Food diaries and tracking what we eat serve multiple purposes, one of those being tracking and balancing our macros or macronutrients.
When explaining this to someone for the first time, the first question I always get asked is “what are macros” this post helps to give you a definitive guide on macros, what they are, and why we track them.
Macros is a shortened way and fast becoming the preferred way of saying macronutrients.
Macronutrients are the nutrients that our bodies need in larger quantities (hence the word macro) for energy.
The three macronutrients are
- Fat and
As well as being broken down in our bodies to provide us with energy macronutrients can affect many other processes in our bodies, including:
- our ability to digest food
- our hormone production
- our immune system
- our cells’ structure and function
- our body composition (i.e. how much lean mass and body fat we have)
- our metabolic function and
- much more
This is why they are so important, and why a balanced diet is a healthy one.
So let’s have a look at macronutrients and why they matter in more detail.
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Carbohydrates get a bad rap and are often eliminated from the diet “entirely” by people looking to lose weight fast but did you know that the rapid weight loss due to cutting carbs is mostly water as opposed to body fat.
Read: Get Off The Scales
Also, many people believe that carbs are one specific food or food group so when some people say they don’t eat carbs all they are referring to is that they have emitted some forms of refined carbs like bread and pasta for example from their diet.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates foods are divided into starches, fibre and sugars which are found in fruits grains, vegetables and milk products, and all carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram.
Importance And Benefits of Carbohydrates
Unlike fats and protein, carbohydrates are considered a non-essential nutrient, meaning you technically don’t need them to survive, which is a contributing factor to why people believe you can eliminate them from your diet.
But carbohydrates are our bodies preferred source of energy and the body needs carbohydrates to perform necessary daily activities.
When it comes to carbohydrates, it is all about identifying and choosing the correct ones.
The benefits from the correct types of carbohydrates include:
Weight-loss – Through fibre
Nutrients – Through unprocessed fruits and veg
Heart Health – Again through fibre and its effect on lowering cholesterol
Mental Health – As carbohydrates help with the production of serotonin in the brain and
Conditionally Essential – For maximising performance in high-intensity exercise
So why would you want to try and eliminate them from your diet!
Choosing The Right Carbohydrates
When choosing carbohydrates, especially when it comes to training our goal is going to have a significant factor in not only the types of carbohydrates we chose but the timings of when we consume those carbohydrates.
For health and fitness, we want to choose carbohydrates that are:
- Minimally processed
- Low or moderate in calories
- Devoid of refined sugars and refined grains
- High in naturally occurring fibre
- Low in sodium
- Low in saturated fat and
- Very low in or devoid of cholesterol and trans fats
Fats used to be the macro that got the bad rap, and it wasn’t that long ago when low-fat diets were all the rage.
But fat is a vital part of our diet and nutrition.
The primary role of fat is to provide us with energy, and due to its energy density, it is well equipped to do so.
At 9 calories per gram fats, energy density is more than double that of carbohydrate and protein.
What Are Fats?
Fats are an essential nutrient meaning our body cannot produce them, so we need to consume them as part of a healthy diet.
Fats are classified according to their attributes.
Fats or fatty: This can refer to any types of fats, fats are usually solid at room temperature
Lipids: Are any types of fats regardless if it is solid or not.
Oils: This describes fats that are liquid at room temperature
Animal fats: Examples of these include butter, cream, and fats in meats
Vegetable fats: These fats are found in olives and avocados, as well as nuts
Sources and Categories of fat
The primary sources of fat can be found in:
- Animal-based foods (mainly saturated fats)
- Fish and seafood (polyunsaturated fats and some saturated fats)
- Plant-based (poly and monosaturated fats)
- Man-made fats such as trans fats
Before I go on it is essential to note that not all fats are equal and you can’t just label some fats good, and some bad as each has a unique fatty acid profile, and while some may be better, in general, the important factors to note are quantities and frequency of consumption.
Which can be said for most food and food types
As a good rule of thumb with fats try to include more minimally processed fat rather than man-made or highly processed fats and oils.
Saturated fats are a solid fat – they are solid at room temperature.
Sources of saturated fats include:
- Animal meats and meat products
- Dairy products, except those that are fat-free
- Processed foods, including baked goods, snack foods and french fries
- Some vegetable oils, including coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter
Saturated fat groups have the ability to raise your LDL cholesterol, and as a result, the American Heart Foundation recommends a “dietary pattern that achieves 5% – 6% of your daily calories. from saturated fats.”
Unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature.
Unsaturated fats can be broken down into
- Monounsaturated fatty acids and
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids
Health care professionals believe them to be a healthier fat as they can have th opposite effect on the human body
Research shows that the consumption of plant-based monounsaturated fats may help lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and overall mortality.
Monounsaturated fats can lower your LDL and maintain healthy levels of HDL.
Your body needs polyunsaturated fats to function.
