Macronutrients: Everything You Need to Know

If you’ve been looking into the foods you’re putting into your body, you’ve most likely ran into the so-called macronutrients. It can be easy to get lost in the health and nutrition world when you’re not familiar with the words often used, so today, I will explain what exactly a macronutrient is, why it’s important to know, and how you can utilize your understanding for reaching any health goal!

Most of the information on this blog is paraphrased or directly quoted from a similar article from verywellfit.com.

Check out the article here.


What are macronutrients?

Macronutrients are the building blocks of food and the nutrients the body needs in large amounts in order to properly function. The three types of macronutrients are known as Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats, all of which provide your body with energy measured in the form of calories or kcals1.

Calories per gram of macro

Protein – 4kcal/g

Carbohydrate – 4kcal/g

Fat – 9kcal/g

All three of these nutrients each have a specific role in sustaining your body’s functions and overall well-being, making them very important!

Protein

Protein provides the body with building blocks (amino acids) for muscle and other important structures such as the brain, nervous system, blood, skin, and hair. Protein also serves as transport for oxygen and other important nutrients2.

“In the absence of glucose or carbohydrate, the body can reverse-process protein (a conversion called gluconeogenesis) to use as energy.

Your body makes 11 amino acids—or building blocks—on its own. But there are 9 amino acids that you must consume [on your daily diet] because your body is unable to make them” (Dolson).

There are two different types of protein that you might consume to get these amino acids.

 

Complete proteins 

“These provide all of the amino acids* that your body needs in appropriate amounts. Meat, poultry, and seafood products are the most commonly cited complete proteins, eggs and milk are also examples of complete proteins”. In other words, animal proteins, most dairy products , and some plant proteins provide all 9 essential amino acids (Dolson).

*Learn more of what foods have complete amino acid profiles.

Incomplete proteins 

“These provide some amino acids but not all of them. Many plant-based proteins are incomplete proteins and must be consumed together as complementary proteins in order to get all of the amino acids that the body needs. Nuts, seeds, and (most) grains are examples of incomplete proteins” (Dolson).

Intake

The daily recommended protein intake as suggested by science-based literature and professionals.3

Lifestyle

*Sedentary | 0.36g/lbs (0.8g/kg)

*Moderately active | 0.45g-0.68g/lbs (1.0g-1.5g/kg)

*Active | 0.68g-1g/lbs (1.5g-2.2g/kg)

Goal

*Build muscle | 1g/lbs (2.2g/kg)

*Maintain muscle | 0.36g/lbs (0.8g/kg)

*If you’re carrying a lot of body fat, use either your lean mass or your goal weight, instead of your total body weight as it’s mostly your lean mass that determines the amount of protein you need.

Note: These are merely estimates, it ultimately comes down to you to choose how much protein you enjoy in your diet, as long as you meet the minimum intake of 0.36g/lbs (0.8g/kg).

Fat

Fat provides an important source of energy in times of starvation or caloric deprivation. It is also necessary for insulation, proper cell function, and protection of our vital organs4.

While fat is necessary for a healthy body, fat can also contribute to obesity. Fats have a high calorie per gram ratio (9kcal/g) making it very easy to overconsume, so its important you keep fats in moderation and controlled in your daily diet.

There are different types of fat that you might consume in your daily diet known as dietary fats, these include: saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats.

Saturated fats 

These come mostly from animals and full-fat dairy sources and are generally solid at room temperature and tend to be shelf-stable for a longer period of time. These are one of the two fats that you want to limit because too much saturated fat can cause cholesterol to build up in your arteries (blood vessels). They raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Which increases your risk for heart disease and stroke5.

Unsaturated fats 

These include those that are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Unsaturated fats come from plant-sources and provide the body with certain health benefits and are generally liquid even when refrigerated and have a shorter shelf life.

Polyunsaturated Fat

This type of fat is found mostly in plant-based foods and oils. Evidence currently shows that eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease and may also help decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes6.

Monounsaturated Fat

This type of fat is found in a variety of foods and oils. Studies show that eating foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids instead of saturated fats improves blood cholesterol levels7.

A type of polyunsaturated fat is made up of mainly omega-3 fatty acids and may be especially beneficial for heart health. Omega-3, found in some types of fatty fish, appears to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease.

Learn more

Studies have shown that when we replace saturated fats with poly or monounsaturated fats, we decrease our risk for certain diseases including heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, similar to the benefits of eating polyunsaturated fats8.

Trans Fat

This type of fat occurs naturally in some foods in small amounts. However, most trans fats are made from oils through a food processing method called partial hydrogenation.

These partially hydrogenated trans fats can increase total blood cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, but lower HDL (good) cholesterol. This can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease8.

Try to limit your trans fat intake as much as you can!

Examples of foods high in trans fat include:

  • Baked goods, such as cakes, cookies and pies.
  • Shortening.
  • Microwave popcorn.
  • Frozen pizza.
  • Refrigerated dough, such as biscuits and rolls.
  • Fried foods, including french fries, doughnuts and fried chicken.
  • Nondairy coffee creamer.
  • Stick margarine.

mayoclinic.org

Intake

The minimum recommended fat intake is 0.3g/lbs (0.7g/kg), anything below that and you may be more at risk of cardiac diseases and other health symptoms, this is typically 15%-25% of you daily calorie-intake9.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel. It is easier for the body to convert carbohydrate into immediately usable energy than it is for the body to convert fat or protein into fuel, this is because carbohydrates provide more energy per gram than protein and fat does. Your brain, your muscles, and your body’s cells need carbohydrate to function10.

