If you have been in a gym long enough, you have surely heard about "macros". Whether it be some buddies talking about how many macros they consume on a daily basis, or spilling the beans on how many macros are actually in your favorite Starbucks drink. Regardless of the context, macros can be quite intimidating when you first hear about them. Hopefully, this will provide a simpler approach to what macros are, what they break down into once consumed, and how to track them.
There are two main categories for the nutrients we consume; macronutrients and micronutrients. "Macro-", meaning "large scale". "Micro-", meaning "extremely small'. Therefore, we need large amounts of macronutrients, and small amounts of micronutrients. Macronutrients consist of protein, carbs, fat, and even alcohol. Micronutrients are your vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D and magnesium. Each of these, big or small, have specific roles once they are consumed. So it is important to get adequate amounts of each. What is "adequate" is largely dictated by the individual and their goals.
Let’s start with protein. Protein is large chains of amino acids, most easily obtained via animal sources, but can also be obtained with the appropriate combination of plan products. Once consumed, protein breaks down into amino acids in the digestive system. I won’t bore you with the specific roles that each amino acid has, but most importantly, amino acids aid in muscle building, tissue repair, nutrient transportation, immune support, hormonal regulation, as well as many other functions. For the purpose that most people are after, getting enough protein allows for the muscles to heal and get stronger at a normal rate, which helps with seeing results in the gym sooner.
The main question I get as a coach is usually, “How much protein should I be eating?”. The number I tell people is 0.8g - 1.2g of protein per pound of body weight. For example, if you are a 150lb individual, you would want to eat 120g - 180g of protein per day. I know that number has a pretty large gap. But based on your specific goal, you would lean more one way than the other. Those trying to lose weight would most often favor higher protein to maintain lean body mass. And those aiming for performance or to gain weight can usually aim towards the lower or middle range. Protein is also an essential nutrient, meaning that you cannot survive without it long term.
So what about fats? Fat today actually has a better reputation than it did 10 years ago, but people are still skeptical about consuming fat. Fat breaks down into fatty acids and glycerol. The main function fat has in the body is storing energy, hormonal function, and absorption of fat soluble vitamins in the body. Fat is also an essential nutrient for the body, meaning that you cannot survive without it, much like protein. When looking at how much an individual needs, the recommendation is 0.3g - 0.6g per pound of body weight. Take the same 150lb individual from above, they would need 45g - 90g of fat. The reason this number is so much smaller than the protein number above is because fat is a much more dense nutrient than protein, providing 9 calories per gram, versus 4 calories per gram for protein.
The final macronutrient to cover is carbohydrates. Carbs break down into glucose, as well as other simple sugars. I want to stop here and address the elephant in the room. sugar.
We see sugar as a bad thing. 30-40 years ago, fat was the boogeyman, and today, carbs are the boogeyman. But understanding that ALL carbohydrates break down into a form of sugar means that there isn’t a "BAD" carbohydrate. But while all carbs will breakdown into sugar, some carbohydrates do offer more bang for your buck. Some carbs will give you more micronutrients, fiber, and satiety, such as fibrous veggies, potatoes, and fruits. While other carbohydrates may only provide empty calorie palatable sweetness from candy, baked goods, soda, etc
Carbohydrates help provide energy, as well as the storage of energy for later use. So when it comes to the proper amounts recommended, we simply fill in the void that is left after determining the protein and fat amounts. Now, to wrap this up, let’s discuss how to track macros. There are a ton of food logging and tracking apps available, so there really isn’t a right or wrong one. As long as it gives you the ability to input food you eat and can see what your macros look like for protein, fat, and carbohydrates, it’s good to use.
So, to answer my question in the beginning, I do believe macros are still a thing. With all of the fad diets that are out there, I like to think simple is better. For some people, tracking macros is simpler. For others, just tracking food quality is progress. When it comes to nutrition and tracking your foods, looking at macronutrientshelp you focus more of your attention when it comes to nutrition on three numbers. I hope this is a helpful resource for understanding macros a little bit better.