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What Are Macronutrients and How Can I Use Them?

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Jenny Glasshagel

Macronutrients are a buzzword in health and wellness circles right now. You’ve probably heard influencers or healthcare professionals talk about “tracking macros” and how that can help you optimize your wellness. Learn what macronutrients are the most important macros and how tracking them can help you manage your weight while maintaining nutrition and being your healthiest self.

What Are Macronutrients?

Macronutrients, called macros, are the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that make up our food. These are the building blocks of energy we need in larger quantities to fuel our bodies. Macros also dictate how many calories a food will have and how our bodies use those calories.

Every food has a certain amount of each macronutrient measured in grams per serving or overall weight. This information can be found in the nutrition label, where fat, carbohydrates, and protein are listed in packaged food. Non-packaged foods also have macronutrients, but it can take more research to find out what they are.

Knowing how many macronutrients your food has can help you plan your nutrition to get more or less certain macros to meet your nutrition goals.

Why Are Macronutrients Important?

Each macro plays an important role in making our bodies function. Carbohydrates provide energy and regulate blood glucose, insulin, cholesterol, and triglycerides. They also tend to have the most fiber, which regulates our bodily functions and helps our gut microbiomes function. Our bodies use protein to build muscle, regulate bodily functions, maintain fluid balance, and build metabolism. Fat helps us absorb vitamins, gives us energy, and supports cellular function.

Depending on how you want your body to function, you’ll want to balance the proportions of each macro in your diet. For instance, if you want to run long distances or train for a marathon, you’ll want more carbohydrates to help your energy levels. If you’re a bodybuilder, you’ll want more protein to help build stronger muscles. Almost everyone can benefit from more high-quality protein and fiber-rich carbohydrates.

Calculating your ideal macros and following those numbers as a guideline is a way to meet your fitness goals without falling into the trap of fad diets or calorie restriction. These yo-yo diets can cause you to gain more weight later on or have other health problems like vitamin deficiencies and hormone dysregulation. By focusing on macros, you can lose weight or improve muscle mass while still meeting your nutritional goals and getting enough calories to fuel your body.

The Importance of Protein and Fiber

Protein is one of the most important macros for regulating hormones, producing energy, synthesizing enzymes, and helping our immune systems. Eating enough protein helps us balance our blood sugar and concentrate better. It also reduces cravings and makes us feel fuller longer while building muscle. At the same time, it takes more calories to burn protein than carbohydrates or fat, which can be very helpful if you’re trying to lose weight.

Fiber also plays an important role in helping us maintain our body weight by making us feel full longer and helping regulate our bowel movements. Studies have shown that fiber also affects our gut microbiome by producing beneficial bacteria and fatty acids. A healthy microbiome impacts our mental health, mood, and other bodily functions.

The standard American diet doesn’t include enough protein or fiber from carbohydrates for most people to have their optimal body weight and body composition. In our experience, everyone, regardless of health goals, should aim for one gram of protein per day per pound of lean mass. You can learn how much lean mass you have by scheduling a Styku body composition analysis appointment at Restoration Health, where you can also learn more about your body composition, including how much of your body is made up of fat vs. muscle.

Where Can I Find Good Protein?

Because protein is so important in our diets, many people try to add protein however they can. Protein powders and other supplements are very popular for people who weight lift or are trying to lose weight. However, it’s important to recognize that these supplements should be used as an addition to a balanced and nutritious diet. Relying on protein powders alone for your protein can mean you’ll miss important vitamins and minerals and naturally occurring fats and carbohydrates. Also, some protein powders contain mystery ingredients that can be harmful, like arsenic or mercury.

The best sources of protein are lean meats and high-protein plant foods:

  • Chicken
  • Fish or seafood
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Quinoa
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Leafy greens
  • Milk and yogurt

If you want to add a protein supplement to your diet, aim for brands certified by accredited organizations. For instance, NSF International tests protein supplements. Any brand with its “Certified for Sport” designation is sure to be free of harmful ingredients and have the best nutritional value.

What Macros Do You Need?

To determine how many of each macro you need in your diet, you’ll need to know how many calories you want to eat in a day, your activity levels, and your goals. Based on that information, you’ll aim to eat foods that contain certain amounts of each macro to meet your calorie needs.

In terms of calories, each macro contains:

  • 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate
  • 4 calories per gram of protein
  • 9 calories per gram of fat

If you want to cut calories to lose weight, lowering the amount of fat you eat each day is probably a good choice. People trying the keto diet will try to minimize the amount of carbohydrates in their diet and will aim for a lower percentage of high-quality carbohydrates with good fiber than people eating other diets.

How to Calculate Your Macros

To calculate your macros, these are the general formulas:

  1. Daily calories per macro = total calories per day x % of calories from each macro
  2. Daily grams per macro = calories of macro per day ÷ calories per gram of macro

Once you have a set daily goal for each macro, you can track your intake and calculate how many grams of each macro you eat in a day. This can help you choose foods with more or less of each macro and can be very helpful in meal planning.

Of course, you probably don’t know the macro amounts for every food you eat off the top of your head, and it can be tedious to track all of that. At Restoration Health, we recommend using an app to automate all those calculations and tracking for you. There are many good apps out there; some of the apps we recommend are:

  • MacrosFirst
  • Foodadvisor
  • Myfitnesspal
  • Carbon
  • Lifesum

It’s important to remember that calculating your macros creates a goal for your daily food intake and isn’t a strict set of rules. No diet will ever be perfect, and any too-restrictive diet is bound to fail. Tracking macros is a great way to be more aware of our food and how it contributes to our health and fitness goals. As part of an overall dietary plan that includes vitamins, minerals, quality food, and other aspects of a healthy diet, macros can help us understand what our bodies need in the long term to be our best.

Find Your Macros with Restoration Health

Learn your ideal macro balance and get customized dietary goals with Restoration Health. We use Styku body composition analysis to find out how much fat and muscle you have, then determine your ideal macros to create a nutrition plan that’s right for you. Schedule an appointment today to get started.

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