When you consume carbohydrates, the food is converted into sugars (glucose) that enter the bloodstream. Those sugars are either used immediately for energy or stored in the body’s cells for use at another time (glycogen stores).

Carbohydrates can either be complex or simple.

Simple carbohydrates

 Also known as monosaccharides and disaccharides, are made up of either one or two sugar units and can be broken down fairly quickly in the body. Simple carbs have a quick and fleeting impact on blood sugar levels. Blood sugar (and energy) levels typically rise quickly then drop after consuming simple carbs. These types are ideal for when you need quick energy before or during a workout, the more simple the better.

Examples of simple carbohydrates include: fruit juice, milk, candy, honey, table sugar, maple syrup, pre-workout, energy drinks, etc.

Complex carbohydrates 

Also known as polysaccharides and oligosaccharides, are made up of long strings of sugar units that take longer to break down for use in the body. Complex carbs have a more steady impact on blood glucose levels and are more ideal when you have more time to eat before a workout or for post-workout meals.

“In addition to providing fuel to the body, complex carbohydrates, particularly fiber, can help the body to maintain healthy digestive function and cholesterol levels” (Dolson).

Examples of complex carbohydrates include: potatoes, rice, vegetables, whole grain breads, oats, etc.

Intake

Although the body does not NEED carbohydrates in order to survive, as proved by many professions and people who’ve followed a ketogenic diet long-term. The recommended daily intake of carbohydrates is 45%-65% of your total calorie intake11,12.

List of quality food sources

This a list that includes the different sources of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. I typically recommend my clients to aim for alteast one item per category as a foundation for starting a balanced diet.

Implementation

Understanding the different macronutrients and how they all play a role in keeping your body up and running is important for knowing how you can have a healthy, balanced diet.

There are three ways you can follow a balanced diet tailored to you:

Tracking calories

If your goal is weight management, the success or failure of your program ultimately rests on your overall calorie intake. You won’t lose weight unless you create a substantial calorie deficit on a regular basis, and vice-versa for gaining weight.

For these reasons, many people who are trying to reach or maintain weight loss simply track calories since its the most direct approach. Calorie counts can easily be found on the nutrition facts label of any food and if it is not available there, most nutrition databases provide accurate numbers online or in smartphone apps like MyFitnessPal.

Tracking calories is simple, but requires a little time and effort.

Tracking macros

Tracking macronutrients is more complex as you need to set goals for three intake numbers instead of one. But some people, including those trying to reach a specific fitness goal, trying to eat adequate nutrients where they usually lack in their regular diet, or for those trying to be more detailed with their weight loss/muscle gain diets.

Essentially, tracking macros is a more detailed version of tracking calories.

For example, people who are trying to lose weight may find that they can reach their calorie goal easier if they consume more calories from protein than carbs and fats. Protein generally provides greater satiety than carbohydrate and may help you eat less overall if you include it at every meal, especially if you pair it along with healthy fats!

Those who are trying to manage heart disease or a related condition may track their intake of fat, particularly saturated and trans fat, in order to reduce their risk for a cardiac incident.

And lastly, people who are trying to reach fitness goals may track their macros. For example, endurance runners may try to target a high carb intake in order to be properly fueled for a race while keeping protein and fats low, and for strength-trained athletes, they may watch their intake of protein in order to reach specific performance goals.

Check out a similar blog where I discuss how you can set up your macros properly!

Intuitive eating

Other people who prefer not to track their meals simply eat based on their body’s cues and aim to eat foods they know will provide them adequate nutrients and energy. This method is best done after tracking calories/macros and when you have a broad understanding of how much calories you should be intaking daily and overall have a good understanding of what your body needs throughout the day, otherwise it’ll be hard to estimate how much and what you should be eating.

All-in-all, there are pros and cons to all of these methods and the best method is ultimately up to you and how it best fits with your goals/lifestyle.

Takeaway

Macronutrients are the building blocks of food and are the nutrients the body needs in large amounts in order to properly function. The three types of macronutrients are known as Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats, all of which serve specific roles for keeping the body healthy.

Understanding the different macronutrients and how they all play a role in keeping your body up and running is important for knowing how you can have a healthy, balanced diet.

The three common methods for making sure you’re eating to make progress is by tracking calories, tracking macros, or intuitively eating.

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Share your thoughts! I’d love to read what you have to say!

Links

How to Properly Set Up Your Macros by Samuel Navarro

Macronutrients 101 by Laura Dolson

Note: Samuel Navarro is not a certified personal trainer or a nutritionist, his knowledge is based on personal experience and personal research. Therefore, you assume full responsibility for consulting a qualified health professional regarding health conditions or concerns, and nutritional advice before using the content on this program. Samuel Navarro will not assume any liability for direct or indirect losses or damages that may result from the use of information contained in this post. You are ultimately responsible for all decisions pertaining to your health. Thank you!

sources

1-2-4https://www.verywellfit.com/macronutrients-2242006

3https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-protein-per-day#muscles-and-strength

4https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000838.htm#:~:text=Your%20body%20needs%20healthy%20fats,for%20heart%20disease%20and%20stroke.

5https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/monounsaturated-fats

6-7-8https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fat/art-20045550

9https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-fat-to-eat#section6

10https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/101/nutrition-basics/what-about-carbohydrates.aspx

11https://www.virtahealth.com/blog/why-dont-need-dietary-carbohydrates

12https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/carbohydrates/art-20045705#:~:text=The%20Dietary%20Guidelines%20for%20Americans,grams%20of%20carbohydrates%20a%20day.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Marie says:

    Very helpful thank you 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Samuel says:

      My pleasure! 🙌

      Like

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