Updated: Aug 1
Macronutrients are made up of Macromolecules, and are defined as 'large molecules that are made up of smaller subunits of organic molecules that are essential for life', fun!
Each macronutrient, or 'macro', has a specific job. The 4 macromolecules are: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids. Today, we are just focusing on the 1st three.
Let's do a fun biology and chemistry review before we get started:
Fat- AKA Lipids, made up of fatty acids + glycerol. Make up membranes in your body, as well as store long term energy.
Carbohydrates - Built up of monosaccharides (simple sugars), provide short term cell energy
Proteins - Made up of Amino Acids (can you name all 20?), that help build everything in your body
Each macro contains a specific amount of calories per gram:
Fat: 1 gram = 9 calories. So, if you are eating 10 grams of fat, that would equate to 90 calories
Carbohydrates + Protein = 4 calories per gram, so 10 grams of carbs/protein = 40 calories
(Fun fact, alcohol is 7 calories/gram. Therefore, it is impossible to have a 'calorie free' alcoholic drink!)
You can add up your nutrition label on the back, and it will calculate how many calories are in an item:
Let's say a snack has: 5 grams of fat + 10 grams of carbohydrates + 8 grams of protein.
5 grams of fat x 9 calories/gram = 45 calories
10 grams of carbohydrates x 4 calories/gram = 40 calories
8 grams of protein x 4 calories/gram = 32 calories
SO, this snack has 117 calories (now companies can round down/up, but that is a story for another day)
If you are on social media at all, you most likely have seen 'macro' diets, seeing people 'calculate their macros', or trying to 'hit all their macros'. So what does that mean?
The thought process is that eating more or less of a certain macro, will help lean you towards your fitness goals, depending on what they are.
40 calories of fat, 40 calories of carbohydrates, and 40 calories of protein will do different things to the body.
Foods higher in Protein:
- Keeps you more full (higher in satiety)
- Helps build/repair muscle
Foods higher in Fat:
- Creates long term stored energy
- Helps absorb vitamins (Vitamins A + D + E + K)
- Helps make hormones, cholesterol, and other internal signaling
Foods higher in Carbohydrates
- Provide instant energy
- Fiber helps with digestion
- Complex carbohydrates can help you feel more full
- Simple carbohydrates can offer quick energy
Here are my favorite sources of each macros:
Protein: Meat! (chicken, eggs, beef, fish, yogurt, shrimp, etc.), yogurt, cottage cheese
--> A 'complete' protein, is one that contains all 20 amino acid building blocks, and all animal based products do. Most plant protein sources are not complete proteins, and are missing some amino acids. Some examples of complete proteins include: quinoa, buckwheat, hemp + chia seeds, and soy. If you are vegan/vegetarian, I would recommend looking up smart pairing, so you can get complete protein!
Fat: olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, yogurt, nuts/seeds, full fat dairy, butter, eggs, fatty fish
Carbohydrates: fruit, whole grains, sprouted grains, potatoes, starchy vegetables, lentils, or beans
Your ratio of carbohydrates : fat : protein depend on your fitness goals, age, activity levels, sex, and other circumstances, and I would recommend working with a professional to determine what works best for you.
Counting macros is not a 'magic' way to lose weight, but there are some reasons it helps people lose weight:
Your macro calculator may have you eating more protein, keeping you fuller longer. It is harder to overeat on protein compared to fat/carbs
It may decrease your consumption of carbohydrates, leading to less blood sugar spikes, helping regulate blood sugar.
It may also help you keep track of your calories, leading to less calories consumed.
AT THE END OF THE DAY, if you want to lose weight, it doesn't matter where you get your calories from, CALORIES IN vs. CALORIES OUT are the key to weight loss . You need to burn more than you consume to lose weight.