Easy Guide to Macronutrients
You know how you see all of the fitness pros posting about "hitting their macros"? Or that one time you hired a personal trainer and they gave you daily macronutrient goals to target and you were just kind of confused about it. Ever wonder what a carbohydrate ACTUALLY is? When they say carbs and fats are bad, is that true? Are you eating enough protein? WHAT ON EARTH DO THOSE COLORFUL GRAPHS IN MYFITNESSPAL MEAN?!
If you've ever peeked into the fitness world, I'm sure you've either been asked some of those questions, you've read them in a post or article, or you've wondered them yourself. When I first started my fitness journey, I didn't know the answer to any of these questions. Little did I know that eating the right amounts of these key nutrients is the biggest part of losing fat and building muscle! Most people without basic nutrition knowledge eat too much fat and too little protein. I was before I knew how to use food as fuel! I want you to have the basic understanding that I didn't have when I first started training. So I'm about to give the basic rundown on these things called "macronutrients" (macros for short), why they're so important, and what happens when you eat too much or too little of one or the other.
Well lets start at ground zero before going any further. What is a macronutrient? A Macronutrient is a type of food required in huge amounts by the body in order to survive. The three macros are carbohydrates, fats, and protein. In order for a human to function, we need to have all of these in our diets every day. That's the foundational concept of nutrition! Simple enough to understand right? The concept of macros starts to get more difficult when you start to talk about what percentages of these macros you should consume. Should my diet be 50% protein and 50% carbs with no fat? 30% P, 50% C, 20% F? Imagine any combination that adds up to 100% and that would be an example of a daily macro count. This is what makes for all of the different diet fads you hear about. I think the biggest one right now is Keto, which is extremely high fat (maybe 60%) and extremely low carb (maybe 10%). Or there's Atkins, which is a version of Keto with very low carbohydrate intake. Macro percentages are simply what percentage of your daily food intake comes from protein, fat, and carbs. If my goal is to hit 50% protein, 35% carbs, and 15% fat, I log all of my calories into a food tracking app (MyFitnessPal is my personal fave), and I see at the end of the day in the graph (shown at the top) that 50% of my calories came from protein, 35% came from carbs, and 15% came from fat, then I would say that I hit my macro goal or my macro cap.
I won't go into detail about how to calculate these percentages for your specific body type, weight, and daily activity level or what my own goals are, but feel free to shoot me an email if you'd like to talk more about getting you a customized macro goal! The thing about these percentages is that each body has specific needs. Some function better on higher carbs while some function better on higher fat. What works for me is different from what works for Client A, and what works for Client A is different from what works for Client B. I'd love to help you find your sweet spot! Just contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on any of my social media accounts at @kenziemfitness!
Now let's dive a little deeper into what each of these macros are, what they do, and what happens when you have too many or too little of them. Let's start with our good lil friend called protein. Protein is the nutrient that is responsible for building and repairing body tissues and structures. Main protein sources are found in meats, eggs, milk products, and legumes to name a few. Proteins are made up of a bunch of amino acids that are broken down in the body and sent throughout the bloodstream for one of three purposes. (1) building/repairing tissue, (2) immediate energy, (3) potential energy (aka it's stored as fat). Under normal circumstance when you are eating an adequate amount of calories (or energy), protein will be used to build muscle or repair things in the body. This is why this is the #1 nutrient to get enough of if you're trying to build muscle! Ever wonder why The Rock eats steak for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and dessert? Because he needs tons of protein to keep those muscles growing! The second use is for immediate energy. If you're not eating enough, your body doesn't have enough energy to keep functioning at a normal pace. Therefore, your body will use whatever food you do eat as energy for everyday activities like walking to the bathroom, grocery shopping, etc. When this is the case, the body can't use it for building or repairing and your muscle growth will suffer if not cease to exist. The third case is is for potential energy. If you're eating too much, guess what happens to those extra calories. You guessed it! They're stored as fat. Whenever you see people talking about "bulking up" or having a "calorie surplus" it means they're eating more calories than they're body needs. This makes it easier for the body to gain muscle, but you will also gain a little bit of fat too because the excess has to go somewhere. Bottom line, protein is for building muscle and repairing. Eat too little, and it'll be sucked up for the little things. Eat too much and you'll gain some muscle (ONLY if you're working out) and some fat.
The dreaded carbohydrate. I know we've all heard that carbs are bad and they make you fat. I'm going to tell you right now that this is so wrong. What makes you fat is eating MORE calories than you need. Did you know that 1 gram of protein has the same amount of calories as 1 gram of carbs? Most people don't know that! Carbohydrates are the nutrients made of cabon, hydrogen, and oxygen (basically sugars, starches, grains, and fiber). Carbs are the body's main source of energy for all functions and exercise. During exercise, carbs are used for anywhere between 50-100% of energy needs depending on exercise intensity. So what does that mean? It means that when you're not eating enough carbs, you don't have enough of your body's preferred fuel to do work. So you're telling me not eating enough carbs is actually bad? Basically, YES. This is why people on Keto, Atkins, or low carb diets typically feel tired and can't exercise at higher intensities as much as someone eating a higher amount can. Just like protein, if you eat too much of it, it'll be stored as fat. There are more in-depth conversations we can have on carbs such as when to eat them and how much to eat before and after exercise. Send me an email if you want more info! But basically, carbohydrates are used for energy.
Last but not least, FATS! When we hear the word "fat", we typically associate it with body fat, but I want to clear that up. Fats are nutrients composed of triglycerieds, phospholipids, and sterols. That's the science-y definition. I honestly think of them as oils and fatty acids (saturated and unsaturated fats). Fats are what are responsible for stored energy, carrying fat-soluble vitamins through the body, and helping convert certain vitamins and minerals so the body can use them. They are also responsible for insulating the body and its vital organs as well as giving a longer feeling of fullness after eating. Some healthy fats include olives/olive oil, nuts/nut butters, omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and flaxseeds), whole milk, coconut/coconut oil, and lard to name a few. Fats are the most calorie dense macro at 9 calories per gram compared to the 4 calories per gram found in proteins and carbs. Like any nutrient, if you eat a surplus of fat, it'll be stored as body fat. If you learn anything about fats, I want you to learn that they are good for you! There's a whole other conversation on types of fats that we can have later, but to summarize, fats are for stored energy, vitamin transport and absorption, body insulation, and satiety.
I know that this may seem like a lot of information, but I tried to explain these in the simplest of terms to give you a basic understanding of nutrition's most basic principles. When people talk about their macros, this is what they mean. And now when someone asks you about what protein is good for, you can tell them! Basically, macros are what fuel your body and macro percentages are what help give you the fitness results you want to see. In my opinion, the food you eat and how much you eat is way more important than your workouts. If you're working out hard but eating whatever you want, you won't see the result you want in your body. I've been into fitness for 5 years, but it wasn't until January when I completely adjusted my macros and actually paid attention to them that I saw major fat loss and strength gains in my body. Food makes the world of difference. I still have so much to learn, but what I just shared has shaped my fitness journey and I hope it helps with yours!
Like I mentioned above, if you'd like a customized macro goal for your own body, send me an email at email@example.com or message me on social! I'd love to set up a macro consultation and get you on your way to eating healthier and feeling better! Can't wait to chat!