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  • Writer's pictureScott Pettey

What are Macros?

Do you do macros? What’s your macros? Does that fit your macros?—The term macros has become a buzzword in the diet industry. The truth is, everyone does macros whether you choose to track them or not. Macros is short for macronutrients, which are the basic energy bearing components that make up our food. You know them best as protein, carbohydrate, and fat.


Each macro provides a certain amount of energy (calories) and has a specific role to play within the body. Today’s diet culture is obsessed with demonizing a particular macronutrient—”cut out carbs”, “no, cut out protein”, “it’s the fat that’s killing you”. In reality, each macro is necessary for optimal health, but which you choose to prioritize comes down to personal preference and goals.


Let’s briefly look at each macro, why they’re important, and how much you need to consume daily—then discuss their role in the context of a successful diet.


Proteins

Protein consumption is critically important to health and survival. Protein is broken down into amino acids used for the structure, function, and regulation of your body's tissues and organs. Certain amino acids are essential—they can’t be made within your body—and must be consumed through diet.


Protein provides four calories per one gram of protein. How much protein do you need per day to ensure you get the full spectrum of amino acids for health?:

  • Minimally to moderately active adults need 0.3 grams per pound of bodyweight.

  • Very active individuals and athletes may benefit from 0.8-1.0 grams per pound of bodyweight.

  • Vegans, vegetarians, and elderly individuals may benefit from slightly higher than 0.3 grams per pound bodyweight.


It’s important to recognize the potential benefits and reasons why consuming more protein is a good idea for most people. Losing body fat and/or increasing muscle mass is the number one reason people focus on their diets. Your muscles are made exclusively of protein, so eating more of it is important if you’re trying to build new muscle or hold on to the muscle you already have while losing body fat. In addition, protein is very satiating and consuming more protein is a good strategy if you’re trying to manage hunger.


Real world example: An individual weighing 200 pounds needs at least 60 grams of protein per day to get the necessary amino acids for health. If they’re an athlete or fitness enthusiast they may benefit from between 160-200 grams of protein per day.


Carbohydrates

Carbs provide four calories per one gram. Technically, consuming carbs isn’t necessary for survival because your body is able to convert fats and, in unique situations, protein into usable forms of carbs. However, carbs—particularly veggies, fruits, and whole grains—are a great idea to consume for four key reasons:

  • Physical activity is extremely health promoting and carbs are the main energy source for physical activity—and the preferred energy source for brain function.

  • Fiber is important for health and the best sources of fiber are carb rich foods like veggies, fruits, and whole grains.

  • Veggies, fruits, and whole grains are packed full of vitamins and minerals necessary for health and you risk being deficient in certain micronutrients by avoiding carbs.

  • Veggies, fruits, and whole grains provide sustained energy throughout the day and help control calorie intake by curbing hunger due to their high food volume.


For these reasons you should consume a minimum of 0.3 grams per pound of bodyweight per day of carbs—mostly from veggies, fruits, and whole grains.


Real world example: An individual weighing 180 pounds needs about 55 grams of carbs per day to make sure they’re getting sufficient amounts of vitamins, minerals, and fiber for health.


Fats

Fats are vital to health for a variety of physiological reasons including cell function, hormone production, and more. Two types of fats—Omega-3 and Omega-6—cannot be made by your body from other sources of fat and must be included in your diet for health. A minimum of 0.3 grams per pound of bodyweight per day is a safe bet to ensure your fat needs are met.


Fat provides nine calories per one gram, more than double the calories of protein and carbs. If your goal is to decrease or increase your daily calorie intake, fats are a good place to look first—as long as you don’t dip below the daily recommended intake.


Real world example: An individual weighing 150 pounds needs a minimum of 45 grams of fat per day for health.


Macros and Diet Success

People have dieted successfully with huge differences in macronutrient ratios. Consider three popular diets, or styles of eating, that are completely different: vegan, keto, and carnivore. Vegan is a high carb diet, keto is a high fat diet, and carnivore is a high protein diet—and some people have been successful with each one. How is this possible?


None of these diets are magic. Because they limit (or eliminate) a certain macronutrient, it’s much harder to overeat calories—you become restricted in the number of options you have for food. However, the diets are so restrictive that there’s tons of people who have not had success because of the lack of sustainability. Once the daily minimum intakes from above are met, it’s important to fill the remainder of your daily calorie needs with the macronutrient ratios that fit your preferences and goals.


If one of these restrictive diets works for you, awesome, keep doing it—but remember, there’s no magic in them. If you haven’t had success with super restrictive fad diets in the past, consider finding a different diet strategy that better aligns with your preferences and goals—something you can sustain over the long-term.


(For more information about protein, carbs, and fats and the most health promoting sources of each, check out my article on Food Composition)



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