What Are Macronutrients? A Beginner's Guide to Macros

8 min read

September 7th, 2020

Macronutrients, or macros for short, are the food groups that provide you with energy.

The three macronutrients (macros) are:

  • Protein
  • Carbohydrate
  • Fat

Unlike the micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals, macronutrients, or micros, are required in relatively large amounts. In fact, the word macro actually means large.

Whatever your health and fitness goal is, you need to consume all three macronutrients. However, you can adjust your intake of each to achieve different results. For example, to lose weight, you might lower your intake of fat. Knowing a little about each macro will allow you to customize your diet according to your needs and goals.

What Are Macronutrients Protein Macros

Protein

Protein is arguably the most important macronutrients for people who exercise or want to lose weight. It contains four calories per gram, and your body uses it for critical metabolic processes, such as muscle repair and growth. 

Amino acids – protein building blocks

Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. Your body breaks protein down into these individual building blocks and then reorganizes them based on its needs. There are 20 amino acids in total, nine of which are essential, and 11 of which are non-essential. The nine essentials must be consumed. In contrast, your body can manufacture the non-essential amino acids providing you eat enough of the essentials.  

Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are called complete proteins. Good complete proteins include:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Whey protein powder
  • Quinoa*
  • Buckwheat*
  • Hemp seeds*
  • Chia seeds*
  • Spirulina*

*Plant-based complete proteins  

Incomplete proteins and complementary proteins

Foods that do not contain all nine essential amino acids are called incomplete proteins. Nuts and seeds, legumes, grains, and vegetables are all sources of incomplete protein. You can combine incomplete proteins to make a complete protein. Incomplete proteins that, when combined, make complete proteins are called complementary proteins.

Complementary protein combinations that contain all essential amino acids include:

  • Rice and beans
  • Spinach salad and nuts
  • Hummus and wholewheat bread
  • Whole Grain noodles and peanut sauce
  • Peanut or almond butter on wholewheat toast

You don’t have to eat complementary proteins at the same time. So long as they are eaten the same day you can use incomplete proteins to meet your protein needs for your macronutrients ratio.

Catabolism and protein

Exercise causes muscle breakdown, a process called catabolism. Your body uses protein or, more specifically, amino acids to repair that damage so that you not only recover from your workout, you come back stronger and ready for more. Because of this, exercisers should always try to eat enough protein each day. Eating too little protein could undermine your progress.

Protein and weight loss

Protein is also useful for weight loss or, more accurately, fat loss. This macronutrient is very satisfying, so it keeps you feeling fuller for longer. It also has a high thermal effect. This means ingesting, digesting, and utilizing protein uses a lot of energy. Up to 30% of the calories from protein are used during these processes.

How much protein in your macronutrients diet should you eat?

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of bodyweight. This is a little on the low side for most exercisers. If you want to tone up and burn fat, you may need to eat as much as one gram per pound. However, eating more protein than you need is not a good idea as unused protein can lead to fat gain. 

Summary

 

  • Protein contains four calories per gram
  • It is made up of building blocks called amino acids
  • Complete proteins, such as meat, eggs, and fish, contain all nine essential amino acids
  • Incomplete proteins are missing one or more amino acids
  • Incomplete proteins can be combined to make complete or complementary proteins
  • Protein is satiating and has a high thermal effect, so it's beneficial for fat loss
  • The RDA for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of bodyweight, but exercisers may need as much as one gram per pound
  • Eating more protein than you need could lead to weight gain

What Are Macronutrients Carbohydrates Macros

Carbohydrate

Carbohydrates, or carbs for short, also provide four calories per gram. They are your main source of energy during high-intensity physical activity, such as lifting weights, circuit training, or intervals.  

Carbs are broken down into glucose, from which your body manufactures a high-energy chemical called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP for short. Glucose is either used for instant energy or converted into glycogen and stored in your liver and muscles for later use. Any excess carbs are converted into and stored as body fat.

Simple vs. complex carbs

Carbohydrates are found in two main varieties:

  • Simple carbs, also known as sugars, e.g., fruit, candy, soda.
  • Complex carbs, also known as starches, e.g., vegetables, oats, rice, and pasta. 

Carbs can also be refined or unrefined. This refers to how much they have been processed. For example, an apple is a simple, unrefined carb, whereas a candy bar is a simple, refined carb. Similarly, white rice is a simple, complex carb, while wild rice would be classed as a complex, unrefined carb. The closer a carb is to its natural state, the less refined it is said to be.

Both simple and complex carbs can be healthy. They are not just sources of energy; they also provide your body with most of its vitamins and minerals. Your momma was right; you really should eat your fruits and veggies! However, refined carbs contain far fewer micronutrients, which is one of the reasons they are not your best dietary choice.

Carbs and fiber

Carbs also provide your body with another vital nutrient – fiber. Fiber is crucial for your digestive system, as it helps maintain regular bowel movements. Because fiber contains no calories and is also very filling, high fiber foods are also great for weight loss. Fiber is commonly found in unprocessed fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains.  

