What Are Macronutrients (Macros?)
Okay, so you have decided to take hold of your nutrition. You scoured the internet and have read about various approaches and diets. Paleo, Zone, Keto, etc. You are left with the question of, “What are Macronutrients? Or Macros for short.
In this blog we hope to answer some of your questions as well as dispel some of the common misconceptions surrounding macronutrients.
We will show you some ways to count your macros.
Finally, we will help you apply the information you’ve learned. This step will be dependent on your goals and whether they are related to weight loss or muscle gain.
Let’s get started.
What is the Role of Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates, or carbs for short, are one of the three main macronutrients. Quite often they get painted in a negative light. Carbs consist of sugars and starches that the body breaks down into glucose. Glucose is a simple sugar that the body can use for energy.
Role of Carbohydrates
Carbs got a very bad rap starting in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The low-carb fad was all the rage in the media. However, in recent years there have been numerous studies about the negative long-term benefits of low-carb diets.
We continue to see this mentality regenerate but under different forms SEE HERE.
I digress. Let’s talk about the role of carbohydrates. They are one of the main macronutrients along with your fats and proteins.
Carbs are a major source of energy and in fact the human brain runs exclusively on carbohydrates.
Not all carbs are created equal. When following a healthy nutrition plan you want to stick with what we consider healthy sources of carbohydratese.
You want to pay attention to the glycemic index of the carbohydrate source and stick to the lower-glycemic options.
High-glycemic foods spike blood sugar and elevate insulin levels.
Various research has shown that consistently elevated blood sugar and insulin levels lead to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs
Generally, we like to look for carbs that are low in sugar content in high in fiber content.
Things such as steel cut oats, quinoa, brown rice, etc.
Below is a graphic of some optimal sources of complex carbohydrates.
Of course vegetables are a great source of carbohydrates that tend to be both low in glycemic load and high in fiber.
Carbs you want to stay away from are sweet treats and other highly processed and refined foods such as bread and pasta.
It is okay to consume fruits but we don’t want them to be your only source of carbohydrate intake.
Below we detail a table of Favorable/Low Gylcemic/Good Carbs courtesy of the CrossFit Journal
Below we detail some Unfavorable/High Glycemic/”Bad” Carbs
What is the Role of Protein?
Proteins are made up of amino acids. Our bodies need 20 different amino acids to function properly., but only 9 of the 20 are considered essential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by your body so they must be consumed in foods.
Functions of Protein
Protein is often thought of as The Golden Child when it comes to macros. Still, more protein is not always better.
Protein is essential for building muscle. But more and more protein does not simply equate to more and more muscle. Many low-carb diets often steer people to consume too much protein. The average person can only absorb about 30 grams at one time of protein. And too much protein intake can put a lot of stress on your kidneys.
High Protein Foods
Protein is especially important as a part of your post workout nutrition which should include a simple carb as well.
In the Graphic we show some high protein foods we prefer courtesy of the CrossFit Journal. In addition, we advise our clients to opt for the leaner sources of protein such as pasture raised chicken.
What is the Role of Fats?
Definition of Fats
Understanding healthy sources and optimal amounts of fat can be confusing at first glance. There are a ton of different opinions on fat in the media.
Fats are essential to our brain and nervous system funciton. The body can also use fat as fuel but not as efficiently as carbohydrates.
Fats are extremely dense foods, meaning a small amount will go a long way for your body. So, while absolutely necessary for optimal function, it is important to be aware of portion size.
Evolution and Fats
Think of it this way. Humans have been around for 5-7 million years. However, the first sign of agriculture dates back to 9,500BC, only 11,520 year ago.
Man has been a hunter and gatherer 520 times longer than he has been a farmer!
As a hunter you are forced to eat to the cubic capacity of your stomach because you don’t know when your next meal is coming. You want to eat in excess as a means of survival.
Today, food is readily available 24/7 and we do not need to eat to our full capacity every time we have the opportunity.
High Quality Fats!
When it comes to fats, there are healthy fats and there are unhealthy fats. Mono & poly unsaturated fats are healthy fats. Unsaturated fats and trans fats are unhealthy fats.
The former are good for heart health and help stabilize your cholesterol levels as well as lower your overall risk of cardiovascular disease.
You can find them in such things as nuts, seeds, avocados, fish, olive oil, and coconut oil.
Unhealthy fats come from processed, non-organic sources. So foods such as donuts, fried foods, coffee creamers and anything that has a high level of processing.
These types of fats have the effect of increasing your cholesterol levels, clogging your arteries and lead to increased blood pressure. Over time you could become more susceptible to chronic diseases such as heart attacks and strokes
In addition, there are many benefits to consuming omega 3-6-9 fatty acides. As our friends at Telos Strenth & Conditioning state in this post about Omega Fatty Acids you want to first focus on whole food sources of omegas before considering supplements that contains EPA and DHA.
How to Count Macros
Before we dive into the world of counting macros it is important to note that as our friends at CrossFit Kanna say in What are Macros and Should You Count Them?, “Counting macros is not recommended for those who have had a history of eating disorders or compulsive behavior. If you’re the type to be worried about eating an extra almond or two, then this isn’t for you!”
You do not have to follow the zone nutrition plan to use our favorite, free macro calculator called My Fitness Pal (MFP).
MFP will do all the breakdowns for you when it comes to your carb, protein & fat percentages. While we recommend a breakdown of 40/30/30 (carbs/protein/fats) for most of our clients, you can easily adjust your %’s based on your goals.
How to set Macro Goals in MFP
How to meal plan and view macros
Macros for Weight Loss
Now that you have an understanding of what macronutrients are and a tool to track them, let’s talk about a plan.
Unfortunately, when it comes to you and your individual goals, it’s not as cut and dry as, “What are my macros for weight loss?”
First, you need to know the dangers of under eating. Especially when it comes to weight loss.
The common thought is to eat less calories than you burn off. While this can be true, it does not mean to try and go all day without eating. We find that many who try to cut calories early in the day feel an intense 3 p.m. crash.
On top of that, it is much more likely you will give in to cravings and overindulge at dinner.
You may also notice irritability, anxiety, low energy or chronic fatigue.
We find that many of our clients come to us eating around 1,000 to 1,500 calories per day. Often, they are shocked when we tell them they need to eat more in order to lose weight.
When we under eat it means we are not giving our bodies enough fuel to function and the body begins to look for fuel in other ways.
Going back to the evolutionary perspective we talked about earlier, if our body thinks it’s starving, it will hold onto body fat as a means of survival.
In fact, it will burn muscle instead of fat and which ends up setting us back even further.