The Importance of Macronutrients | What You Need to Know

 

I'm sure you've heard the word "macros" at least once in your life. Either by me or some health and fitness guru. Maybe you've even heard the phrase "Does it fit your macros?" or seen the hashtag #IIFYM, which stands for: "If it fits your macros"

In this post you will learn:
1. What macros are
2. Why it's important to know
3. How to figure out your macros


Okay so what are macros?

"Macros" is short for macronutrients 

Food is made up of macro and micro nutrients. Macronutrients being protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Micronutrients being vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, and D, and zinc. All foods have at least one macro but most processed foods will have all three. 

1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of carbs = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories (fatty foods are very dense)

iifym or "flexible dieting"

This is a type of "diet" that most bodybuilders follow (and so do I). It's simple: you eat whatever you want every day as long as "it fits your macros". This isn't so much a diet as it is a lifestyle. There's no discrimination here, no avoiding the foods you cherish. If I want chocolate, I'm making sure I can fit chocolate into my diet every day (and trust me, I do. Like I'm talking 4 tubes of Smarties in one sitting.) 

 
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first - Let me explain a bit about each macronutrient

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protein

Protein is important because it contains essential amino acids that are responsible for building and repairing muscle tissue, making enzymes, hormones, and other bodily chemicals. Our bodies don't produce all of these essential amino acids. We only produce 12, meaning we need the remaining 9 from food. Protein is commonly associated with bodybuilding because when you strength-train (lift heavy weights), your muscle fibers tear and it's protein's job to repair them and make them stronger. Therefore, people who strength-train need more protein in their diet to help repair their muscle tissue. 

You can read more about protein and how to get it into your diet in my blog posts here and here.

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carbohydrates

Carbs are our body's fuel. Have you ever felt faint and then someone throws a candy bar at you? That's because of sugar. Sugar is carbs. The body breaks down carbs into glucose which is then shuttled through the blood stream by insulin for the body to use as energy. Our brains rely heavily on carbs as its main source of fuel. 

Types of carbohydrates: 

Monosaccharides (mono - one, saccharides - sugars): glucose, fructose (found in fruit, natural sweeteners, and high fructose corn syrup), and galactose (found in dairy)

Oligosaccharides (oligo - few, saccharides - sugars): found in plants (as fiber)

Polysaccharides (poly - many, saccharides - sugars): found in grains (as starch) and plants (as fiber)

things to note:

  • The reason why people think "carbs are the enemy" is because carbs retain water. So yeah, the first week or so of cutting out carbs you will definitely drop a pound but it's just water weight. Don't be fooled. Personally, I don't understand the keto-diet craze. Carbs are important. 
  • Diabetes is caused by low levels of insulin, which means there's not enough insulin to move glucose to cells. High levels of glucose in the bloodstream (high blood sugar) can cause serious damage to your vessels and increase the likelihood of heart disease. 
  • Some vegetables are so little in carb, you don't have to track it. Salads for days. *See Mike's video about which veggies are free*
 
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fat

Fat nourishes the nervous system, maintains cell structures, regulates hormone levels, and helps your body absorb nutrients. 

types of fat

Saturated fat: fat that's solid at room temperature. It's found in meat, dairy products, eggs, bacon fat, lard, coconut oil. A diet rich in saturated fat could possibly prompt blockages in the arteries but from the research I've done online, there doesn't seem to be enough scientific results that say saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease
Unsaturated fat: liquid fat, olive oil, avocado, nuts, fish. Think omega-3 fatty acids, which may help prevent heart disease.
Trans fat: artificial fat that increases risk of disease like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It's made to increase the shelf-life of products. It's basically anything delicious and greasy. Which sucks. 


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Pizza is the ultimate combo of macros

Protein in the cheese and toppings, carbs in the dough and sauce, fat in the cheese and oil

why is this important to know?

I believe that the struggle people have with losing weight is ignorance. It's not our fault. Growing up, we learn which foods are healthy (usually the foods our parents had to force feed us) and which weren't (the foods we had to beg our parents to let us eat). So we learn what to eat, but we don't learn how much to eat. Food companies are going to tell you why their food is healthy for you and why you should eat it. They aren't going to say: "Now make sure you only have one serving." No. They want you to eat the shit out of their product so you can buy more. 

Go ahead and justify eating an entire avocado on toast by saying "but it's good fat!". The truth is: Good fat or not, you are still consuming 227 calories and a shit-ton of fat. And just because chickpeas are a good source of protein, don't ignore the fact that a can of chickpeas is very high in carbs and has 364 calories

Sorry, but I jumped off the avocado toast train years ago. 

once upon a time . . . 

I was very ignorant about macros. I thought the definition of a protein shake was "healthy", unashamedly dumping a hearty scoop of peanut butter (210 calories), 2 bananas (220 calories), cocoa powder (60 calories), and a scoop of protein powder (138 calories) into the blender with almond milk (43 calories). I'd stroll around happily, sipping my 661 calorie protein shake.

That's 40.6 grams of protein, 71.5 grams of carbs, and 25 grams of fat

Then for a snack I'd have a smashed avocado on a piece of toast with butter and sauerkraut. That's 8 grams of protein, 27.5 grams of carbs, 27.5 grams of fat and a total of 370 calories

So by noon, I'd consumed 1,031 calories.

Add in a chicken sandwich from the deli for lunch and tacos for dinner—I really don't want to do the math... 

My ignorance led me to believe that the 10 pounds I'd gained after college, plus the fact that my jeans were too tight around my thighs, attributed to building muscle in my legs from riding 30 minutes a week and doing a few wall sits. Wow. 

*Update* RIP to the jeans and pants that were too tight on me in 2014 ... they are now TOO BIG on me. :) 

 

what do you do with this new-found knowledge?

Figure out how much you're eating daily.

First you need to figure out how much you're eating daily and how much you should eat. The beauty of the internet is a quick Google search will give you fairly accurate macros for whatever it is you're eating. Or, you just look at the nutrition label on the back of the packaging. 

For example, I ate a chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. I Googled: "chocolate cake with buttercream frosting nutrition" and found a pretty good estimate of macros from a site called EatThisMuch.com. 

I highly recommend you get a macro calculator for your phone and a kitchen scale. There are a ton of macro calculator apps, but I'm going to suggest you download the free app Mike's Macros. He's coming out with an update soon that will have a lot of pre-calculated foods (like Chipotle and M&Ms).

Figure out how much you should be eating daily.

Here's a simple calculator to gauge how many calories you should be having per day: Go to calculator

Now figure out how many macros you should be having. Your diet should be a healthy balance of protein, carbs, and fat: Macro calculator

Isn't this fun?!

Pay attention to what you're eating daily. 

It gets easier, I promise. After enough time paying attention to your calorie intake, you'll become a human calculator. After a year of calculating and measuring food, I can roughly gauge how much food I'm eating. I know which foods are "macro-friendly" and which aren't. I can also keep track in my mind how many macros I've had and which macros I need more of. For example, when my boyfriend and I went to Rome, we had pizza for lunch and knew for dinner we should order something high-protein and low-carb, like carpaccio salad (Yum!). 

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Got any questions? Please comment below. If I can't answer them, I'll point you in the right direction to someone who can!  Also, what else would you like to see? An indepth explanation about how to actually track macros? Maybe a day of what I eat and how I track macros? Or healthy alternatives to high-calorie treats? 

As always, thank you for reading.


What to read next: How to Track Macros — go to post