When learning about nutrition and how to eat a healthier diet, understanding macronutrients (macros) will help you make informed decisions when choosing what to eat.
This can be a slightly confusing topic so we tried to simplify it by providing a practical example which you can find at the end of the post.
The most important thing you need to know about macros:
1) Calories in and out will determine weight change (weight gain/loss)
2) The Macro split of your calories will determine what is gained or lost (fat or muscle)
3) Your body uses each macro differently (breaking down protein takes longer than carbs)
3) Micros (micronutrients) determine your overall health
What are macros?
Macros is shorthand for macronutrients, a term used to describe the three key food groups we all require for our bodies to function:
- carbohydrates (to fuel energy)
- fats (to keep you satiated)
- proteins (to build and repair muscle)
Side note: Alcohol is also a macronutrient but that requires a whole post on its own. I’ll add a link when it’s ready.
Get the right balance of these and you’ll not only lose weight, but you’ll also be more effective at burning fat and building lean muscle.
It’s important to remember that calories are not created equal – 10 calories of fat will be used entirely differently than 10 calories from carbohydrates or protein.
When macronutrients are broken down, they give energy (calories):
- Protein 1g = 4 Calories
- Carbs 1g = 4 Calories
- Fats 1g = 9 Calories
100g of Almonds have:
To calculate their calories you would do the following:
- Protein 21g x 4 = 84 Calories
- Carbs 22g x 4 = 88 Calories
- Fats 49g x 9 = 441 Calories
Total amount of Calories for 100g Almonds:
Add the total Calories from Protein + Carbs + Fats
84 + 88 + 441 = 613 Calories
(note – these are approximations. So there will be discrepancies, but you get the gist)
There are a few things worth knowing about each macronutrient:
Protein: Building blocks of tissue
- Essential for the growth and repair of tissue
- Important for making hormones and enzymes
- Can be used as an energy source when energy from carbohydrates is limited
Every cell in the body contains protein and is used in the formation of many molecules essentials for life
Good sources of Protein: Soy Beans, Fish, Chicken, Tofu, Pork.
Fat: Body’s insulator and energy source
- Helps the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, E & K)
- Insulates the body
- Helps the body store energy (excess fat storage may lead to health complications)
Essential fats play an important role in basic metabolism, brain function, and hormone production
Good sources of Fat: Avocado, Olive oil, Salmon, Sesame seeds, Cashews.
Carbohydrates: The body’s primary source of energy
- Carbs are the body’s preferred source of energy
- Every cell and tissue in the body can use glucose (simple carbs) for energy
- Dietary fiber in carbs contributes to the overall health of the colon
Post-workout carbohydrates help protein reach the muscles more effectively, in a process called muscle protein synthesis.
Good sources of Carbs are Sweet Potatoes, Oats, Rice, Beans, Rye Bread.
What is more important, hitting my calories or my macros?
Keep in mind, macros are directly proportionate to your calories. So if you are hitting your macros, you will always be hitting your planned calories. However, if you are hitting your planned calories, you may or may not be hitting your macros.
All of us have heard about calories before. Even those who have no interest in fitness whatsoever know that calories are the energy that fuel the human body.
**Calories are more important than overall macros when it comes to pure weight gain or weight loss. But macros help dictate how you feel and what that weight is made up of (fat vs muscle)**
Can’t stress this point enough!
So the question is:
What are you trying to achieve with macros?
If you have a specific goal, knowing your macro split will help you choose foods in line with what you are trying to achieve. For example, if you want to lose weight but retain muscle mass, you’re going to have to make sure you are consuming enough protein, not just fewer calories.
You might have heard of the saying ‘if it first your macros (aka – iifym)’ – the idea behind it is that you get to eat whatever you want, as long as it fits within your protein, fat and carb intake for the day – hence ‘If It Fits Your Macros’.
What makes IIFYM popular is that: Understanding macros will help you diversify your nutrition and allow you to include foods that you might be craving without feeling guilty or throwing you off your diet. For example, if you’re craving a couple of biscuits at 4pm, enjoy them and simply subtract those carbs and fats from your dinner.
How do macros and IIFYM work in practice?
If the following was your ideal macro split for the day:
A full day of eating could look something like this:
Lemon Salmon and Egg Muffin
Eat Natural Protein Packed Bar
Itsu Spicy Korean Chicken
Total Yoghurt 2% 170g pot
Nandos Fillet Steak Prego Roll
The total for the day would be:
Which is close enough to the ideal daily split, giving you a great balance of protein, carbs and fats.
Is there an easier way of counting macros?
Looking after your macros doesn’t need to be hard.
It’s just a case of understanding what they are and being mindful of the macros split in the food that you consume.
I’ll put my hand up – getting your macros right can be a challenge if you don’t have time to food prep, have social engagements, crave foods or feel hungry. If you are eating out once a week, then enjoy your meal without worrying too much about macros, but if you find yourself buying multiple lunches a week or even a few takeaways, being mindful of what you eat, can help you continue to enjoy your lifestyle without impacting your health or fitness goal
It is important to note, that counting calories or macronutrients aren’t essential for general good health. Counting macronutrients can be a useful tool to help fuel your fitness goals, however, when it comes to good health, it’s more about the quality and micronutrient profile i.e. the nutrients present.