You Asked, I Answered! Macros Defined
Happy Wednesday! I have been getting a lot of questions about macros, specifically, what in the heck are they and why and how they matter in terms of healthy eating. So let's dig right in!
Macros, or macronutrients, are the nutrients that provide us with energy for metabolism, growth and development. If you break the word down, it literally means "large-nutrients." Therefore, these are the nutrients we need in the largest quantities.
Macronutrients can be broken down into 3 categories:
Now let's break those 3 essential nutrients down even further to understand why they are important in terms of healthy eating.
On average, 10 to 15% of your calories should come from protein. I tend to increase my own intake to 20 to 30% since I do a good bit of resistance/strength training. The average recommended amount is for sedentary people, so I advise my clients to bump their protein intake up about 5 to 10% more than they normally eat starting out. Proteins are the building blocks of the muscles and are essential for growth and repair, so it makes sense to consume more when you are more active.
If you want to get technical, there are 4 calories per gram of protein. Now let's say you regularly consume 1800 calories per day. If we were going off the average of 10 to 15% of calories coming from protein, you would need to consume roughly 45 to 67.5 grams of protein per day.
Protein is essential for many reasons. The body needs it for growth, tissue repair, immune function, making hormones and enzymes, collagen formation, preserving lean muscle mass, and regulating pH and fluid balance.
You may be wondering what the best sources of protein are. This can vary based on your dietary restrictions. For vegetarians, proteins need to come from plants, such as nuts, beans, legumes and whole grains as well as eggs. For the meat-eaters, protein can come from lean meats like chicken, grass fed beef, grass fed bison, turkey, fish as well as eggs.
Try to eat at least 1 palm size of protein at every meal. This will be different more males and females (men generally need more protein), but that is a good place to start.
Generally speaking, 20 to 30% of your calories should come from fat, however the TYPE of fat definitely matters. There are 3 types of fat:
- Saturated - found in animal products and is solid at room temperature - think butter and beef fat.
- Unsaturated - found mostly in plant products - think olive oil, sesame oil, avocados.
- Trans Fat - these are unsaturated fats that have been hydrogenated to turn them into a form more like saturated fat - think margarine and think NO BUENO!
You want to be careful not to consume too much saturated fat. Overconsumption can lead to obesity, CAD, increased cholesterol and triglycerides, fatty liver disease, diabetes, and gallbladder disease. According to the American Heart Association, a diet high in saturated fat "raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease and stroke."
However, please do not be afraid of fat! Fat is incredibly important in the diet. There are numerous health benefits to eating an appropriate amount of healthy fats. Some of those benefits include: increase in energy, slowing down digestion, elongating the blood glucose curve, providing cushioning for organs, producing hormones, and absorption of essential vitamins.
Try to consume approximately 1 thumb-size portion of healthy fat (nut butters, nuts, olive oil, avocado, etc.) per meal. Again, this will be different for men and women and for those trying to lose weight, you may want to reduce it to 1/2 thumb-sized portion to start out.
Da da daaaaa! There is that dreaded word again...CARBS! EEK! Remember, carbohydrates do NOT have to be the bad guy. In fact, you should be eating a higher percentage of carbs than any other macronutrient.Why? Because they are your main source of energy and glucose (which comes from carbs) is necessary for proper brain function!
So yeah, you are not going to want to eliminate carbs completely. Roughly between 45 and 60% of your calories should come from high-quality carbohydrates. And just like protein and fat, the TYPE of carbohydrate you are eating is very important.
Carbohydrates can be broken down into, whole grain versus refined and simple versus complex. Whole grains are foods that have not been significantly modified from their original state (brown rice). Refined carbs have been altered to the point that their nutritional value is severely depleted (white rice). Therefore, choose whole grains whenever possible.
You should also try to eat more complex carbs because these foods contain more fiber (legumes, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, etc). Fiber is not digested or absorbed by the body. It is vital in promoting healthy gut flora, keeping you full longer, facilitating elimination (yeah, this is my nice way of saying pooping), stabilizing blood sugar, and improving overall digestion.
Fiber is often forgotten about, but it is extremely important to include at every meal. According to UCSF Health, "dietary fiber intakes among adults in the United States average about 15 grams a day. That's about half the recommended amount." Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day while men should consume around 35 grams per day.
Try to consume 1 to 2 cupped handful-size portions of carbs at every meal. Just remember to choose whole grain, fiber-rich carbs to help keep you full and satisfied! And lastly, listen to your body! These recommendations are not set in stone. If you are starving after breakfast, try adding in 1/2 to 1 more serving of protein or fat.
Calorie counting is neither fun nor sustainable. That is why I recommend using a little trial and error to figure out the right amount of fat, carbs and protein for your unique self! Bio-individuality is real, and maybe your best friend thrives on 100 grams of protein per day while you thrive on 65! After a little trial and error, you will discover what the right set up of macronutrients is for you!
I hope this helped answer some questions. Please comment on the post or contact me with any questions or comments!
Institute for Integrative Nutrition, "Macronutrients."