I’m sure at least once you’ve heard someone talk about ‘macros’. Being so embedded in the fitness world, it’s everyday language to me. However, the more I work with people that are seeking nutrition/fitness guidance, I realize that many of you may have no idea what macronutrients mean, or what calories even are for that matter.
This is by no means bad but knowing what macronutrients are and the roles they play in your body will help you grasp a better understanding on how to fuel your body properly to reach your goals. Fact of the matter is, every profession has its lingo, which can be hard to decipher when you are not in that field yourself. However, if you are seeking help from a certain profession, it will greatly benefit you if you go into it knowing a little bit of the language.
For instance, if I’m going to buy a house it would probably be helpful to know how mortgages, loans, equity, property tax and home insurance work, correct? Well, this just reminded me that I shouldn’t be buying a house anytime soon BUT I’m sure if I were to talk to a trustworthy realtor, I could expand my knowledge and become aware of all there is to know about buying a home. This is the same for tackling your fitness goals. I am writing this to teach you the essence of macronutrients and calories so YOU can become more confident in your own choices while striving towards a certain goal.
Lets start with calories, this is a term more commonly thrown around and generally associated with weight loss and weight gain. So what is a calorie?
A calorie is simply a unit of measurement used to calculate the amount of energy a certain food or drink provides.
Now, calories are made up of three different macronutrients: PROTEIN, CARBS and FAT.
**Alcohol is technically a macronutrient too but it is NOT essential/doesn’t provide useful calories. I will explain shortly.
Has 4 calories per gram. So, say you have 20 grams of pure protein- that equals 80 calories.
What does protein do/why is it important?
Basically, including protein in your diet will help you maintain and/or build lean muscle, regulate hormones and keep metabolic processes in check. In fact, protein requires more energy for our bodies to digest than fat or carbs, ultimately burning more calories in the digestion process alone. This is why protein is so crucial when trying to lose weight.
Good sources of pure protein:
Plain Nonfat greek yogurt
*These are just examples of the purest forms of protein, things such as eggs, chicken thighs and ribeye all have decent protein as well but they also contain fat. This is NOT bad it’s just for simpler explanation purposes. (Many foods are made up of a combination of macronutrients)
How much protein do you need?
1-1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight is a good baseline. For example, I weigh 135lbs, so I aim to get at least 135g of protein per day. Simple enough, right?
also have 4 calories per gram, so say something contains 25 grams of carbohydrates- that equals 100 calories.
What do carbs do/why are they important?
Carbs get a bad wrap, when in reality they are extremely important. To clear things up a little, CARBS DO NOT MAKE YOU FAT. Eating an excess of any macronutrient will make you fat. Moving on. Carbohydrates are the number one source of fuel for your brain and body. Carbs are the macronutrient that provides fiber as well. Fiber is very important to consume because it regulates digestion, is great for heart health/bloodpressure and raises good cholesterol (HDL) while lowering bad cholesterol (LDL). They also play a crucial role in building muscle. It’s all about eating them based around your goals and body’s needs, just like any other macronutrient.
Good sources of carbohydrates:
Carbs are also in many things that are the best, such as: donuts, pasta, cereal and pretty much any processed snack. Also SUGAR is a source of carbohydrate. Many people separate sugar as it’s own entity. Sugar is a carbohydrate. For example, 25g of sugar will provide 25g of carbs. So, say you drank a can of coke, that is 39 carbs coming directly from sugar and since there are 4 calories per 1g of carb (39×4=156 calories) <- Labels aren’t always entirely accurate, notice how below it says 140 calories.
I am not one to tell you there are foods you should never eat because I preach balance but it’s important that you are aware that there are certain foods that provide more nutritional value than others. For example, a medium sweet potato and a serving of sour patch kids (16 kids) are both sources of carbohydrates that will give you essentially the same amount of calories (140). A sweet potato will give you more sustained energy, satiety and nutrients (vitamins and minerals) that your body needs. Whereas the sour patch kids will (pro) make you mouth happy and (con), temporarily spike your blood sugar levels and definitely not fill you up. Also, good luck only eating 16 sour patch kids.
My point is, they offer about the same amount of carbs/calories which at the end of the day your body cant tell the difference between but one will benefit you more than the other in terms of energy levels, satiety and overall well being if you choose it more often than the other. So, have some sour patch kids once in a while but more often than not you should be choosing a more nutrient dense, fiber rich carb source.
**Intra and post workout nutrition is a whole different story in this circumstance but the purpose of this post is for general concepts.
