You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz around “counting macros” lately, but might not be sure what that really means, or why it matters!
So what’s a macro? “Macros”, short for macronutrients, are the 3 main sources of nutrients in your diet - responsible for fueling your body with energy (calories), among many other things. They are: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Let’s break ‘em down.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates (carbs) are your body’s most readily available source of energy. Carbs are broken up into glycogen (used by muscles and your liver) and glucose (used by the brain). You’ve likely heard the term complex and simple carbs - this simply refer to the length of the carbohydrate molecules. The shorter molecule chains are more “simple” for your body to break down, while the larger molecules are more “complex” for your body to breakdown.Want to learn more about the science of how carbs work? Check out this informative article!
Carbs are made of up three components: fiber, starch, and sugars. Fiber and starch (found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains) are complex carbs, while sugars (such as well, sugar - or corn syrup) are simple. Generally speaking, complex carbs are much better for you because they contain more fiber and keep you full longer. (Read more about why carbs are not the enemy in this blog post.)
Protein: Protein is a vital component of every cell in the human body. Your hair and nails are made of it; and t’s the building block for muscles, cartilage, bones, skin, and even blood. It’s also used to produce important chemicals that regulate bodily functions, such as enzymes and hormones. Unlike fat and carbs, your body doesn’t store a reservoir of protein, which it’s a crucial part of your daily diet.
Proteins are made up of amino acids - about 20 different types, to be exact. We talk about consuming protein, but really what are body needs to consume are these amino acids - which are responsible for building of proteins and synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters.
Some of these amino acids are produced by your body, but there are nine amino acids that are required for normal bodily function that your body can not biosynthesize. You may have heard of these referred to as the essential amino acids. These 9 amino acids can be found in meat sources. It’s important for vegetarians and vegans to note that it’s rare to find all of these amino acids in legumes and grains, so it’s important to consume a large variety to get all of them in your diet.
Fat: Fat often gets a bad rap, but is a necessary part of our diet (well, high-quality fats - that is!). It is crucial for brain health, provides insulation for nerves, helps promote skin and hair health, and more. There are 3 main types of fats: saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats. In a nutshell, unsaturated fats are good for you, saturated fats are OK in moderation, and trans fats are bad news bears and can increase risk for heart disease! Read more on healthy versus unhealthy fats on our recent blog post here.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 are essential fatty acids from unsaturated fats. Similar to essential amino acids, your body can’t produce these on its own, so it’s important obtain them through your diet from foods like olive oil, fish, nuts, flax seeds, and avocados.
What about calories? Macronutrients are all sources of energy - and a unit of energy is a calorie. The number of calories in food tells us how much potential energy it contains. Here are the calorific values of three macronutrients:
1g of carbohydrates contains 4 calories
1g of protein contains 4 calories
1g of fat contains 9 calories
In other words, 10 grams of carbs provides 40 calories.
How many calories do I need to consume in a day? The amount of calories - or energy - you need on a daily basis, depends on several factors such as lifestyle and activity level, age, weight, and height - not to mention, weight loss/gain goals. You can estimate your daily total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) with this handy calculator - once you know about how much energy/how many calories you need for baseline bodily functions, you can pair this with your fitness goals to determine what your daily caloric intake should be.
Let’s talk about counting macros. Counting macros, is also known as the macronutrient diet. As explained above, all 3 macronutrients that make up our diet serve different important purposes, so it’s important to make sure you are getting the right amount of each in your diet.
At CLEAN.FIT, we believe that different diets and lifestyles work for different people: some people do well on lower carb, higher fat diets while others do much better on a higher carb, lower fat diet. By “counting your macros”, you are essentially creating macronutrient targets within your daily caloric goal. Through some self experimentation, you can determine which macronutrient split works for you!
Try this calculator to help you figure out what a good starting macro target is for you, depending on your lifestyle and goals!
As always, please consult your healthcare provider before making any major changes in your diet.
Have you tried counting macros yourself? What’d you think?! Please share in the CLEAN.FIT fam Facebook group - we’d love to hear!