Do you need to follow a low carb diet to lose weight using macronutrients diet?

The short answer to this question is no, you don’t. However, because unused carbs are converted into fat very easily, it’s important not to eat more carbs than you need. The less active you are, the less carbohydrate you should eat.

However, it is essential to differentiate between refined and unrefined carbs. Refined carbs flood your body with fast-acting sugar that, if not used immediately, can lead to fat gain. Because of this most of the carbohydrates, you eat should be unrefined.

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How much carbohydrate should you eat? 

Unless you are following a very low or no-carb diet, such as the ketogenic diet, 45-65% of your calories should come from carbs. This will give you the energy you need to work out. Eating too little carbohydrates could leave you feeling tired and quick to fatigue.

Summary

  • Carbs contain four calories per gram
  • Carbs are converted to glucose and provide a rapidly available source of energy
  • Unused carbs are stored as muscle or liver glycogen, and any excess is converted into and stored as body fat
  • Carbohydrates are your main source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber
  • There are two main types of carbs – simple and complex, or sugars and starches
  • Carbs can be unrefined or refined. Unrefined carbs are generally better for you
  • You do not need to cut carbs from your diet to lose weight. However, your carb intake should match your activity levels

What Are Macronutrients Fats Macros

Fats

Fat contains nine calories per gram, making it the most calorie-dense of the macronutrients. Because of this, a lot of people are wary about eating too much fat. Some experts also believe that fat is unhealthy. In contrast, some fats are actually deemed to be essential for good health. Why these contradictions? It turns out that there are several different types of fat, and they all affect your body differently.

The four types of dietary fat in macronutrients

All fats were not created equal. Fats come in four main varieties: 

  • Saturated fats, found in meat, butter, and other animal produce, as well as coconut and palm oil  
  • Monounsaturated fats, found in olives and olive oil, avocados, and most nuts and seeds
  • Polyunsaturated fats, found in oily fish, and vegetable oils
  • Trans fats, found in processed foods, margarine, shortening, and deli meats

Like carbs, fats can also be refined and unrefined. And just like carbs, unrefined fats are generally better for you than refined fats.

Saturated fat is solid at room temperature and used in cooking as it’s very stable and robust. It does not change much when heated or exposed to oxygen or light. It's a concentrated source of calories, and your body likes to use saturated fat for fuel.  

Monounsaturated fats are moderately reactive, which means they can be used for cooking, but you should avoid overheating them. Prolonged and high heats can turn them rancid and unhealthy. Monounsaturated fats are good for your heart.

Polyunsaturated fats the most reactive fat. Consumed raw, they are very healthy and are good for your brain, eyes, hair, skin, and joints. They can be subdivided into two categories: Omega 3 and Omega 6. These fats are so important that they are collectively called the essential fatty acids or EFAs for short. Because of their reactivity, polyunsaturated fats should not be heated as this can damage them and make them unhealthy. 

Trans fats are processed unsaturated fats that have been chemically altered for the food industry. Trans fats are the unhealthiest type of fat and should be avoided. They are linked to heart disease, obesity, inflammatory diseases, and cancer.  

Is fat bad for you?

Since the 1960s, fat has been considered to be unhealthy. Because of this, a lot of people started eating much less fat, and low-fat food products became very popular. However, the original studies that determined fats were unhealthy actually studied the effect of processed trans fats, and not natural fats. Unfortunately, as a result of these studies, all fats were labeled unhealthy. 

While trans fats are undeniably unhealthy, moderate amounts of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats are necessary for good health. They help your body transport and absorb vitamins, minerals, and protein, and also make your food more satiating. Your body also likes to use fat during low-intensity physical activity.

There is no need to become fat-phobic, but you should do your best to minimize your intake of trans fats.

Do you need to eat less fat to lose weight?

At nine calories per gram, trans fats are the most calorie-dense macronutrient. Cutting fat from your diet is an easy way to reduce your calorie intake. However, because fat is an essential source of energy and nutrients, you should not try and eliminate all fats from your diet. Cutting fat from your diet will save you a lot of calories, but your health could suffer. Instead, take steps to reduce your intake of trans fats, and avoid foods with added fats.

How much fat should you eat?

15-30% of your daily calorie intake should come from fat. The more carbs you eat, the lower your fat intake should be. Divide your fat intake equally between saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats, with trans fat levels kept to a minimum. 

Summary 

 

  • Fat contains nine calories per gram
  • There are four types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fat
  • Of these four fats, only trans fats are actually unhealthy
  • Low-fat diets are not inherently healthy
  • Fat is an essential macronutrient that should make up 15-30% of your daily calorie intake

Wrapping up macronutrients

Now you know how the different macronutrients affect your body, and roughly how much of each you need to consume. Adjusting your macronutrient intake according to your goals and activity levels will help you reach your targets sooner. It’s beyond the scope of this article to explain the ins and outs of macronutrients tracking so, for more information on this crucial subject, please check outWarriorBabe Revolution.


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