How many carbs do you need?
Again, generally speaking, anywhere from .75-2 grams per pound of bodyweight but this really depends on activity level, age, height, weight and goals. I’ll use myself for an example again. 135lbs, 23 years old, lifting 5/6 days a week with no cardio and my goals are essentially maintenance right now. So I am eating 150g protein and 200g of carbs, which is about 1.5 my bodyweight. If I we’re trying to put on muscle I’d bump it up to 250-270 which would be about 2x my bodyweight. Again, it all depends on where you are at now and where you want to be.
Unlike carbs and protein, fat has 9 calories per gram, which is why you have probably noticed foods such as olive oil and butter have a fairly high calorie content. For example, 1 tbsp of olive oil has 14g of fat making it 126 calories. Seems like a lot of calories for such a small amount of something, right? Sure but just like protein and carbs, your body needs fat. It is good for you.
What do fats do/why are they important?
Similar to carbs, fats are another source for energy. In fact, fats provide more than twice the amount of energy per gram than carbs. Fat also helps absorb certain vitamins and minerals. For example, vitamins A,D,E and K are all fat soluble, meaning they can only be absorbed with fat present. Fat is also crucial in hormone regulation, brain function and heart health.
Good sources of fat:
Oils-olive, sesame etc
No Regina, butter is a fat BUT contrary to popular belief, it’s not ‘bad’ for you. This is a common misconception that I would like to clear up. Many of the ‘problems’ associated with saturated fat (such as that found in butter, cheese and red meat) are NOT independent. They are usually the product of a diet high in saturated fat combined with a diet high in sugar and processed carbs. So if you’re eating salty crunchies (this is a term I like to use for all those wonderful processed snacks such as Doritos, cheez-its etc), soda and Big Macs more often than not, chances are you’re going to have some cholesterol and blood pressure issues. Duh. Moral of the story, eat a balance of fats: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated with a wholesome diet and you will be golden. The key is b a l a n c e here. Oh, and try stay away from trans fats, I can’t vouch for those guys.
How much fat do you need?
Like I mentioned with carbs, it depends on activity level, age, height, weight and goals. I’d say about .3-.7 grams per pound of bodyweight. I’ll use myself again, so I weigh 135lbs and am at 150g protein 200g of carbs and 55g of fat for maintenance goals. So right now, I am at .4g per pound of bodyweight.
Technically a macronutrient because it provides calories, however your body does not need it so that’s why it’s often left out of the equation. Alcohol provides 7 calories per gram.
What does alcohol do?
Well, it makes awkward situations more tolerable, gives you the ability to enjoy events you regret agreeing to, injects you with courage to say or do things you wouldn’t usually say or do. And lastly, it gives you instant confidence and ability to make BFF’s with people you usually hide from.
‘Less detrimental’ sources of alcohol:
Stout Beer (surprisingly low in calories- IPA’s are typically the most calorie dense)
Clear Liquor **mixed with diet soda or soda water.
Just so I am clear, alcohol is NOT an essential macronutrient, I just want to give you better options if you do choose to drink and briefly explain how it works.
Basically, if you are trying to lose weight, avoid heavy beers, mixed drinks, cocktails, pool drinks (margaritas, pina coladas etc). Those especially are SO high in sugar, which will be detrimental to weight loss. When drinking AND eating stick to something high in protein and low in carbs and fat.
When alcohol is present in the body, it takes priority for metabolism, which essentially halts burning fat or carbs. SO alcohol isn’t stored as fat but it causes other macronutrients to be stored in the body because it takes precedence.
HERE is a blog I wrote all about how to track alcohol in your macros!
Take home points:
-ALL calories come from macronutrients: PROTEIN, CARBS & FAT and the nonessential alcohol.
-Some foods are combinations of protein/carbs/fat. Here is a nutrition label for an egg for example.
So, if there is 6g of protein in this egg and protein contains 4 calories per gram (6×4=24) 24 of the 70 calories are from protein. There is also 5g of fat in this egg and fat contains 9 calories per gram (5×9=45) 45+24=69 calories *Most labels are rounded up or down by 5-15 calories. My recommendation is to grab some items in your pantry and practice doing this so you can better understand it.
-Things such as sodium and vitamins do NOT contain calories.
-Pay attention to the serving sizes on food labels, whatever is listed on the nutrition label is for ONE serving.
-Balancing macronutrients and portion control are key.
-Build your meals around protein.