes a more concerted effort to obtain in the proper amounts.

A macronutrient is a nutrient that the body requires in large amounts (i.e., protein, fat, carbohydrates).

Precision Nutrition

What Does Each Macronutrient Do?

Protein is important for a wide array of functions in the body including building and repairing tissues, forming enzymes, regulate hormones, and carrying nutrients throughout your body. It is important to eat adequate protein if you are injured or sick, recovering from surgery, or if you’re losing protein for some other reason (poor digestion, etc.).

Protein is made of amino acids. Essential amino acids are ones that our body cannot make, therefore it is essential we get them from our diet. Non-essential amino acids can be made by our bodies, so it is not essential we get them from our diet. A complete protein has all amino acids. An incomplete protein does not contain all amino acids.

Fat provides us with energy, helps make and balance hormones, forms cell membranes, forms our brains and nervous systems, helps transport vitamins A, D, E, and K, and gives us two fatty acids we can’t make on our own.

Carbs come in three major classes:

Monosaccharides: glucose, fructose, galactose, mannose, ribose

Oligosaccharides: sucrose, maltose, lactose, trehalose

Polysaccharides: starch, dextrins, glycogen, inulin, raffinose, cellulose, and pectin.

The moral of the story is carbs are not just starch. Glucose, which comes from dietary carbs, are our main source of energy. However, glucose can come from other sources. Fiber is important for GI health, keeping us feeling fuller, and can lower blood lipids and cholesterol.

Do I Need to Track My Macros?

The short answer is: it depends.

You DO NOT need to track macros if: you are just beginning your fitness journey, you are just starting to make changes to your nutrition, you are a recreational exerciser (or not exercising at all), you are not counting calories, or if you have general health and fitness goals.

You MIGHT want to track macros if: you consider your current eating pattern to be “healthy,” but you aren’t reaching your goals, you are training for a specific performance event, or if you are well-established with your exercise and nutrition routine and want to take a closer look at your macro split.

You NEED to track macros if: you are competing in a physique competition, preparing for an elite-level competition, or you have very specific performance or body composition goals. Examples: bodybuilders, physique competitors, elite endurance athletes, elite weight-classed athletes, or any other professional athlete.

What are Common Macro Splits?

A macro split is just referring to the percentages of protein, carbs, and fat you are eating. When adjusting one macro (example: going low-carb) means that the other two will have to adjust.

For most people a balanced split is: Protein 35%, Fat 30%, Carbs 35%

A typical weight-loss split is: Protein 35%, Fat 40%, Carbs 25%

To build muscle mass and/or support athletic performance: Protein 30%, Fat 30%, Carbs 40%

For endurance exercise: Protein 25%, Fat 20%, Carbs 55%

If you do chose to track macros, there are many apps available, including MyFitnessPal that can help make this easier. Mike’s Macros is another good one!

The Easiest Way?

Here is what I recommend if you are at all interested in taking a look at your macros: start with only tracking protein. It’s important to eat enough for many reasons (especially if you are active) and can be harder to get in high amounts, unlike carbs and fat.

How much protein do you need? It depends. Most organizations recommend anywhere between 0.8-1.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight, but can go as high as 2.2g/kg of bodyweight.

Long Story Short?

Hopefully, this has expanded what you think of when you hear someone discuss “macros” and give you some perspective on whether you need to mess with them or not! Again, most people are fine never using a macro-counting approach, but it can be fun to track for a week just to see!

Next Steps

If tackling your nutrition on your own feels too intimidating and confusing, I can help! I am a Level 1 Certified Nutrition Coach through Precision Nutrition, one of the most reputable nutrition companies in the world.

I will coach you through individualized action steps to meet your goals and help you formulate a plan for change that fits your life, instead of trying to make your life fit a plan. I’ll give you the accountability, real information, and guidance to make lasting nutritional change.

Send me an email at jsfncoaching@gmail.com and let’s chat about your goals!

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