So, what are macronutrients? Macros, short for macronutrients, are nutrients the body needs in large amounts. These provide the body with energy and what we call calories.
There are three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat and ALL are necessary to maintain a happy and healthy body. Cutting out any of these nutrients can lead to detrimental effects on the body, mind, and performance.
The first macronutrient that we are going to be talking about is protein.
Protein provides the body with amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein which are needed for growth, development, repair and maintenance of body tissues. Protein provides structure to muscle and bone, repairs tissues when damaged and helps immune cells fight inflammation and infection.
Meat, poultry, eggs, fish, milk/yogurt/cheese, legumes, soy products all contain high amounts of protein.
The next macronutrient to discuss are carbohydrates. The main role of a carbohydrate is to provide energy and fuel the body the same way gasoline fuels a car. We need carbs to keep our brain and muscles working at their optimal levels. (Read our article on why carbs are important for weight loss here.)
Fruits, grains, non-starchy & starchy vegetables, legumes, milk and milk products, and refined sugars are sources of the macronutrient carbohydrates.
Complex Carbs and Simple Carbs
As we are talking about carbs, I want to touch quickly on the difference between simple and complex carbs.
Carbs are made up of three components: Sugar, starch, and fiber.
Simple carbs contain shorter sugar chains making up their structures. Because simple carbs have shorter chains, they are more quickly digested and absorbed. Therefore, simple carbs are often recommended as a pre-workout snack – because we want something that is easily digested and fast acting to help us get through our workout.
Complex carbs contain more fiber and starch, have a longer chain, which takes the body longer to break down and digest. This allows for a more gradual release of energy.
Generally speaking, complex carbohydrates are digested at a slower rate than simple carbohydrates, given they contain a larger amount of fibre, however, that does not mean that all simple carbohydrates are a poor choice and all complex carbohydrates are a good choice. Simple carbohydrates are found in many whole foods, such as fruits and milk, and complex carbohydrates can be found in many refined foods, such as baked goods, making them a less than ideal choice.
Fats provide us with energy for basic body functions. On top of being an energy source, fats provide structure to cells and cushions membranes to help prevent damage. Oils and fats are also essential for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins including vitamin A, D, E, & K. They also help us feel satisfied when we eat them with meals and snacks.
Nuts/nut butters, seeds/seed butters, oils & dressings, butter, olives, avocados are all sources of fat.
The Calorie Breakdown of Macronutrients
Carbohydrates and protein provide roughly four calories per gram – meaning a food or beverage item with 10 grams of protein will provide 40 calories from protein.
Fat is the highest calorie macronutrient with nine calories for every gram – more than twice the amount of energy as protein and carbohydrates. Therefore, a food or beverage containing 10 grams of fat will provide 90 calories from fat.
Why Is Counting Macros Important?
Macronutrients are a more precise way of tracking for our bodies needs rather than just calorie counting alone.
Macro tracking ensures that we are receiving the right amount of nutrients our body requires for our specific goals.
These are calibrated to our own height, weight, age, activity level, and overall health goals.
Macronutrient counting/tracking is an advanced way to track overall calories. So by tracking macros, you are tracking where those calories are coming from and get a better idea of how to eat for you.
Your specific macro numbers make up your body’s needed calorie deficit, surplus, or maintenance, depending on what your health goals are.
Do I Have To Track Macronutrients Forever?
No! But you could if you wanted to.
Counting macronutrients can be time consuming but it is a great place to start and a great stepping stone in helping you get to a place where you can eat intuitively.
Remember, nutrition is hard and sometimes we have to do hard things to get to where we want to be. Most people who transition from a meal plan, to counting macros, to eating intuitively really thrive and are great about portion control and this is something we are going to work a lot on throughout the duration of this program and year.
I hope this was helpful and If you have any questions please feel free to let me know!