Polyunsaturated fats help with muscle movement and blood clotting.
Nutritionists believe that polyunsaturated fats are good for your health as they reduce triglycerides in your blood and improve brain, joint and eye health.
Most trans-fats come from industrial fat processing – they are manufactured fats.
Trans fats are not essential fats, and while this process is good for commercial food production, it is not so good for our body.
Eating a lot of trans fats can:
- raise your bad LDL cholesterol
- lower HDL cholesterol levels
- suppress the excretion of bile acids
- compete with essential fats for transport into cells and thus
- create and worsen essential fatty acid deficiencies
Importance And Benefits Of Fats
Dietary fats are essential and beneficial more many reasons, including:
- giving our bodies energy
- supporting cell growth
- protect your organs and help keep your body warm
- help your body to absorb nutrients and vitamins
- produce important hormones
Protein is the second most abundant substance in the human body and second only to water.
About 20% of the human body is protein.
Protein is the building blocks for the body’s cells and helps the body to grow, build and repair. tissues and protect lean body mass
Protein like carbohydrates comes in at 4 calories per gram, but protein is the most satiating (filling) macronutrient. which can indirectly help with fat loss
What Are Proteins?
Proteins are large, complex molecules that power a variety of chemical reactions and haemoglobin which carries oxygen into your bloodstream.
If you do not have the required amounts of protein in the body, protein deficiency and malnutrition may cause growth failures, loss of muscle mass and decreased immunity.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are the building blocks of muscle mass, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Importance And Benefits Of Protein
- Build and repair tissue
- Create important hormones (e.g. insulin)
- Create enzymes which help you digest the food you eat (e.g. lactase)
- Form the basis of immune cells (e.g. antibodies)
- Makes up our messenger cells (e.g. growth hormone)
- Building blocks of transport cells (e.g. ferritin and iron)
Protein Containing Foods
Foods that contain protein include:
- Animal-based foods like lean meats, poultry, fish, shellfish and eggs.
- Milk and dairy products
- Plant-based or vegetarian proteins like legumes, soya and high-protein grains
How Much Protein?
There is a lot of debate around how much protein one should eat and how much is too much, especially in the bodybuilding and health and fitness world.
0.8 grams per kilogram of total body weight is considered the recommended protein intake for a sedentary adult so your protein amount should be adjusted upward from this baseline
Our protein needs will go up if:
- we are training hard frequently or have a heavy physical job
- we are injured, sick or recovering from surgery
- we are losing protein for some other reason (e.g. chronic physical stress or poor digestion)
- when following a calorie-restricted diet or trying to lose weight as protein helps keep us feeling full longer
From all the research I have conducted our recommendations are:
Adult individuals that are following a regular training routine (training frequently) and trying to transform their body (e.g. gain muscle, burn fat), should be aiming for between 2 g and 2.8 g of protein per kg of LBM (lean body mass).
With 2.8 being the uppermost limit.
Why Do We Track Macros or Macronutrients?
Now that you understand a bit more about each macronutrient I hope you can see how:
- each one plays a vital role in your overall health and nutrition
- why we shouldn’t demonise and try to eliminate a whole macronutrient type from our diet
- and why a balanced diet is a healthy one
We track calories to measure the quantity of food we consume and control the amount of energy consumed to work towards your physical goals, whether that be burning fat or gaining muscle.
We track macros to measure food quality.
The macro ratios we consume will have more of an effect on overall health as they reflect the full potential of the food we eat.
Tracking macros, as well as calories, help you to make healthier food choices to ensure you consume a healthy balanced diet.
But the power of the right macro splits extends further than just healthier food choices.
By adopting the right macro split for you and your goal (your split needs to be goal specific), you will be able to enhance weight loss and can help increase lean muscle mass.
If you are tracking calories and not getting the results, you desire including the right macro split and tracking for them as well will make all the difference.
What Is The Right Macro Split?
When it comes to determining the right macro split for you, many factors need to be considered like
- Your goal
- Activity levels
- Type of activity
- Eating preferences (vegan etc.)
There isn’t a one size fits all approach, and here at Raising The Bar Fitness, we give each client a full consultation and health and fitness assessment before working out, their calorie and macro split using our in-house formulas.
If you would like to work with us to help Raise The Bar on your nutrition and take it to the next level, please get in touch.
There are also many macro calculators online that will help, give you a good starting position.
Our app of choice for tracking calories and macros is MyFitnessPal, and you can find our post on How To Use MyFitnessPal Effectively For Free By Clicking Here.
American heart foundation https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/saturated-fats
Precision Nutrition https://www.precisionnutrition.com
Shaw Academy https://join.shawacademy.com/online-nutrition-course?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=ie_search_generic_nutrition_courses_BMM
Cleary and Grossmann, 2009; Gnatiuc et al., 2019; Sun.ac.za, 2019
Mahan, L. and Raymond, J. (2017). Krause’s food & the nutrition care process.